Kaos GL interviewed trans man and instructor Lukka Alp Akarçay in a series of articles they launched to mark International Trans Visibility Day. Lukka is also a volunteer for LGBTI News Turkey. We would like to take this opportunity to celebrate his activism and Kaos GL’s continued support for trans visibility. Trans people are here, get used to it!
Source: “Trans people exist in academia too!” (“Akademide de tabi ki translar vardır”, interview by Hayat Çelik, KaosGL, March, 31, 2020, https://www.kaosgl.org/haber/akademide-de-tabi-ki-translar-vardir
“Of course, trans people exist in academia too!”
Today [March 31] is the International Trans Visibility Day. This year to mark the day, we launched a special series, saying “We are here, get used to it”. We hope that this series of interviews and articles will contribute to trans people’s struggle for visibility.
Our first guest is Lukka Alp. Lukka is a 40 year old trans man. We talked about coming out, the university he works as an instructor and his academic life.
Can you introduce yourself to us?
My name is Lukka Alp, I’m 40 years old. I did my undergraduate degree in Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, Painting Department. I finished my master’s in the United States. I’m an instructor and I work in a private university, in a language department. Currently I’m living in Istanbul.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I love nature. I love going out to nature and hiking in my free time. I like climbing mountains and going for long walks. That is, when I get the chance to get away from work, because it’s usually quite busy. Aside from that, I love reading. And although I can’t get around to it these days, I like painting.
Can you tell us a bit about the period when you hadn’t come out to anyone yet?
It was a difficult period. I was feeling a bit lonely then. At first I was feeling like it was something I was ashamed of, something I wouldn’t be able to tell anyone…Of course, the first time I realized it, I was afraid and I felt like there was no one I could tell this to.
What scared you, why were you afraid?
When I first realized it, I felt overwhelmed. That was my experience. But of course, it’s not actually that it happened suddenly, it was always in my life but I wasn’t aware of what had been going on. When it felt so suddenly, I got scared. The question of whether I was trans or not was scary. What did it mean for me that I could be trans? It seriously scared me in the beginning.
Those days I had heard the word “trans” but frankly I didn’t really know what it exactly was. Yes, I was acquainted with a couple of trans friends, but it had never occurred to me that I myself could be trans.
During the period you were questioning your identity, how were you relating to role models in the media? After all, trans men suffered a lot from this [the lack of role models]. Who were the trans men associating themselves with the most on media?
It was the end of the year 2017, beginning of 2018 when I came out. I was 38-39 when I realized it. If there were any [role models], maybe I would have welcomed it [my identity] with an open embrace. Because I was not recognizing my identity.
When and to whom did you first come out? What did you experience afterwards?
I first came out to my ex partner. Because they weren’t here. We were still together but they were away in the United States, we were communicating via video calls. I started opening up little by little, because I thought they’d understand, they had trans partners in the past. They even had asked me before, “Is it possible that you are trans, did you ever think about it?”. I, of course, laughed about it, because I didn’t understand. First they didn’t accept it when I started telling them. So I stopped talking about it and opening up. Later I came out to a close friend. I told them and they took it well.
Did you open up to your family?
Later, I came out to my family too. I came out on the phone. First they didn’t get what was going on. They were shocked of course, but they also showed support, the two reactions were simultaneous. They took it well and immediately wanted to support me. They sincerely told me that they don’t get it and they don’t know what it means but that they support me. They said “you are our child”. They asked questions as well, “how do you feel, what do you feel?”. So I told them.
When we first came together, they faltered a little, we had arguments about what we will do. For instance, in their first visit [after Lukka came out] they didn’t want to talk about it at all. I started talking about it, and they didn’t know what to do. They didn’t know how to talk about it. So there was tension. Recently they came to visit me, it went really well, they use my name too.
Before you came out as a trans man, how were you identifying yourself?
I wasn’t categorizing myself. It was undefined. It was always a question mark, an ongoing identity search that kept following me around. I was only defining myself over my sexual orientation, as an homosexual. But I would later realize that what was missing was my [gender] identity.
In the period of coming out, most of the trans people first name themselves homosexual if they name themselves at all.
Yes, that’s what I experienced as well, because when I looked back to my highschool years, I saw that I was attracted to women, therefore I thought to myself, I guess I’m homosexual. I didn’t know much about being trans.
How was your experience during high school and college years, did you encounter any difficulties? Were you subjected to any discrimination?
I can’t say I did, because I was in the closet. My teenage blues was extra intense. Things about my sexual orientation kept popping up and I felt the urge to constantly suppress them. Because at the time I was ashamed to feel that way. But I can’t say I experienced any concrete discrimination. I was going through a confused phase of not being able to figure out things about myself.
What were the more challenging aspects of the school for you?
The dressing rooms were uncomfortable places but I couldn’t put my finger on what the reason for this discomfort was.
How did you start taking steps about your process? How did you get into action? Did you receive any psychological, legal, financial support for your transition?
Yes, I did. First of all I wanted to figure out and understand whether I’m really trans and what that means to me, so I got psychological counselling. Afterwards I decided to transition and started the process. Now I’m getting legal support.
You mean an attorney?
Yes, I hired a lawyer.
Is your identity open at the university you’re working at?
How is your work life, have you been subjected to any discrimination based on your gender identity? Are there any challenging incidents or people?
I haven’t faced that many challenges at the institution I’m working at. As soon as I came out, my department director showed support, so did the HR department. They had some difficulties with my name change requests, but when I explained it to them they helped out.
What exactly is your role at the university? Can you tell us a bit about your job?
I’m working under the languages department. Aside from teaching, we have an initiative made up of instructors from different universities around Istanbul. This initiative is built on feminist principles and does not have a hierarchical structure, we aim to queer the language instruction in higher education in Istanbul, so as to provide inclusion for all gender identities and sexual orientations. We encourage collaborations between the academics, instructors and graduate students to this end, we devise inclusive teaching material, redesign problematic materials and give training to instructors on LGBTI+ issues. Our ultimate goal is to create a concrete product with strategies, materials and lesson plans for instructors. We also devise our own curriculum in this trajectory and conduct research-based studies.
How is your relationship with your students, did you encounter any problems? How did you come out to your students, what is your dialogue with them on the matter?
I haven’t had any problems so far. Actually, I wasn’t thinking of coming out to my students. I was talking to our director in a meeting and they asked whether I would consider coming out to my students, I hadn’t thought about it then, later I decided that it was both necessary and important to come out during my transition. For the last four semesters, I come out on the first day of class and every semester how I come out changes format. The first semester I came out, I used a powerpoint presentation and I came out while explaining the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity. In the later semesters I continued to come out with shorter narrations. This semester I came out while giving examples about the content of a class. I told the students that I was interested in trans rights as I am a trans man and that I would build a research problem from this perspective. I haven’t had any negative reactions from students so far.
There is a circulation as well, you constantly have to come out to new students, is this challenging for you?
The meaning and the necessity of coming out to students changes for me. I thought I would continue coming out in the same way every semester. When I asked myself whether there is really a need or necessity for this, I was also thinking, every semester I come out to a different group of students, what does this mean to those students, does it change their prejudices towards trans identities, if they have any. This is also a part of queer and feminist activism for me, it is the need to be honest with myself and it is also important because it dismantles normativity and makes others question it. What happens when someone who doesn’t know [Lukka’s trans identity] suddenly thinks “Oh, the teacher is a trans man”? Maybe that contact will open a new horizon for them, or initiate a dialogue about something they haven’t thought of before. Therefore when I don’t come out, I say to myself “is this better or worse?”. (Laughs)
So every semester a new coming out ritual all over again?
Yes, I come out every semester, just the form of the ritual changes.
These are very valuable experiences. There can be trans men who might be in your position but who haven’t come out yet. What would you like to tell them?
Visibility on campus is important because trans students exist. I have said it the first time I came out too: My door is always open to LGBTI+ students. If a trans student hears this, they can come and knock on my door to talk.
And do you clearly express that, with a flag or a similar thing?
There is a little postcard. It’s always there. (Laughs) It’s in English and it says “Fighting for change”, it has a trans flag on it.
When I first came out this is what happened: After one of the lessons a colleague of mine had a student come up to them and say “I don’t use the name on that list, can you refer to me with this name?”, they came out to my colleague, who then said “We have a teacher like you, would you like to meet him?”. The student was very happy to hear this and replied “of course”. This meeting and the dialogue that ensued was very valuable both for me and the student. I invite the student every now and then to my office, we chat a little, the student tells me their problems and I share my experiences, and this nice dialogue developed.
Are there any other trans professors at the university where you work?
Yes there are.
So you must be transforming the place together.
Yes. (laughs) We are all very busy and although we can’t come together often, we support each other.
In your daily life, were you exposed to any discriminatory attitude or behaviour, on the street, in shopping or other social instances?
Of course, while shopping for instance. I have been living in the same place for years so people know me. There was this market I used to go to, I would do my shopping there years ago. I wasn’t transitioning yet. I looked a bit more different too. I wasn’t here for two years, so this was five years later, when I came back. I mean the way I dress (masculine clothing) is obvious. I wasn’t going in this market in order to avoid a dialogue and be referred to as “ms”. Then one day I went in, it looked like it changed hands. Because they didn’t know me, they had no memories of me, they referred to me as mister, brother, sir. Another day I went back, the guy who knows me was there. (laughs) He hadn’t gone, he was standing there! When I first entered, he didn’t want to pay any attention to me and kept me waiting. I felt a very negative energy coming from him. Then he used the word “ms” referring to me, repeatedly. When he kept stressing the word, I felt uncomfortable. I said “What did you say? I think you are mistaken”. Then he apologized. He said “It’s been a long work day, I’m not myself” or something to the effect.
I said “you are wrong” and left it there. Because I didn’t know what to do at that moment either. But I had to spell it out, it’s obvious that he needed me to clarify. If he gets that clarity, maybe he will say I mistook you for someone else, this is not the person I know. I don’t know, but I felt a negativity the moment I went into the market. It made me uncomfortable, so I never went there again.
Your experience might resonate with others: Trans people find it hard to go back to certain spaces where they are well known, spaces which had an important place in their lives before the transition. I guess that’s what you experienced.
Is that market on your street, close to your house?
Yes, it’s nearby. But I chose not to go again.
Did you go to a farther market where you are not known?
I mean yes, that’s what I do.
I had a hard time at the hairdressers. Because I had to go to a barbershop, and the conversations there were horrible. What was your experience?
Actually, I haven’t been for years. My partner used to cut my hair. When we broke up, I started cutting it. Now I do it myself.
Did you ever question yourself, does my inability to go [to the hairdresser’s] have something to do with these places?
Surely. I don’t know where to go, it might feel weird to go to a barbershop as I’m not used to it. But I’m dreaming of experiencing the barbershop. Maybe I will try to do it in a couple of months. But I want to have that old school, neighborhood barbershop experience. (laughs)
Did you experience any difficulties in state offices?
When we switched to the new ID card, I went to the public registry office. I hadn’t started transitioning then. It was distressing to go there. They look at you, they laugh at you, I wanted to get it over with as soon as possible. It was discomforting, but I didn’t experience any discrimination. I was going to first aid training. My name has not changed officially, I went there with my ID card. There was a practical test, and they called out my name. I went next to them but they were still calling out my name, asking where this person was? (laughs) That person is here, I said. The examiner said “Oh, I wasn’t expecting this”. But I also got accepted to the exam. They used the name on my ID yet referred to me as “mister”.
Did you intervene?
I didn’t do much because there was an ongoing exam. I told them the name they should use but they didn’t hear. I just wanted to quickly finish the exam at that moment.
Lastly, what would you like to say to mark the International Trans Visibility of Day?
Off, that’s a tough one. (laughs) It’s an important day, trans visibility and our struggle for it is important. We should continue our struggle. We should continue our activism. Whatever we can do in our immediate environment is a fight on its own. No matter how difficult it is, we must keep fighting. There are trans people in academia too, of course. Trans people exist in all realms of life.