An English Mistress in Istanbul
An English Mistress in Istanbul
As an artist, and a Mistress, travelling the world is quite an education.
But perhaps it’s because I assume different identities simultaneously myself that I find a complex and layered city like Istanbul so fascinating. With 14 million residents, mostly Muslims, Istanbul is also a home for Jews, Christians and other dominations and is often cited as the crossroads at which Europe and Asia meet. It’s only 900 miles from the turmoil of Syria yet filled with a particular Ottoman grace that infuses every street with elegance. And mystery, one I couldn’t master, still to this day.
A few years ago, I had a deeper, personal connection with a man from this city but not of the city. I travelled there for art and research although, like everything in Istanbul, the lines between feeling and knowing are faint. I was trying to replace something I’d lost, it couldn’t be replaced. I needed to walk the streets of this city, underground, over ground, I just needed to make some ground.
On previous visits, I stayed along the Bosphorus River, deep in the luxurious bosom of the Swisshotel. This time I was in Fatih, a more authentic if far less affluent district where my basement accommodation offered a window at eye level onto the hustle and bustle of the street. The area was heavily populated by Syrians who had fled the conflict. Mothers and children on the pavement were joined by stray cats and dogs and as hard as it was to see, I noted that fortunate citizens would often leave food out for the more recently arrived.
I saw how friends greeted. I once saw two older gentleman touch each other with their foreheads at two higher central points of their temple. It was the esteem in which they held each other as they did this that I found as beautiful as the ritual itself.
I was here primarily for research, surveying the underground kink scene and how increased government control are impacting people’s sexuality. How does political pressure in our physical environments affect our innate desire to explore mentally? The relationship between state and individual sexuality is always complicated but in Turkey, it’s even more Byzantine. Take the LGBT community for instance: same sex workers were legalised in the Ottoman Empire in 1858 but same sex couples are not given the same protection as heterosexual couples. Transgender people, however, have been able to change their legal gender since 1988. Decimation protections are discussed wildly and debated legally but not yet legalised and LGBT people have been reported to experience discrimination, harassment and even violence in recent years. Istanbul’s pride parade has been banned by the authorities since 2015 and the LGBT and dating app grindr has been banned since 2013.
I contacted a few fellow pro doms who work in Istanbul who told me I should consider Istanbul and the Middle East for dominatrix work. A colleague advised that with very little competition in the Middle East region, you’re free to charge a proper fee for your work. The reality is that in a city characterised by extremes of wealth and poverty, and one that’s living through an economic crisis, I had to charge a lot less than I would in the UK.
I sessioned from my apartment in Fatih and varying hotel rooms but neither route was easy. I was watched very closely by the families in the neighbourhood in the street where my accommodation was. There was the option of outcalls and the subs that were able to afford this were definite and rich. When I worked from hotels, I was even more heavily censored by x-ray machines with my suitcase of instrumental, delightful chaos!
One particular day my suitcase was scanned as I entered the hotel. I was shown to a room that had been booked in my name and paid for in full by the sub. When he arrived an hour later, he greeted the reception desk, they asked which room number he was going to and security were called over immediately. He was told he was not permitted to use the room. The head of security told the staff to deny him access with a definitive, ‘she’s-a-sex-worker’ scowl. And we were told repeatedly, ‘we are a family hotel’. The strange part, of course, was that there was never going to be any sexual intercourse and what we would actually do would be the opposite of what they imagined. But I couldn’t explain this with my tightly wedged concealed pack of condoms, (for the use of covering for the dildos.) It turns out my pegging plea would do nothing to help my cause!
An interesting aspect of dominatrix work in Istanbul is that generally, there’s less need for dungeon equipment. I rarely conduct a session in the UK without it but I enjoy only using my physique as the main catalyst of pleasure, my body tied in the moment to your body - with nothing more or less than my words.
The sessions I did ranged from students to wealthy businessmen. Their need for release was, to a large extent the same as their counterparts in the UK. They simply don’t have as many outlets. One sub, who has a foot fetish, had been using Tinder to find partners. Far from being taken aback, he said that the girls he met there had been approached so many times by foot fetishists they were actually growing tired of it.
I was always fascinated by the issue of relationships and how Turkish men viewed foreign women and especially a dominatrix. One guy said he hadn’t had an experience with a Westerner and although he’d like one, and would certainly date from other cultures, he didn’t know if he would marry outside his own. When I asked him what he looked for, he said, ‘we must lower our expectations, she doesn’t have to be a genius but can’t be brain dead, average looking, not spoiled or narcissistic’. He said Turkish girls are egoists but ‘I’d rather marry a Turkish girl than another’.
Turkish pride is ever-present in Istanbul. It’s a city that’s deeply beloved by its people. I felt it as I walked around with my Turkish friend at an exhibition of the founder of modern Turkey, Ataturk, at which large photographs were presented of his funeral and the state mourning. I found my friend viewing it with such reverence and pride. He said that when Ataturk died ‘not only the Turkish people cried, all the world, even enemies cried’. It’s difficult to wrap your head around Turkey’s resurgence from the mysticism of its battles, architecture and the current war that sits so closely to them. It’s a culture that felt closely guarded and I read once that an official line of an argument is,’ the Turk has no friend but the Turk’. This doesn’t feel true of the warm Turkish friends I have made, but there’s no question a compelling loyalism reverberates through the city and it’s people.
It’s wonderful to walk the streets of Istanbul, but there are delights beneath them as well.
A highlight of my visit was the Basilicia cistern, a beautiful antiquity, a cavernous underground cistern which provided a water filtration system and contains drinking and bathing water. Medusa heads and the sound of the water and the fish swimming amongst the columns was very moving.
I know many locals grow tired of the sheer number of inhabitants and until you really live a place, how can you really know a place. There is nose-to-nose traffic jams, the beggars, air pollution and the lack of greenery. But there is the warmth of the sunshine, the soundscapes of mosques calling to prayer, the spectacular variety of sunsets, the piano man (sarperduman on Instagram) and a pride I just don’t see in this country.
Somebody once said you either work in Istanbul or you get out. I was trying to find the middle ground. On this trip I didn’t find it but I found somebody else or something else. I found friendship, a feeling of depth over distance, sight before belief, was it me or was it our way
Things need time. I need time.