News Media Analysis: “One less trans following each trans-related news”

Source: Michelle Demishevich, “Her trans haberinde bir trans eksildi,” (“One less trans with each trans-related news,”) P24, 13 October 2014, http://www.platform24.org/guncel/514/her-trans-haberinde-trans-kadinlar-bir-eksildi

The media has a direct responsibility for the discrimination and violence that target trans individuals.

For years, the media perceived news and updates on the LGBTI as if they were an undesirable workload. There are already very few journalists at news desks who have a mastery on the language of gender [as a social construct]. The making of LGBTI news requires significant sensitivity. Sentences should be carefully chosen. Yet a discourse of hatred, deployed through trans women, has been rampant in LGBTI news stories that appear in the media. Trans women have been represented as mean and wicked in news headings such as “transvestite terror,” “transvestites have spread horror,” “transvestites have entered into armed conflict with the police,” and so on. In the last few years, positive news stories by women who are sensitive to LGBTI, women, and gender have been effective, to a limited degree, in undoing this perception.

Whenever media published a story on trans women, a trans murder happened the very next day. Perhaps trans women were targeted by the news stories, or perhaps it was the deployment of the discourse of hatred that set the stage for hate crimes.

The hypocritical morality

Because of society’s nonsensical notions about “traditional family structure and morality,” which I will never be able to understand, trans women have been trapped in the night(life) and have been pushed to sex work. In other words, because of its unwritten rules, it was impossible for a trans woman to live within society.

Trans women who did not care about society’s hypocritical moral standards made their living through sex work on the streets, in nightclubs and in brothels. The moral and uptight citizens of this society who ostracized trans women did not hesitate to go to them at night and pay hefty sums to satisfy their sexual hunger. That is, trans women had to exist in the night and remain hidden from view during the day. That was the rule of the game.

Over time, LGBT individuals began an organized struggle. Associations were founded,  constitutional and basic human rights were pursued. The media, which had so far cast trans women as dangerous elements in their news stories, were slowly learning to look at the other side of the medallion. People began to ask why trans people ran into conflicts with cops and others in the middle of the night.

From the discourse of hatred to hate crimes

The discourse of hatred, which has permeated the news stories published to date, prepared the ground for hate crimes. This was not only true of LGBT and trans news. We saw it in stories on the murders of women [1] as well.  Because the language of the media is masculine, the phrases used in the stories, in effect, automatically supported men: “The husband who went berserk beat his wife,” “Husband injures woman who came home late,” “Husband kills wife who argued with her mother in law.” Through these absurd expressions, the culprit and the crimes committed were in effect being legitimized. In other words, the media of the patriarchal society, the patriarchal state and the patriarchal system reported news in a [heteronormatively] masculine language.

For this society, to be a man is very important, a source of pride. Fathers have always shown their sons’ pee-pees to uncles and brothers. Circumcision ceremonies turn into a celebration. The same is not true for girls. It is sometimes a source of shame to have a daughter. This is even reflected in sayings like “a manly man is one who has a boy.”

In the midst of these meaningless ego wars, it is trans women who have carried out the biggest revolution by rejecting the male identity. They have entered into a great struggle to put aside their gender identity and to live out their sexual orientation freely.

Trans women are subjected to violence even from 13-14 year old children on the street because of rampant transphobia in the media and society’s meaningless hatred.

A TV channel that solicits murder

Because of the hegemonic language used by the media, which has lately been in the process of change, numerous trans murders have been committed. Whenever a trans-related news item was published, we lost other trans women. One example that readily comes to my mind is the situation of trans women in Avcılar, where a fascist, racist, religious, and heterosexist sect of the public began demonstrations with the slogan of “we are against prostitution, we do not want transvestites” and forced the trans women who were living in the region out of their homes.

The Kanal Türk TV channel broadcasted these demonstrations with a biased and heterosexist language and transformed trans women into targets. The district governor at the time took these demonstrations seriously and, without any legal basis, ordered trans women’s homes to be sealed shut for a period of 3 months. Kanal Türk ran stories about this topic using hate speech and prepared the ground for hate crimes.

The trans women who lost their homes either had to migrate to other cities or take refuge with other trans women. However, among them, Seda, a 25 years old trans woman, was not as lucky. Under financial distress as a result of these events, Seda had to start living in the streets. Her lifeless body was subsequently found in the courtyard of a mosque. The assailants had raped and urinated on Seda before murdering and leaving her in a mosque’s courtyard. Following the criminal investigation, police officially announced that five men had raped her. Among the perpetrators of this murder was Kanal Türk.

In this and similar events, you can clearly see that, through the language and the way the news is written, the media incites such crimes. Additionally, defendants in hate crime cases occasionally claimed that they were incited by news appearing in the media.

Media turned them into targets

Gay men are forced to prove their homosexuality to be exempted from the Turkish Armed Forces, in writing through a doctor’s report, and visually through photographs or videos during sexual intercourse. There was a movie that included detailed criticism about the issue. The movie “Zenne” tried to portray the struggle to not participate in the military through the experiences of a gay man.

The media got involved immediately. Because the military issue is taboo and cannot ever be criticized. Institutions close to the military and the state targeted LGBTI people and harshly criticized homosexuality and transsexuality as depicted in the movie. Journalist Şebnem Bursalı wrote an article that declared the film to be a complete lie. Bursalı argued that she has a friend working as a doctor in the Army, that these claims are untrue, and that people were trying to ruin the system using the military.

Soon after, Hilmi Çınar, an experienced journalist who lost his life in the past years, wrote an article prior to the annual International Izmir Fair and targeted forced sex workers on the streets, laying the groundwork for hate crimes. Çınar argued that sex workers damage the city’s cultural structure and that they are nothing more than pollution.

Our esteemed state officials, who consider these articles commands, made their move, raided the houses of trans women in Izmir, and prevented them from working. Because [according to the officials] Izmir’s Fair contributes to the city’s economy and they were being “ridiculed to the world” because of trans women.

After these articles, trans women in Izmir and Kuşadası were brutally murdered. Neither the columnists who targeted trans women nor state officials who thought they succeeded said anything. The instigators of the murders remained hidden as if they were naughty little children. But we did not forget and we remember as if it happened yesterday. Those journalists made trans women targets and created the grounds for murder.

LGBTI associations sped up their work on these issues and made criminal complaints about those who are responsible. The efforts by the Pink Life LGBTI Association in Turkey were especially important.

Trans women were constantly killed and continue to be killed because of the media’s male discourse and society’s morality. Kanal Turk did not hesitate to present trans women as targets. Using visuals from the annual pride week events, it argued that this is part of the plot that foreigners play to destroy both the Republic of Turkey and Islam, that gays and transsexuals are terrorists out to destroy the state.

The discourse of “transvestite” and the legitimization of crime

It is almost impossible to count how many trans women fell victim to hate crimes until today. The language used while reporting the crimes is painful. Doğan News Agency’s [DHA] Kuşadası correspondent reported on the murder of Dora Özer who was stabbed 35 times in broad daylight and entitled it “Transvestite Muhammet Özer with the nickname Dora killed.” Because it is a news agency, this news appeared across the media. Journalists ignorant of the discourse of gender as a social construct helped spread this error. Dora Özer was killed once more with this journalist’s mistake. If we evaluate the news, it gave a secret message to society, “If you reject your male identity and end up a transvestite, you’ll be punished like this.”

While trans murders continue and the media refuses to change its male discourse, trans women are now finding their place successfully in the male-dominated business world. From textile to art, media to health, educated and equipped trans women are fearlessly working against transphobia and morality. It is now possible to see trans women in blockbuster films and TV series, working as doctors and nurses, performing in the luxury stages of Istanbul and working as anchors. I am part of this struggle as I work as a journalist in the male-dominated media.

Being trans in the workplace

Standing upright in the business world as a trans woman is very difficult. The society, with its hypocrisy, follows us there. This society, which objects to trans sex workers with the claim that they lack morality, also abjects trans women in the business world, the rules of which it sets by itself, just as they are working in jobs that are deemed to be “moral” and “normal.” That is, no space is allowed to trans women, either in the streets or in the business world. Hardly earth shattering, a hypocritical debauched society you are!

Nevertheless, none of this can undo us; “this is just the beginning, keep on with the struggle;” these senseless games cannot destroy us. Until we have successfully pushed for sexual orientation, gender identity, and our right to equal living conditions to become constitutionally guaranteed rights, there is no stopping for us, we will keep on going. The LGBTI individuals who were at the forefront in the resistance against the system and police terror during the Gezi protests are subjects in this society and in this country. LGBTIs began producing their own politics in this environment, where both left-wing and right-wing political parties intersect at homophobia and transphobia. Gay, lesbian, and trans individuals who are active in political life are struggling for the most basic rights to life. Even their most basic right to housing and work is being violated by the system.

“We do not rent to trans people”

If I were to give an example from my experiences, I have not been able to find rental housing for the last three years or so. Real estate agents and landlords say that they won’t rent to trans people. Work opportunities are rather limited to sex work. Even though I was employed without benefit and at low pay by the media establishment where I worked for two years, I was fired in four minutes without compensation on the basis that I did not abide by “work ethic.” This has been a very difficult process for me. Was I ethical only when the news I prepared was being cited by news agencies worldwide; what was it that led to the decision that I was not in accordance with [sic] professional ethics? I think I will never be able to understand this.

While I was writing this article, I was shocked by the news of another murder. A trans woman who was doing sex work out of necessity was found dead in her home. Trans woman “Çingene Gül,” found stabbed to death in Istanbul’s Şişli district, was recorded as the last victim to hatred. The police began an investigation to solve the murder because one of the progress criteria for the entry into the European Union is the topic of the LGBTI. The state is more sensitive on this topic compared to before.

Why did Damla Araz disappear?

As I reported in T24, a sex worker trans woman has been missing for a month. Damla Araz, who was beaten by three trans women and three men, left her usual hair dresser three weeks after that beating and was never heard from again. This important news is either missed or being ignored by the media. Because the issue pertains to a trans woman. But why did Damla Araz disappear? Was she being threatened by those who beat her to not make a formal complaint, or was she kidnapped by Islamists? These questions have no answers for now because no official investigation has been started about Damla Araz, because they claim that a first-degree relative needs to demand it. Though the constitution does not include such an amendment, police and prosecutors use this arbitrary practice.

Takvim’s “Trans-Mutt” headline

Despite it all, good things also happen too. Trans women are in the media’s “pink news” columns as well. The first-ever trans beauty pageant and trans fashion show were in the colorful pages on newspapers. But male-dominated media enters the stage again. Takvim newspaper plagiarized and changed T24’s news to include transphobic phrases and target trans women laying the grounds for hate crimes with title “Trans-Mutt”[2]. Shamelessly, it targets Boysan Yakar who serves as the advisor to Şişli Municipal. It even claims that the Republican People’s Party (CHP) is not content about this. The fact that the CHP has not made an official statement rejecting this claim makes it worse.

Gays and trans individuals continue to battle for their right to life despite the cooperation of the male-dominated system and the media. They continue to work tirelessly despite the violence they are subjected to in the street, school, work, metro, bus, bazaars, nights, and clubs.

I dedicate this article to all trans women who were victims of trans murders.


[1] This refers to incidents where women have been murdered, often by estranged husbands/boyfriends and family for reasons of domestic dispute, divorce, break up or failure to reciprocate, etc.

[2] “Trans-It.” “It” is a Turkish curse word (used for aspersion) that means “dog” (“köpek”). Here, we have translated “it” as “mutt,” which also conveys an uncalled-for negative meaning in normative usage in English.

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