Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Middle Eastern Studies


Sara Pursley


Simon Davis

Subject Categories

Dance | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Near Eastern Languages and Societies | Other International and Area Studies


This thesis reexamines the history of the köçek dancer in Turkey and thereby opens modern heteronormative constructs of masculinity and sexuality to contestation, particularly as they have been symbolically embodied by the rural population of Anatolia. It traces the evolution of the köçek dancer from the early modern Ottoman Empire when the dancer embodied notions of divine love and the ideal of beauty as a young male object of adult men's desires. In the nineteenth century, perceptions of the köçek began to change, primarily among Ottoman elites, whose modernization efforts were influenced by the European gaze and travelers' Orientalist interpretations of köçek dancers as feminine and lascivious. köçek dancing in Istanbul was subsequently banned in the mid-nineteenth century. In contemporary Turkey, the occupation of köçek dancing has become increasingly stigmatized with a rise in homophobic attitudes towards the dancers, who are perceived to be effeminate. The figure of the köçek can generally be viewed as having transformed from a professional urban performer belonging to well-trained companies of desirable dancers in Ottoman Istanbul to a marginalized, unmanly lower class entertainer in present day Anatolia. However, this study's reevaluation and more comprehensive integration of scholarship and sources on the köçek in terms of the dancer's production of historicized concepts of male gender and sexuality reveal continuous disruptions of this incomplete heteronormative transformation. Furthermore, the Kemalist modernization project's inability to totally transform the mores of the Anatolian peasantry is also exposed along with the conflicts that arise from ambivalent performances of gendered national subjectivities.