Nathan: Welcome to this week’s Story Update. Today, we’re going to be speaking with Tolga who shared his story with us several years ago, but before we speak with Tolga, let’s take a look at his story.
Tolga: My name is Tolga and I’m from Malatya Turkey. It’s a small conservative town and we were all raised conservative as well.
I remember every time I was going to school, some of my friends they were talking about the girls that they saw in their dreams and all that as we were growing up. And I was always feeling left out because – and questioning, because I never saw a girl in my dreams. I was seeing guys and it made me utterly uncomfortable as well because number one, I cannot share that with anybody. And number two, it was not okay for me either.
I’m moved to New York City when I was 19 for college and the feelings were still inside. And I was not happy about it because not only I wanted the answers, but also I did not want to associate myself with being gay. I assumed that it was just an urge and once I experienced that, I told myself that that feeling is going to be gone.
So I picked up a Village Voice magazine on the way to school and on the back pages and I chose the right ad for my taste, I will say. I called the number from a payphone and I was very polite and diplomatic actually.
And, I dialed the number and I was like, “Hello, good evening.”
And the guy responds, “Yo, where are you at?”
And I was like, “Excuse me. I would like to make an appointment please.” And this person gave me the address and the time where to meet up. So I went back home. I took a long shower. I did take care of myself very well. I did my hair super well, and I put cologne and a very nice outfit as well as if I was going in a super important date.
So I got over on his place and I was turned off already as soon as I saw him because he was wearing shorts and tank tops and the house was messy. So I wasn’t feeling anything to begin with. I laid down and after having an initial talk, I already told him that I was inexperienced and I wanted to know more about it. And he literally just got down the business. He was right in front of me and he took off his clothes and he asked me if he could put two condoms on. And it’s ignited panics in my – in me again, because, wait, right in business and I’m not sure if I that’s what I wanted or I don’t know what I wanted.
He was just about to make him move to get inside. I actually told him to please step back. And then of course he asked me if everything was okay and all. I told him that it had nothing to do with him. I was just not feeling it.
As I was about to leave actually, he – I think he got the idea that… he thought that I was going to move on. So he actually told me that this is something that is going to stay with me, so I should embrace it anytime soon. I can’t run away from it. And I was so infuriated by it, so I ran crazy and I just was lost.
The urge didn’t go away but the questions were still there, so it was truly infuriating. I still had to find out more. And I came across with a Gay.com. One day, I ended up chatting with this guy from Texas called Justin. The conversation went very well and he said that he wanted to meet me. I was very excited about it because he was very attractive, beautiful, and for me, he was like a Greek god.
The time comes and we meet and things were so smooth and so friendly and genuine and sincere. I went over his place and we ended up watching “I, Robot.” And then he laid down and put his head on my lap.
As we were continuing on the movie, he gives me a look and he says, “Can I kiss you?”
And I pause but with a shy look on my face and I say, “Sure.” As if he was reading my mind, he was telling me that it’s okay not to know anything. And it’s okay if something makes me uncomfortable. He gave me the right to stop him, even. It was one of the most romantic experiences I ever had. And that’s – that was a night that I did lose my virginity.
I was in the beginning of my path. Apparently he wasn’t, obviously. And it was so much on him to take as well, so it didn’t work out.
Then I met another person, Kelly. I think initial meeting with Kelly in my head was a date. And we had a very good date. We went to a restaurant and we had a few talks. There was nothing about sexuality or anything. It was just a smooth hangup. And he was very respectful. He took me home and he went back to his home. As the time goes on, he didn’t make him move on me. Neither did I. Something happened in me that I realized this is just exactly what I need right now. What I needed was the friends and he was the friend that I was provided.
Having questions is actually the beginning of the stage, which means you are aware that there are things that needs to be answered. Now looking where I am today, I can say wholeheartedly that I am Muslim and I’m gay and I’m totally okay with that. It’s totally okay to keep your belief system as well as your own identity together in peace and continue your own life. And I’m the living example of it.
Nathan: Okay, so welcome Tolga to our Story Update. How are you?
Tolga: I’m well, thanks, Nathan. How are you doing? It’s nice to see you again.
Nathan: Doing very well. Thank you. It’s great seeing you too. So I want to kind of jump in and talk about one thing that really stood out to me and your story, which was kind of the profound statement that the escort that you saw had on you, or what I perceived the impact he had on you. You know, when you were leaving, he told you that you can’t run away from who you are. And that really seemed to be a change moment in your story. Can you kind of reflect on that and let us know, like, how that felt to you or how you look at that now?
Tolga: It was like an earthquake, you know, because it’s something that you know is truth, but you are in denial still. But not only personally in denial. It’s something that you are not used to it and how you’re gonna – the fear, the anxiety, everything. It was just all piled up. And suddenly it’s all working against you in a way, and you just feel powerless and you don’t know what to do with it.
It was all about embracing and accepting. And it was something that was too hard for me to comprehend, because I just did not know where to start with. Whom to start with, even. So it was – it was a challenge. And it was just like you said, it was a wake up call for sure.
I learned to embrace everything about me. What I’m going to say is like, past is part of me and the present is already part of me as well. So where I came from, how I lived through, whether I was in denial or… or was in different group of people or raised in different culture… just because they are, or they were different from my current life standards doesn’t change the fact that they are not part of me.
So when I look at my past from this perspective, I still receive some questions and curiosity from a lot of people around me every time we share a story is… is that how can you be, for instance, Muslim and gay considering they would not like you and all that? But it goes through the same circle when you think about it. In the past, I was trying not to except that I was gay. And now people are judging me – or I am having… I did have difficulty of my past. So you see, looks like it’s a never ending story. It’s… you need to, I did tell myself that you need to embrace both sides.
Because of that, I became more liberal. Because of that, I became more open minded. And considering what we go through right now in the world is… we do need to accept everyone just the way they are and embracing them. And without any judgements whatsoever. And I understand that some cultures might have rougher situations towards LGBTQI members than the other, but it doesn’t matter the level of pain. It just matters – what matters is that everyone goes through that challenges, no matter what culture you are in. But just because it is that you don’t defy your past. You embrace your past and you… if you are good at it, if you approach at the right angle, you seek out ways how – how you can make the change, how you can make the better impact, what contribution you can make so others will not go through the same.
Nathan: So, Tolga, there was something you said earlier that I really liked. You said that your past is a part of who you are and as well as your present. And at the end of your story, I remember you talked about how you are gay and you are Muslim and you’re okay with that. So what would you want to say to people who are gay and Muslim and struggling with that right now? Or another way to think about that is what do you wish someone told you when you were younger and going through those struggles of identity?
Tolga: Whether it’s challenging or not, we all are given choices and we do live by it. And when I said I am Muslim and gay, I’m okay with that, that merely meant… that means that I accepted my both sides. And I… it is… no matter what, whether it was challenging or not, you do not want to wipe out because there are some memories in it. Good and bad. And I was raised in a conservative culture, but I am still damn proud of it. It’s just because I’ve seen different perspectives as well. And it helps me to approach current problems better. At least, I can strike a conversation for those who are opposing who I am.
And, first of all, when we talk about faith system, religion. It’s just… it’s just personal. There is no one shape or one category. And the way I was raised was the verse of a… one of the verses in Quran, basically it was saying, My love, if it wasn’t… if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have created this universe. This statement itself always will stick in my head because, if you think about it, the creation of the entire universe, the existence of entire universe, is love. A product of love.
And it breaks my heart that a lot of people in faith or religion or not even don’t see this part. And we talk about love in every religion, every one, and still we do force each other to make choices, considering that we all are product of love.
So, and for those who struggled, Muslim and being gay, or who still are struggling, it’s not my place to give you any direction, for sure, but the only thing I can say is – another verse that I can say that I am sure of is that God says, “I’ll treat you the way he know of me.” This itself is good enough for you as well. If you know him full of love and full of compassion and, you know, embraces everyone, he’ll do it. Because that’s how you know him.
And don’t we do like that in our social life, too? We treat each other the way we want to be treated. Same thing goes that. And that’s why I always oppose the idea of forcing one another making choices. I am not going to be judged based on certain scriptures, but I am going to be judged,one way or another, in social life even, how I contribute to society, how good I lived. Or, I mean, there’s so much to be done as a human being that we should not focus on making choices, faith versus who you are and all that. It’s just, we have enough discrimination already going on. We don’t need to add another one. I hope that answers your question.
Nathan: That’s beautiful.
Tolga: I hope that answers your question.
Nathan: Absolutely, it did. Yeah. I think that’s really beautiful about how to live your life and how you see God and how you view that and how that affects your personal life. Is there anything else that’s going on in your life? We filmed your story several years ago and, like, what’s changed in your life since then?
Tolga: Well, now I live in Los Angeles. Yeah, it was time, I guess, New York City and I, we decided to break up after 20 years. But now it’s been a year, but unfortunately I’ve been locked down for the past six months because of Covid anyway. But, I, of course, I changed my career. I’m a user experience designer now.
I am not dieting still, which is good actually. It’s a good time not to date because there’s not much to do. It’s just the lockdown. So I guess blessing in disguise.
What I’m doing during this timeframe is that it’s trying to motivate myself as much as I can, and see how much I can improve indoors because what else would I do? It’s just… so I just write down the things that I want to accomplish during this time and I think I’m the right track.
Nathan: Well, is there anything else that you wanted to share with people that we didn’t cover right now?
Tolga: Not really. I hope that my message is clear and straightforward and I really hope it did not cause any misunderstanding.
Nathan: What would – hey, Tolga, if you could boil down your message clearly one more time, like just really distill it, what would that be? What would you want people to know that your message is?
Tolga: Whether it’s painful, whether it’s right or wrong, whatever that is that defines you, you it’ll be better once you embrace it. You’ll solve the puzzle so much faster and easier. And basically also boost your self-confidence without caring what others think. You live your life the way you want it. And it’s important. You had enough insecurity in life already being gay and stuff in the beginning, long time ago, you don’t need to live another one. You have to leave the burden and embrace everything what you have.
Nathan: Great. All right. Well, thanks so much Tolga. I will ask them, I’m sure people will leave comments, so maybe you can check that periodically and respond to people. So if anyone watching has any questions or comments for Tolga, leave them in the comments and maybe he’ll check back. So join us next week for our next story update and thanks for watching.