TURKEY IN BOYS FOR SALE
After the fall of the Roman Empire, no other area anywhere had as much and as many elaborate types of boy prostitution as the Turkish Empire which continued to be a beehive of boy activity right up until World War I. Homosexual acts with boys over 12 used to be completely legal in many areas and common everywhere in the empire. There are arguments in scholarly journals over whether or not the Turks brought their sexual interest in boys with them from Central Asia and/or whether they inherited these proclivities when they conquered the luxurious Middle East where boy prostitution had flourished for so long. In Jewel in the Lotus, Edwardes speaks of the reputation of the Turks and describes the “ginks” who were often young prostitute boys. Burton covers much of the same material in his Terminal Essay to his edition of the Arabian Nights.
Not only did the Turks have the taste, but they also had the tremendous opportunities offered by slavery. Boy and girl slaves were purchased from outside the country all the way from Circassia to France. Charles Verlinden in I’Esclavage Dans I’Europe Médiéval, reports that young boys sent to Turkey were a major French export. Egyptian and Turkish rulers in the 10th century had many beautiful French boy slaves. Dealers in Marseilles specialized in filling orders for special types of youngsters for the Eastern trade.
The second source was made up of “tribute children”, taken as taxes from the European provinces of the Ottoman Empire. Every few years, the tax collectors came through and walked off with the handsomest and most talented young boys for the Emporor’s service. Conquering Turkish armies were followed by slave traders who rounded up victims for city slave markets. The “child tax” victims often ended up in slave markets too. Just as corrupt officials were tempted to steal money, they were doubly tempted to siphon off the cream of the most attractive children — even as recently as this century, individual kidnappers also captured children from the Greek Isles and elsewhere for the boy brothels of Istanbul and other Turkish cities.
Descriptions of Turkish slave markets are legend. The victims, often with hands tied to a rack above their heads, were exhibited entirely in the nude. Busbecq tells how young and beautiful boys were highly prized. Some were purchased to be transformed into eunuchs, some to be personal attendants, and others were destined to staff brothels.
It is probable that the Turks had a fondness for young boys before conquering Asia Minor and the Greek areas, but the idea of a boy brothel was new to them. They founded, in Constantinople and other Eastern cities, not only the boys’ houses of entertainment, but also special houses that were schools for the training of boy prostitute entertainers. Boys were usually brought into these training houses at a very early age — 4 or 5 often, and never older than 8. Some began to ply their trade by the age of 8 or 9, and by the age of 10, they were old hands at all kinds of perversions. They continued in the houses for as long as there was a demand for their services. Some especially skilled entertainers remained “active” through their twenties. These establishments were never exclusively brothels in the Western sense. Some were cabarets, some coffee houses and many were Turkish baths (the boy attendants in the baths and swimming places in Turkey were always available for sexual services.) When the formal, semi-legal houses of boy prostitution had to go underground, organized professionals had to rely largely on coffee
houses, restaurants and baths for regular assignations.
The most common sort of boy prostitute was the dancing boy — almost until this decade. Today, now that the “public” dancing boys are about gone, there remain only gypsy boys and outcasts from large impoverished families whose lack of money will cause them to do just about anything to earn enough to stay alive. Occasionally, ambitious intelligent lads will take to the profession to finance their educations. As for the dancing boys, they are still very much in vogue, but primarily for dancing. Their arts are now preserved mainly by private clubs which devote a great deal of time to the training of young boys who still begin their careers by the age of 7 or 8.
The clubs cannot, of course, practice the brutality that characterized the earlier training of boy dancers. However, the trainers still use the fear and even the hypnotism which were widely practiced in the old schools. We find no reports of the actual routine or procedures of the schools’ training except those which explain that a great deal of attention was given to grooming and beauty. At the height of the Turkish Empire, boy dancers were always more beautiful than girl dancers, although their beauty was quite different. There were no boy dancers who were not prostitutes except for occasional stars privately owned and maintained for the exclusive entertainment of their own masters. Even so, a private dancer was commonly sent to bed with an honored guest as part of the hospitality of the house.
Public dancing slave boys and boy prostitutes were imported from great distances. One house in Constantinople had boys from the British Isles and from the Celebes. Irish boys were common and popular. They were bred into a “feeble effeminacy which excites compassion — trained in debauch — their hair was adorned and they wore sensuous dresses of silk — trained in lewd dancing that could excite a statue of stone.” Such were comments of contemporary observers.
There were supposedly more boys’ brothels than women’s houses in Istanbul in the middle 1800’s. The boys were available for both oral and anal contacts as well as even more exotic diversions. Their singing, alone and in groups, left most agreeable impressions especially combined with their unbelievably erotic dancing. Castrated English boys made up only a fraction of the 3,000 little sodomite boys in public brothels alone.
From one of the sources in the Kinsey collection (Davenport’s essay), we learn that hyacinth root
was used along with hemlock and various other treatments on the skin and sexual parts of young boys to give them the complexions and soft skins which made them so sought after by men. With vigorous frictions, trainers were able to arrest signs of maturity in favorite boys. French lads were highly prized because of their charm, their sensitive nipples and pale skin — as well as their docility. Circassian boys had the reputation of being sweet tempered and Arab boys as having sweet tasting mouths. “The vice” was extremely popular among top officials of the Empire. It was they who set standards for the masses. One Turkish official was quoted as saying “my favorite coffee house dancer is 8 years old. He is the most charming little whore in the world.”
R. Walsh, writing in 1838, tells of raids on Greek Isles (Scio, for example) by men from Istanbul, seeking pretty young boys “for a very dismal fate. Some were brought into harems; others were kept at infamous public places in Galata while others were exposed in coffee houses.” He interviewed one youngster from a Greek Island, available in the balcony of a coffee house for “every low Turk passing on the road” who begged to be killed in order to escape from the degradation. He told of the torture of young boys — how they were hung by their legs or bastinadoed.
The coffee house boys were all under 14. They were beautiful even before their eyes were painted. They wore their hair long and curly and generally wore only short robes which could be easily thrown up for teasing, dancing and sexual acts. They were without protection and as vulnerable as the boys in the regular brothels. In 1797, Sir Edward Suelman reported a tourist visit to see “the dancing boys in the coffee houses.” The boys were described as depilated, agile and extremely crafty in their entertaining. Lieutenant F. Walpole in 1851, saw a seven year old boy sold for 5,000 pounds into such a life. From the age of 6 or 7, many young boys were given over to such villainy. Such young boys often had their little hands tied behind them for days on end — until they learned to be “charmingly” obedient and complaisant.
Popular poems and love songs were written about dancing boys in the coffee houses and brothels — in some eras, they were as popular as the leading pop singers and actors of today.
In addition to boys in brothels and houses, there were many amateur boy prostitutes in the streets. There were street musicians, acrobats and all kinds of entertainers as well as just poor children who learned to exploit their charms, if they had any. Turkish culture was callous about poor children and accepted sodomy. An article in the 1922 Rassegna de Studi Sessuale, reported that boys of poor families at the age of 8 or 9 were prepared by their fathers both physically and mentally for their inevitable eventual encounters with men. A boy would have to learn to sleep each night with a wooden cylinder in his anus which, as a result, progressively enlarged itself until the boy could endure a carnal violation without pain. Nearly 90% of the Greek boys of Asia Minor (i.e. all boys from poor families) were so prepared by their parents. It was inevitable, the article suggests, that later these ragged, hungry urchins would put their training to use by soliciting in the streets. Parents would even brag when a 12-year-old son succeeded in seducing some prominent citizen and could then contribute substantially to the support of his family. Such boys were, of course, victimized in a variety of ways. Some of them are suggested in the novel Kyra Kyralina which reports in vivid exciting language the callous use of a young boy in prison by all of the officials and inmates.
While boys are no longer imported into Turkey, and the number of poor refugee and poor outcast boys has declined, there are still pedlars of the young in larger cities. In Istanbul, it is not too hard for a tourist to find pimps who will provide young boys at a very cheap price. The boys, however, are often diseased and dirty — a far cry from the beautifully depilated, perfumed and richly attired boy prostitutes and dancers of the Empire. Furthermore, the tourists are easy prey for robbers and blackmailers posing as pimps. As for the Turks themselves, boy prostitution as a mass enterprise went out with slavery and went on to lose the rest of its legitimate approval with the revolution. Lord Kinross reports the locally well-known fact that Kemal Ataturk, the “George Washington” of the Turkish Revolution, had sexual liasons with young boys, as was not uncommon in “the bisexual Turkey of the era.” However, there is no evidence at present to indicate that boy prostitution is more common now in Turkey than in any other country. The habits of centuries are not easily erased and Turks are still notorious as customers of boy prostitutes when they are away from home as tourists. It is certain, however, that “clubs” and private brothels “for Turks only” are still functioning — they are difficult, to say the least, for outsiders to penetrate.