Mike & Erdi: Love Story That Began On Father-Son Trip Leads to Filing of Fiancé Visa Petition and a Move to Turkey
My name is Michael Curtis. I am 38 years old. I was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan. For the past ten years, I have lived in California; first in San Francisco and then in Los Angeles. Earlier this year, I moved to Turkey to be with the man that I love.
The story of how I came to meet and fall in love with Erdi begins with an e-mail I received from my father deep in the winter of 2012. (Deep winter meant 65 degrees and brunch outside at Joey’s Café in sunny West Hollywood.) It had been six months since our trip to Germany together in August 2011 and my Dad wanted to have another father-son trip. Since he chose Berlin last time, he left the destination of our new adventure up to me. “Istanbul,” I told him. I’d never been to that part of the world. Together my Dad and I had traveled not only to Germany, but England, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Hong Kong and China and all over the United States. Traveling is what we loved, our way of spending quality time together, and it was time to make it even more interesting—a Muslim country at the crossroads of East and West.
We were one week into our two-week excursion through the Turkish west coast. We began in Istanbul, and a couple days later took a bus to Gallipoli to see the war memorial and hang out in the coastal town of Canakkale, then Izmir and Selcuk where we toured Ephesus. This second week would be all Istanbul, we had planned. We flew in from Izmir on Monday, August 20. My friend of ten years, Damian, who was currently living in Belfast where he’s from, had arrived to meet us the night before; we toured the Hagia Sophia that afternoon. I had never seen anything more beautiful. That was until later that night, when, after Dad had gone to sleep, Damian and I decided to visit our first Istanbul gay nightclub, Tek Yon, in the Taksim area of the city.
It was a Monday night and the club was not particularly crowded. The club itself was nothing new to us. Having lived together in London, and in West Hollywood myself, and San Francisco before that, Damian and I were abundantly familiar with gay nightlife, and, perhaps humorously, there really wasn’t much of a difference between our experiences with gay nightlife in various cities or even different countries. But this night would prove to be much different than any other typical night out.
We were having a beer in the outside patio, debating how much longer to stay, when I quickly and without much thought turned my head around to look behind me. Standing there alone several feet away was, without a doubt, the most beautiful man I have ever seen. And clichés be damned, our eyes met. It took a second to register that we were truly staring. But it was quickly unmistakable and I nodded to acknowledge him. He nodded back. I turned to Damian, and turned back—he was still looking, and then I waved him over to talk to us.
He spoke perfect English. We introduced ourselves, I mispronounced his name, Erdi, and he immediately began a conversation with Damian. They chatted and chatted while I stood next to him. This is cool, I thought, and then inevitably began wondering if it was me that he was interested in. Just as the knots in my stomach began, he injected into his conversation that he thought I was attractive, and put his arm around me. No more questioning. Soon Erdi and I were saying goodnight to Damian, and hailing a taxi.
By morning it was clear this was no simple holiday romance. This was special. Erdi made me laugh. Though I was in a very foreign city, in a very foreign country, I was perfectly comfortable in his home. I was with this young Turkish man—originally from a small village in the east of the country—but I was at home. I was at peace. I didn’t really need to, but I asked if I could see him again. He smiled, said yes, and we spent every day together for the next week. Being with him was so easy, natural. We talked about world politics, economics, our cultures, music, film, gay life in the U.S. and Turkey. Mostly we laughed. We watched YouTube videos of ridiculous people doing ridiculous things. Indeed, that was what connected us most deeply—our recognition of and appreciation for the absurd all around us. We understood each other. And I admired him. He was born poor by any country’s standards, but pulled himself out by disciplined study, earning scholarships to the best schools in his area, finally being accepted at one of Turkey’s most prestigious universities, Istanbul University, to study economics.
It was a struggle balancing my time with Erdi while still trying to make the trip about Dad and me. It wasn’t easy. I introduced my father to Erdi one afternoon, and we toured the Grand Bazaar. It was awkward. Dad could feel the tone of the trip shift and it saddened him. It was clear I had met someone important, and we had a long, emotional talk about what was happening. In the end, Dad understood this was no fling, and accepted the situation. Two months later, my father would buy my plane ticket to return to Istanbul and so I could be with Erdi again, and today he couldn’t be more supportive. I am truly blessed to have such a wonderful father, and to have had him at my side when I first fell in love with Erdi in August 2012.
My final night with Erdi, that initial trip, ended in tears and uncertainty. I asked him to marry me. “Why not?” I said. He said yes. Of course, knowing each other for such a short time we jointly acknowledged that we were half-joking, but I truly felt the possibility, and so did he. There was obviously never a question whether I would see him again, just when and how. And so I returned to the United States, but my heart did not leave Turkey or Erdi.
After one week of constant emailing and messaging on the Viber app (then Whatsapp and Tango), we graduated to Skype. Our first Skype call lasted six hours and it felt like minutes. This became the norm. Erdi would stay up until 7:00 or 8:00 in the morning to talk with me when I got home from work. We never went longer than two hours, when we were both awake, without texting. Our connection grew, and so did the torture of being apart. There were times I felt I could reach through my computer screen and touch him, and the fact that I couldn’t was almost too much to handle. Going through the process of developing a relationship is filled with obstacles enough. Add to that a distance of 6,000 miles, and all the cultural differences… let’s just say it wasn’t easy. But neither of us was going to give up. Still, we knew that too much time apart would strain our relationship irreparably, so I planned a return trip to Istanbul as soon as I accumulated enough vacation time at work. I put the plane ticket on my credit card, later covered by my Dad (as a surprise birthday present), and planned ten days over the Thanksgiving holiday. I was so excited to be back with Erdi.
Would it be the same, we both wondered. We were scared. Every conversation leading up to my return made us feel more connected. We shared everything about our lives, but we hadn’t spent exclusive time together, physically in the same place. We only really knew the euphoria of the first meeting, with a defined expiration date, and, possibly, with the “safety” of no specific commitment. This trip would be an opportunity for us to truly determine whether we would go forward as a couple, really make a commitment and endure all hurdles and barriers that make it a challenge for a couple from two different countries, not to mention all the life changes ahead of us to make such a relationship succeed. We were convinced, and remain convinced, that our love for each other will conquer all.
The good news is that it went better than either of us could have hoped. We spent every moment together. He took me to meet his family in Izmit, who were warm, stuffed me with food and joked about me in Turkish, knowing I couldn’t understand.
I met Erdi’s parents, and six of his seven brothers and sisters. We spent the days cooking, watching movies, talking and laughing, sharing our lives. He loves electronics, so we spent quality time at several electronics stores. The only thing that had changed was that we were closer. And we knew we were in love. We knew it was big, life altering. And getting on that plane home was absolutely excruciating. Immediately we put in motion our plan to be together permanently, as soon as possible.
The next two months were the hardest of our lives. We were empty in our daily lives without each other. And we weren’t exactly sure what to do. Could he get a tourist visa and visit for a few weeks? Could I go back to Turkey once I accumulated more vacation time? But we would have to deal with the awfulness of separating again, and the pain of indefinite uncertainty. We wanted stability; we wanted a chance. We wanted to get married and have children. Often we talked about how we would raise them; when we did, I admired him more. This was the man I wanted to be a father to my future kids.
I arranged to meet with immigration lawyer, Lavi Soloway, who I had met through friends. I knew he specialized in immigration law and had worked with thousands of binational couples. I had followed his work at The DOMA Project. We went over the details of filing a fiancé petition with the U.S. government, and he explained to me the current and changing nature of various relevant laws. I took the perspective that as a United States citizen I should have the same right as anyone to sponsor the man I love to come to the U.S. as my fiancé so that we can marry, establish a permanent home and raise our family. And so we are moving forward.
While I began the fiancé visa process I also knew that I didn’t want to spend any more time apart. It was a strain on our relationship. So I decided to move to Istanbul to be with him. My life in West Hollywood was becoming meaningless without him. When I broke the news to my roommate, who is also my closest friend in Los Angeles, she told me she already knew it was coming, because, really, emotionally I had already left. I was emotionally with Erdi.
I moved in with Erdi in Istanbul on February 2, 2013. I continue to work remotely as a consultant, writing and copy-editing for the historic Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles, and am in the process of applying for a residential visa for Turkey. Erdi and I spend every moment of the day together—we cook, watch movies, shop, take walks around the city in the foggy cold and rain (I’m trying to get used to it), visit family, do what normal couples do, and we talk about the future. My father is planning a visit in the summer, while my mother and brother and his family will come in the spring. Our dream is to return to the United States later this year once the fiancé visa is approved so that we can marry in New York State.
To all those reading this, who have fallen in love with someone far from home, who face unjust laws that put barriers between them and the future they seek to build, I can only say that for me there was never a question. Love must come first. That means it must be valued and defended. Our stories must be told and shared. It will be a struggle, but it will not defeat us. Every day our love grows stronger, and so does my resolve not to be forced into exile by my own country. I want to come back home to my life in California with Erdi. The fiancé visa petition that I have filed for him can only be approved if DOMA is struck down by the Supreme Court or repealed by Congress. The act of filing this petition is both an act of optimism, and an act of defiance. We do not accept the status quo. We do not accept that we are not equal. We have the power to make change happen by standing up and defending what is right, and good, and just. One day very soon, our collective efforts will achieve full equality.