Almost up to the time short before my mother’s death, our home in Doluca was often open to family gatherings of loving and caring exchanges, flavored with strong laughter and thorough enjoyment of delicious food and of each other’s company – young and old. Even today, multiple decades later, I can almost taste the honey suspended in mid-air dripping over me – as if only over me but also embracing all those dear ones. We were a large enough crowd then. My mother’s side of the family alone. My grandfather, step grandmother, great uncle, great aunt, both uncles, both aunts, my parents and my brother. The members of the “prominent crowd.” On special holidays, my grandfather’s sisters and their families from Istanbul would also join us.
Being the shy child, my brother would hardly ever get a chance to say much and therefore lose his chance for attention at almost all the gatherings. I, on the other hand, was the singer, the dancer, the public speaker, the impersonator, and many other things for after meal times. That is, until a certain age when my upper body began to change and showed it too. For that entire awkward period, I wished and wished and wished some more for no one to notice me. But, of course, attention was on me. As the newest “girl” in the family. Besides, my attention-hungry singing voice, my quite capable dancing feet, my eager speeches (or dramatic poem recitations) and impersonations of a large variety of celebrities were all missed.
“Sit up straight,” my grandfather started saying one day right at the onset of one of his visits with his wife, that is, after noticing me taking my chest inward as much as physically possible, in my attempt to turn my breasts invisible. He then made a knuckle with one hand and pressed it against my upper back, mumbling something like “back straight.” His way of saying, I assume today, how proud (straight-backed) I was supposed to be as a female. That sweet man is long dead. I never had the courage to ask him what he wanted me to do about my body. And then, we all started suffering from his dementia. His younger brother was far more silent about this “issue.” I too often felt I, or better yet, my body’s changing shape, was being sign-languaged behind my back – held straight or not. My father was neither vocal nor symbolic about it. Nor had he come up with a similar tactic as my grandpa to help me feel confident. I don’t recall my mother’s initial take on this issue. All I remember is how “modest” she wanted me to appear in any situation when it came to my physical traits and what I did with them, including slanting my legs together to one side when seated, if in a skirt. My younger uncle acted just like my mother. Somewhat tight-lipped and stern-faced. My older uncle, on the other hand, was quite relaxed and vocal about my – their girl’s – growing up reality. As for my brother, he was too young to participate in any silent or vocal reactions yet.
My family’s men and their take on my noticeable femininity – as far back as I have known them in close settings, told me at my matured age what I had not realized back then: namely, how different they all were from one another in their comfort levels when facing female distinctions in their household, or extended household. They were all born and raised in the same country and had been exposed to the same cultural traditions and practices – differing in nuances alone. So, shouldn’t they all have had the very same view on everything that mattered the male and the female gender? My German aunt – the older uncle’s wife, thought so. I believe I was ten when I heard her for the first time use a term, since then her by far most favorite phrase when referring to Turkish men: “Orientals!” Several ages later, I began to live what that reference entailed when my only brother was concerned – without yet realizing how severe my resentment was going to be at myself at a late stage in my life for having felt obligated to cater to that mindset.
(PLEASE COME BY AGAIN FOR THE NEXT PART, IF STILL INTERESTED.)