Turkish culture is often full of enigmas, paradoxes and peculiar surprises. Discovering these oddities one by one is of the most interesting things about living in this country. Bulent Ersoy, in most people's opinion, would fall in this category. Despite the mixed feelings this singer arouses in the minds of Turks, she is unquestionably an cultural icon and a respected diva.
Similar to Zeki Muren and others, Ersoy is beloved for keeping the alive the traditional Turkish Classical Art Music - the music of the Ottoman palaces. This musical style, which was widely played in the urban areas in the past centuries has a distinctive sound. Beside Turkish art music, Ersoy is a famous popular music singer who has managed successfully to incorporate the classic styles and instruments of the past with the music of today.
Born in June 9, 1952 in Istanbul, Ersoy had already appeared in films and developed a following as a recording artist before having gender-reassignment surgery in London by a British plastic surgeon. Naturally this decision sparked a good deal of controversy at the time and, through the years, the pursuit of publicity has certainly been one of the trademarks of her career.
In the years following the surgery, Bulent Ersoy's career took a hit, following the decision by Turkish authorities to ban all public performances by transsexual singers in what was cited as a crackdown on "moral deviancy." This was during the regime of Ahmet Kenan Evren, who assumed the presidency of Turkey after a military coup. She lived in exile in Germany and Australia as a result of the ban throughout the 1980s.
She was allowed to return to Turkey in 1988 due to revision in the Turkish Civil code which recognized her feminine gender. Her popularity soon became greater than ever and the transformation from male to female was widely accepted by the public. However, in the following year, she was the victim of a would-be assassin from a ultra-nationalist extremist group. And not long after her recovery from this shooting attempt, Ersoy made new headlines by announcing her engagement. Quite predictably, the newspapers and magazines had a field day and many felt more shocked not by the fact that a transsexual should marry but that her husband was some twenty years younger than his bride.
In 1998 she and her husband were involved in a car accident in which she was badly injured. Drama is a part of Ersoy's existence so it should come as no surprise that her marriage didn't last long after her husband was caught with a call-girl.
Although she is now semi-retired, Bulent participated in a Turkish pop idol contest as a judge. This is where she met her second husband whom she married in July 2007. That marriage also ended not long early the following year.
Bulent's public persona is an odd mix of artifice and flamboyance. Time has not been as kind to her as it has to many Turkish female stars. Currently her appearance ranges anywhere from merely outrageous but glamorous (gowns and hair styles that could make a drag queen wince and wonder) to rather frightening (looking like a china doll colored with tempera paint by a 5 year old.) Add to this, an excessively polite manner of a diva, peppered with the occasional pornographic metaphor or reference and you have a formidable celebrity. Nobody can say she is not one of a kind.
Bulent Ersoy's long waltz with controversy landed her in hot water once again in 2008 when she made remarks on a popular television show that were deemed critical to the military. An Istanbul public prosecutor has subsequently filed charges against her for "turning Turks against compulsory military service", which could have resulted in four years of prison. On December 2008, Ersoy was found not guilty in a Turkish court. Since any criticism of the Turkish military has long been considered absolutely verboten. some have considered this to be a milestone for free speech in Turkey. Others write it off as just another drama in the life of an over the top celebrity.
I always thought it showed a great deal of maturity by the Turks to be able to separate the artist's life and slightly peculiar qualities with the art they that produce. No matter what the Turks might think of Bulent Ersoy as a person, whether they love her or whether they merely tolerate her, there is no denying that she has enriched Turkish culture with her talent and her personal style.