Source: İpek İzci, “Hem görünür hem görünmez: Trans erkekler,” (“Trans Men: Both Visible and Invisible,”) Radikal, 3 July 2013, http://www.radikal.com.tr/hayat/hem_gorunur_hem_gorunmez_trans_erkekler-1140133
LGBT activist Aras Güngör in his book The Other Men (Öteki Erkekler) conveys the experiences of trans men in family, education, health, hormone therapies and transgender reassignment surgeries.
In Turkey, it is obvious that when it comes to transsexuality, the first thing that comes to mind is male-to-female trans people. What about female-to-male trans people? “I will say that I am alive only when we get to live in a free world for real,” says Ersin. Is he more camouflaged compared to trans women, is his life easier? What does he try to tell us when he says, “Biologically I am in a female’s body; I am male in my brain”? What risks did he face in the identity reassignment process from pink (female) to blue (male) identity? Did he get support from his family or was he alienated?
In order to find answers to these questions, LGBT activist Aras Güngör published a book called The Other Men (Öteki Erkekler) with Sel Publishing. In The Other Men, which hit the shelves on July 1st, 2013, seven trans men; Ersin, Utku, Doğu, Uzay, Mete, Kamil and Tarık tell their experiences of their daily lives, families, education, health, hormone therapies, sex reassignment surgeries and legal processes. Güngör answers our questions and tells us that though trans men are not as visible as trans women, it would be wrong to think that this situation makes the lives of trans men any easier:
“At times, not being visible creates bigger problems. (Blue) (Un)Identity is a serious deal. Trans men have no access to vital needs such as employment, health care and housing: along with that, many trans men are subjected to police violence because of the color of their IDs. Our daily lives are under siege.”
What is the alphabetical hierarchy in the acronym “LGBT” mentioned in the book, does this hierarchy really exist?
In my experience, the strictest gender categorization is within the LGBT community. The LGBT community is where your gender, sexual orientation and gender identity are manifested in a clear manner. When compared to the gender perception of heterosexual society, the LGBT community’s understanding of gender is as stable, defined, bound and its structure also besieged by another male dominance. If it were different, this book would not have been the first and we would be more aware of homosexual women.
You previously released a book entitled The Experiences of Female-to-Male Transsexuals from Pink Life LGBTT Association; why did you feel the need for a second book? From what kind of needs was The Other Men born?
This is my first book from a publishing house. We need to listen to the experiences of trans men again and again; in order both to determine a way of action and to be aware of each other. Each experience is different from another. The more we listen to each other the closer we come to a solution. The publications of associations unfortunately have a limited reach; it is like we are whispering in each other’s ears. The Other Men will be distributed in a wide range of places. And although this is a comprehensive study, I think ten more books would not be sufficient either. There are a lot of different stories and these ought to be discussed as loudly as possible.
You talked about coming closer to a solution. What is the solution?
To include sexual orientation and gender identity in the article on equality in the constitution, to initiate protective laws on behalf of trans people against all sorts of discrimination, to enact laws against hate crimes, to pass identification regulations in order to prevent discrimination against trans people in the reassignment process, to educate teachers on gender, and to get rid of the heterosexist mindset in the education curriculum as soon as possible.
What is the most deep-seated prejudice against trans men?
First of all, there is an understanding within the movement that trans men are not discriminated against. A general prejudice against trans people is the thought that transsexuality is a disease. Regarding trans men, people think that being a woman is hard stuff and trans men want to reap the advantages of being men and use its comfort. However, gender identity is not a choice. I can say that trans men do not get any of the comforts of being a man: to be on medication for life, to go through many challenging surgeries and to get excluded from society’s manhood no matter what; what kind of an advantage is that?
Why do you think trans men are discussed and known less than trans women? As Doğu says, “He goes to the association and understands that the organizational structure is all about trans women. He cannot exist there.”
The root of this situation is about being biologically female; or better yet, it is the “problem” of whether you are born with a penis or not. Women’s self-confidence is stolen from them. I think society, family, education institutions; all are a part of this crime. Trans men go through this socialization of women; you are taught the appropriate ways of gesture at age five, what time to return home, what roads to walk from school to home, we are all taught that the house work is ours. Trans men intimately know the oppressive violence of the father and the brother, in short, of men. It can take a whole life to replace this stolen self-confidence. The individuals that make up the LGBT community are brought up with these doctrines as well. Consciously or not, a hierarchy of power is constructed and trans men are excluded from this. You need to overcome many obstacles to have a voice and this is really difficult for many trans men.
Although many identify themselves as transsexual, they feel hesitant about “the penis surgery.” I think this situation stems from the arbitrary process of legal hearings. Is the state showing more tolerance towards surgeries and blue identifications or is there no progress?
Being trans does not require any intervention on your body. The existence of transsexuality is not a process that begins with an operation. Some people avoid the operation for many reasons like the legal process, the scarcity of hospitals conducting these surgeries, the inadequacy of healthcare personnel in the field and so on. In fact, the problem is that the state decides on whether a person is trans or not and regards itself as the decision-making authority. Only when the state stops seeing itself as the decision-making authority and starts taking personal declarations as the basis of gender and becomes a facilitator in this process, can we talk about a real change.
In other words, the state has to change its mentality on the issue. In order to make these processes easier, we decided to launch the “Trans Consultation Center Association” in July 2013 in Ankara.
What issues will you be helping with?
There has been no place for trans people to get correct information about the transition period. For this reason, many people try to learn the process on their own and they encounter many problems. How to write a legal petition for name changes, which legal paperwork are to be filed before the operation, what to do in the course of healthcare, what to do later on; all this information is dispersed and we plan to put it together and to provide consultations compatible with the specific conditions of the applicant. In a nutshell, we are starting a center that gives information and provides legal and psychological support during the gender reassignment process of trans people. We aim to make this process easier for trans people and to support them in this process.
Do you agree with the statement that the Gezi Resistance made LGBT people more visible? I witnessed changes in the perception of many people but to what extent can we generalize this?
It certainly had a transforming effect. The state constantly claims that society is not ready for LGBTI people but this is a lie. Personally speaking, two years ago when we launched a booth for the campaign “Trans Identities Are Not Diseases,” I saw that people approached us for brochures, gave their signatures and asked questions without hesitation. People can stand side by side; what separates us is the State itself through all sorts of instruments. We witnessed this in the Gezi Resistance as well. There are certainly some people who do not want to see us united. Heterosexuals and homosexuals, Armenians and Turks, women wearing headscarves and atheists, rich and poor standing side by side. This scares some people.