Source: Elçin Turan, “Bir Zamanlar Lubunistan,” (“Once Upon a Time in Queerland,”) Ajans Tabloid, 7 February 2011, http://www.ajanstabloid.com/haber.aspx?pid=63
When we look back in history, we see that Cihangir has been the location of special meeting houses or “bachelor pads” from the early years of the Republic. After the 1980s, Cihangir’s embrace of transvestites and transsexuals made it the place for marginals and bachelors, intellectuals and artists who did not mind living with them. Trans people get displaced as a result of police operations time after time; after Abanoz Street, Pürtelaş, Sormagir they settled in Ülker Street. Ülker Sokak became a “liberated area” and trans people succeeded to organize under their own identities. However, police forces under the helm of Beyoğlu Police Department’s Chief Police Officer Süleyman Ulusoy launched constant operations and violated trans people’s right to live. According to trans testimonies, neighborhood resident “Güngör Abla’s” collaboration with the police and her exploitation of discourses such as honor, religion, country in order to persuade other residents to join her in the assault of trans people in one more street in Beyoğlu made trans people’s identity, culture, lifestyle, and lives a target and thus another part of the area was “cleaned” of trans people.
We talked with İstanbul LGBTT activist Demet Demir and LGBTT member and Women’s Gate (Kadınkapısı) STD prevention center activist Şevval Kılıç about the creation of a street and the story of its downfall, trans people’s organization in the streets of Beyoğlu, and living/not living with transvestite and transsexual identities.
Why did transvestites and transsexuals (TT) choose Beyoğlu as their living place?
Demet: Beyoğlu is a place where othered people can live. It has been the place of artists and all othered people from the beginning. Cihangir and Tarlabaşı embraced the TTs 30 years ago just like they do today. The difference in Tarlabaşı was the fact that the first TT residents there did not bring clients to their homes as neighborhood residents did not allow them to.
Şevval: Pürtelaş, Sormagir (now Başbuğ Street) and Ülker Street were our hangouts. The fascist attitudes of the Beyoğlu Beautification Association and the Cihangir Beautification Association towards us should not be overlooked when life in these streets is discussed. They were the ones who brought Süleyman the Hose (Süleyman Ulusoy aka Hortum Süleyman, dubbed the Hose because he used hoses to beat trans people), they all collaborated with the state back then.
Demet: Cihangir disbanded in 1989. There was nobody left there by 1990. We owned 5 or 6 streets back then. Cihangir was our empire.
Şevval: We called it Queerland or Fagland.
Demet: Think of an empire disintegrating and a small part remaining. Ülker Street was that small part left of that empire. Then going out to the E5 highway, deaths, and migration to other places started. We were deported. Then came the second dispersion with Ülker Street.
Şevval: I call these streets ghettos. There are both positive and negatives results of a ghetto’s dispersion. Cihangir was the first LGBTT ghetto and probably the only real one. It was perfect for its group dynamics but it also set us back in the matter of social integration because all our friends and our role models were trans. We were introverted. We became more exposed to hate-motivated killings. The Hose came and broke our doors, burned our houses down. We gained Kurtuluş and Pangaltı but still…
When you first settled in Ülker street.. did the residents of the neighbourhood have negative attitudes towards you like they did during Süleyman the Hose’s tenure?
Demet: When I settled there 1991, there were 16 trans people living there. We were getting along well with the residents, we would exchange hellos at first. Then our number increased and we became 85 trans people. With this increase, the power in the street changed hands. It became a TT rulership.
Şevval: When we became 85 people, Ülker Street turned into “brothel street.” Suddenly the women who were our neighbours became our enemies.
Demet: We started to call customers by shouting out from the windows- this was different than before. Some of us took it to the streets. We turned the place into a prostitution sector.
Şevval: That means; at first we lived within tolerable boundaries for the neighborhood residents but then we crossed that line.
Who is responsible for this?
Şevval: It was especially new trans people who settled later in the street who crossed this limit. This should not be ignored: These people were excluded from their families and from society in the places they came from, so they tried to show themselves in various ways, they tried to exist on this street.
What was the reason for “Sister” Güngör’s hate towards trans people and her collaboration with the police against them?
Şevval: She was sucking up to us at first. She owned an apartment building. She flattered us calling “my daughters, my darlings” so that we would rent her houses. She wanted us to rent both the front and the back side of her building, we did not agree, why would we rent the whole building! After that incident she got the other neighborhood residents on her side against us. When the Hose came in 1996, she was even more encouraged. So much that after Ülker Sokak disbanded, she put up a sign that said “Prostitution is over on this street.”
How did the structure of Ülker Street change after Süleyman the Hose arrived?
Demet: The Hose started to break doors on his third day. It had not even been two months and everyone ran from the street. 10 houses were left out of 30. After six months, there was just my home left there.
Şevval: I was in my twenties back then and I’d just had my operation. I had left my grandmother’s home and moved into Demet’s house on Ülker Street. One day I went out to walk Demet’s dog, it was a sunny day, things were quiet. After a couple of hours I came back to our street and there was a police operation. I came to the line of Demet’s house and went into the building to not be seen by the police but an army of them came into the building right after me! When I got to our floor only the door was standing. They could not break the steel door so they demolished the walls around it. I stayed in the police station with 20 people that night. The Hose was a nightmare for Beyoğlu. Most trans people have a phobia of police sirens because of him.
Filiz: The Hose was telling people to stone us. I was 18, they took us into custody. One policeman had an iron piece on the front of his hat, he hit my forehead with it. Then I went up to his superior and complained, he scolded the policeman who did it. He said “you cannot hit the people with an officer’s hat.” He hit me because I was a transvestite, he was jealous. This happened in the Beyoğlu Police Station but they would make us go back and forth between 6 or 7 stations. We would be taken to Kulaksız, Kasımpaşa, Kadıköy, Aksaray, and Fatih stations by force.
Şevval: During the Habitat (the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements) period the Hose broke our door down and laid it flat on the street and then said: “The castle has been invaded.”
Demet: I was the one who dealt with the Hose the most. Almost for a year I did not turn the lights on in my house so that police could not see me. One time the Hose put all trans people who were still there in a line in the middle of the street to beat them up. When it was my turn, I objected and said “You cannot hit me.” Then they beat me up in Gayrettepe Police Station; I had supposedly insulted Atatürk. I also stayed in prison for two months. Then I appeared in court and I was acquitted.
Şevval: They would also fine us from disturbing the environment or blocking the traffic. Now, even if you file a lawsuit they ask for witnesses who are not trans or women! Back then the police would not give you a report after fining you, you would not know that you were fined. So the fines would pile up without our knowledge and then we would be sent to prison because of that.
Why did you choose Beyoğlu as a space for LGBTT?
Demet: Almost all of us live near Beyoğlu so it is easy for us to organize and get here. At first, property owners would respond negatively to renting out to a homosexual association. If we were encountering this problem in Beyoğlu, we would encounter it in Şişli or somewhere else for sure.
How did you organize your reaction to the police and to the people who were collaborating with them?
Demet: Güngör had installed a telephone line in front of her door and was in constant communication with the police. Before I could climb down the stairs and open my door, the police would appear behind me. Güngör would call and notify them immediately. So we would call Güngör’s phone to jam her lines in order to prevent her from notifying the police. Until morning, we would not let the residents, who ratted on us, sleep. There were always two policemen waiting in front of our building. We could not get out of our houses because of that. So we would call 155 and tell them we were calling from some apartment building two streets away from ours and say: “Officer! There is some drunk person outside disturbing us. Please help!” Then the policemen who were waiting in front of our building would be sent there and we would be able to breathe for a while.
What kind of examples concerning the discourse of religion and nationalism reproduced against trans people was used on Ülker Street?
Demet: Güngör would yell in the streets constantly saying “How can the sons of Fatih be fags?” She started the propaganda against us at the beginning of 1995. Everyone was having fun in their homes on New Year’s Eve 1995. Suddenly Güngör appeared on the street wearing all green, she went to the police yelling “Allahuekber,” she complained about us saying “We are religious people. This disturbs us.”
Sometimes they called themselves nationalists, sometimes they called themselves religious. People who were smugglers, who were dealing drugs turned into modest family men all of a sudden. The Welfare Party ruled Beyoğlu then. Nusret Bayraktar from the Welfare Party was elected in the 1995 elections. There was pressure on us from city hall and the police. City hall officers would threaten shopkeepers saying, “I will close your shop if you sell anything to transvestites.”
Şevval: They would say, “You will not give bread or water to those fags”
Demet: From 1996 till 1997 the nationalist mafia was there. They came to me and said “you are going to leave this place in a month.” Doğan Karakaplan was raiding houses in 1989. The Hose cleaned up the last remaining pieces. I became a slave in my own land, you see.
How did Ülker Street disband despite the strong unity of trans people?
Demet: When the newcomers crossed the limit, the old ones cut loose as well. You are already “the other” because of your trans identity, when you overdo it on top of that… All of us were blamed because of the actions of one person. Hanging on to a place is important. If other trans people had resisted, we could have stayed there for a long time. Now I am the only one living there.
How do you feel there everyday as someone who has experienced the past?
Demet: When I look out of the window and look right, I see memories and I look left and see more memories. Because I am an emotional person, even when I look at the full moon I think of the old times.
What does Women’s Gate (Kadınkapısı) do for sex workers?
Şevval: Women’s Gate is an association that works on the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and provides community support to sex workers. For instance, police fines a sex worker at 5 AM for disturbing the environment. At one stage, I was writing petitions like I was a scrivener. Those petitions yielded results at first, the fines would be reduced in court. But according to a recent implementation, the person who will be a witness in court is supposed to be a man and cannot be a homosexual! I strongly believe that the state itself is the institution that organizes crime and unfortunately all this strengthens my belief in that.