Mesut Özil and Mehmet Sander


This is a tale of two Germany-born Turkish-heritage men who somehow get linked in my mind… though they are very different. (Note that this means I am posting twice in a row about World Cup futbol… which is a little unrepresentative of the small role that soccer fandom plays in my life… but it’s been on my mind quite a bit this summer.)

Above is a video of Mesut Özil – decidedly the best left-foot footballer in all of Germany (arguably the best player in Germany?), phenomenally graceful, lightning fast, really aware of what’s around him, and not only a great scorer, but a person who sets ups others’ great scores – a champion assist-man – there’s probably a term for this? And he’s 21 years old – so he’s still getting started in some ways. Özil (and indeed nearly all of Germany’s scorers) is not an ethnic German; he was born in Germany, to Turkish parents. Others have written about the significance of this – it can an overstated metaphor for an allegedly post-racist society. I find it, at a minimum, beautiful and ironic that an Aryan country has such a kick-ass wonderful Islamic Turkish-German as their star.

I even like that his name contains a letter not commonly used in English, which kinda forces us to bend our language rules and conventions – notice how Wikipedia’s Mesut Özil entry starts: don’t use the letter Ö!

Watch the vid above – the highlights start about 2 minutes in – and they’re a treat. I confess that I’ve watched this over and over and over.

Watching Mesut Özil got me reminiscing about another Turkish-German whom I was close to: Mehmet Sander. Sander was/is a choreographer/dancer who was based in Long Beach while I lived there in the early to mid-1990’s. I assisted with some administration and promotion of the Mehmet Sander Dance Company, and,  though I did a lot, my role was definitely supportive.

Mehmet, a Germany-raised Turkish-heritage out-queer man taught me a lot. Mehmet was fiercely disciplined, and strong as an ox. Artistically, he showed me how vital and real and precious it is to find and hone one’s own unique artistic voice. And assisting with managing the company showed me that, with a lot of work and focus and passion, people can do world-class things on a shoe-string budget with seat-of-the-pants operations.

Mehmet was also one of most OUT people I’ve ever met: homosexual and completely happy to let everyone know and even assuming pretty much everyone, of course, was homosexual. Why not? He used to wear a t-shirt that he made for himself that stated: TURKISH QUEER TERRORIST WITH AIDS. He assumed I was gay, and I had a very nervous coming-out to him, letting him know my straightness.

He was/is HIV positive, with AIDS. He was on various medications the whole time I knew him. His partner, Harold, passed away during the time I knew them well. They were a great couple: Harold really strong and supportive. I think Mehmet’s (and Harold’s) HIV pushed them to a place of urgency. Make this dance company happen now. Don’t wait.

Mehmet and I had a falling out in 1996 and I soon moved away and have lost track of him (other than a facebook page – which has more vids – including with the full company.) I think he’s back in Turkey… but I don’t know. I feel very fortunate for the time that we spent together and the inspirational impact he’s had on my art and my life.

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