Identity

LISTAG marks its 10th year with the book “Stories from the Rainbow”

LİSTAG GH7

LISTAG, founded by parents with LGBTI+ children in 2008, celebrated its 10th year on December 10 World Human Rights Day in Istanbul.  A reader’s theatre was organized by the LGBTI+ Parents and Relatives Group (LISTAG) in the Dutch Consulate, where passages from the book titled “Stories from Rainbow” were read.

LISTAG marked its 10th anniversary on World Human Rights Day by a reader’s theatre based on their new publication, “Stories from the Rainbow”. “Stories from the Rainbow” is a book compiled of the real life stories of families of LGBTI+ individuals from various cities of Turkey.

LISTAG was founded by several parents who had come together to support their children and to show that they are neither sick nor alone. Within ten years, the platform’s reputation has crossed borders through their work and the documentary “My Child”, which tells the story of these parents. This year, the group organized story telling trainings with the support of the Human Rights Fund from the Dutch Embassy and compiled the real life stories of people with LGBTI+ relatives or kin. The group held a book launch on December 10 World Human Rights Day at the Istanbul Dutch Consulate. The reader’s theatre was performed by the artists Ayta Sözeri, Ayça Damgacı, Haydar Köyel, Melis Öz and Seyhan Arman and was met with great acclaim.

Yasemin Zeynep Başaran, one of the co-editors of the book, made the opening speech of the 10th anniversary gathering. Başaran underlined that they wish for the book to reach wider audiences, not just LGBTI+ families and said: “Stories from the Rainbow illustrates the journey of parents who know that loving your child means understanding them and having the courage to travel the arduous and long journey of understanding through transcending prejudices of their own and of others”.

Families from LISTAG invited everyone to organize reading theatres for these stories of LGBTI+ families, as they believe that “A story changes a person, a person can change all of us”.

You can obtain a copy of “Stories from the Rainbow” by sending an e-mail to  <info@listag.org> and you can watch the videos through LISTAG accounts stated below. (The book is in Turkish)

LİSTAG

www.listag.org

https://www.facebook.com/listaggrubu

https://twitter.com/lgbttailegrubu

https://www.instagram.com/listagfamilygroup/

 

BENİM ÇOCUĞUM (“My Child” Documentary)

www.benimcocugumbelgeseli.com

https://www.facebook.com/mychildbenimcocugum/

https://twitter.com/listagfilm

 

*This article is a summary translation of the LISTAG press release.

“When you don’t feel at home with your body, you can’t belong anywhere”

Bianet’s reporter on LGBTI+ issues Çiçek Tahaoğlu interviews non-binary trans student Evren about their identity and education life.

Source: “When you don’t feel at home with your body, you can’t belong anywhere” (“İnsan Kendi Bedenine Ait Hissetmeyince, Hiçbir Yere Ait Olamıyormuş”), Çiçek Tahaoğlu, bianet, November 17,2018 http://bianet.org/biamag/lgbti/202668-insan-kendi-bedenine-ait-hissetmeyince-hicbir-yere-ait-olamiyormus

 

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Evren is 20 years old and studying physics at Boğaziçi University. They define themself as a “trans non-binary” individual. The concept of “non-binary” is used for identities which define themselves outside of the binary gender regime between male and female.

Evren says “People often assign a trans male identity to me” but in actuality they define themself neither as a trans woman nor a trans man.

I met Evren in the Southern campus of Boğaziçi University. We talked about their questioning of the gender issue, the state of being exempt from the binary gender, their academic life, the dreams of becoming a researcher at an institute, breast dysphoria and the hormonal process.

Can you tell us about yourself?

My name is Evren, I’m 20 years old. I study Physics at Boğaziçi University, it’s my first year. I was studying Engineering at İstanbul Technical University and I transferred to this department.

I’ve been on testosterone for almost 5 months. I’m a trans non-binary individual.

So you don’t identify as trans woman or trans man?

Non-binary means outside of binary gender system. It’s in fact the “or” in the phrase “female or male”.  

How long did you study at İstanbul Technical University?

I finished the prep and the first year. I thought I’d be happier at Boğaziçi. And I am.

Why?

I didn’t really have any bad experiences there. But I always feel that in general Boğaziçi embraces LGBTI+ individuals more.

For instance I wanted to stay at the dorms this semester but unfortunately the dorms are now under MEB [Ministry of National Education]’s control. But Boğaziçi [employees] did everything they could to arrange a room for me. Still, I had to rent a room later and it is financially hard to maintain.

Where were you staying while you were in Istanbul Technical?

I was staying at the girls’ dorm. I hadn’t started the hormones yet, so it wasn’t much of a problem. But sometimes when I was going to my room, female students warned me saying “Sorry but you can’t go up there”.

Did it affect you, staying at the female dorm?

I was getting nervous each time the dorm manager called for me. I was worried that there might be a complaint about me being a trans. Thankfully no such thing happened. I generally did not like staying at the dorm. I was staying in a tiny room for four people. It was challenging.

Is your family in Istanbul?

I live with my mom. My mom is in Fethiye.

I guess you and your mom get along.

We do now.

Would you like to tell us about your coming out?

Actally when I was growing up I wasn’t aware of gender difference. This was a wonderful experience for me. I saw kids as kids, not as girls or boys. I saw myself as a kid too.

The problem started when by breasts started growing. I liked girls and I was feeling guilty. When I started senior high school, I started playing charades. I changed three schools, Aydın Science Highschool, İstanbul Atatürk Science Highschool and Kabataş Highschool…

Why did you change three highschools?

Because when you don’t feel at home with your body, you can’t belong anywhere, that’s what I realized.

At the schools I was enrolled in, people got along with me but something didn’t click, I didn’t feel I belonged. Especially at the first highschool I went, I was in a game of charades. I was trying to perform all the roles society dictated. My hair was long, I didn’t get a haircut. When I got my period, I thought it brought me closer to the performance of femininity which I was very clumsy at, and I was extremely happy.

In time, I realized that I like women but it didn’t feel OK to define myself as a lesbian. I spent the last years of highschool saying “I don’t have any gender, don’t call me anything”.

In 12th grade, when I found out that I have the opportunity to start testosterone and get my breasts removed, I thought that maybe I was a trans man. Because all those who experienced bodily dysphoria like me were trans men. This put me in a different model. I had just been saved from the female role that society imposed on me. This time I started getting in the trans man mold.  

Were you learning about all of these by reading things online? Or were you talking to doctors or people who went through similar experiences?

Yes, I researched on my own. I was feeling alone as I never met anyone like me.

It was terrible, trying to fit in the trans male model, I was swearing , sitting with my legs wide open, I was not smiling…I was trying to perform “masculinity” after all. For instance I was observing the men on the subway. I was trying to stand like they do but I couldn’t stand upright as I was bothered by my breasts, I was getting into all sorts of shapes.

When did you start  to use the name Evren?

On my prep year at Istanbul Technical University. But I couldn’t insist on it with my friends. Then I met someone who stood by me to this day, they were the first to ask me “Would you like me to call you Evren?”. From that moment onwards they always called me Evren and scolded anyone who didn’t. This gave me strength. It helped me get out of performing trans masculinity.

It was hard. I was getting out of one mold into another. Then I started to ask “What am I?”.

Then I came across a term: “Non-binary”, meaning “genderqueer”. Living as a queer gendered person…I was this way as a child, it was the same in highschool, it is the same now. I could really be me, when I thought of myself as independent of gender. In fact, the discomfort I have of my body has nothing to do with my gender. That’s why I don’t like the terms like the “gender transitioning process”, “gender confirmation process”. Because, what am I transitioning from, to what? What am I changing?

People often assign the trans male gender identity to me, trans activists do it sometimes too. When I discovered that the dominant hormone in the body, whether from birth or by treatment, has nothing to do with gender, I was really liberated.

When you came out to your mom with your identity, how did she take it?

I came out to her in highschool about being attracted to women, I had no problem with this. But when I came out to her saying “I don’t feel like a women, I don’t feel like anything”, it felt distant to her.

This is what I think: Just as I went through painful times, she too has gone through similar times herself. I am proud of her. And I think that she refrained from reflecting her troubles on me.

What would you like to do when the school is over? What’s your dream?

I want to be a physicist, like working at Max Planck Institute. I want to do research. Maybe I can do it at a university, but I would like to experience the institutional environment.

On our chat we had before the interview, I noticed that you are interested in social work. You said that you participated in the training for gender instructors organized by TOG (Community Volunteers) . What else do you do?

I started dancing this semester; Lindy Hop and solo jazz. It’s the first time I’m dancing and I noticed that I never communicated with my body until now. It is really liberating.

How did the gender instructor training go?

You know I’m already into gender issues (laughs).

This training was illuminating for me, I sometimes had a hard time explaining simple things to people before the training. I thought I could turn this into activism. Now I’m sharing my own process over Instagram.

As far as I know, you would like to have a surgery, right?

I would like to have an operation for my upper body, I’m not thinking of getting a lower body surgery.  It’s a very difficult surgery and I don’t find it necessary either. The biggest part of my dysphoria is due to my breasts, when I get rid of them I will be free from a great burden.

Actually there is a chance that the state can pay for my surgery, but not only does it take a long time but also I have to change my ID as a condition. As long as I don’t have to change my ID, I don’t care if my ID is blue or pink*. If it won’t be a great problem in state bureaucracy, which hasn’t been so far. It’s only a problem on busses with the whole “women side-men side”. **

Will you change your name on your ID? Do you feel uncomfortable when people call you with your ID name?

I do actually. But I won’t change my name, I will only add a name.

My ID name is actually not gendered. I can share it with you as I’m not particularly bothered by it: Pınara. Pınara is the name of an ancient city and thus has no gender. The problem is, it sounds like the female name “Pınar” therefore it assigns female gender automatically. It started bothering me as people take it as a female name, therefore I can actually make peace with the name. I mean I had no problems with it growing up, but people turned it into a problem. I’m happy with Evren for now.

So can we sum it up as: You define yourself as non-binary and you don’t want to deal with the color of your ID. You just want to get rid of your breasts because of the bodily dysphoria and move on. You think people are happy as they are and can decide it all on their own. Did I get it right?

Yes (laughs).

First thing I will do after the surgery is to wrap a towel around my waist and not my breast. The second thing is to spend a night at the library, because I can only stay until 2 a.m, afterwards I get short of breath. I feel the urge to go home and take off my binder and be alone. And then I also want to run in the mornings. Because I like doing sports but the binder makes it very difficult to run, it suffocates me.

My binder is physically challenging to walk around with. When you wear it for 12-14 hours it starts to hurt and it really exhausts me. It comes right over your stomach and presses there, that’s why it gets hard to wear a binder after I have a meal.

How long have you been using Binder?

For around 2 years, since 12th grade.

When we were chatting you said “people don’t understand what sort of thing dysphoria is”, would you like to talk more about that?

Some days, dysphoria makes me feel like I can’t get out of the bed or out the house. It’s a feeling you carry around at all times. On many days, especially when I have serious things to attend to, it makes me think that I can’t leave home today and so I stay in.

Breast dysphoria or penis dysphoria are visible dysphorias. But then there are others, such as that of shoe size and height. Even if you are aware of these, it won’t reduce your dysphoria, at least that’s what happened to me.

I don’t think you need to experience dysphoria to identify as a trans individual, I have a clash of opinions with many trans individuals on this subject. I can define myself as a woman or a man without being uncomfortable with my own body. We say that the body does not dictate gender, then why would dysphoria dictate being trans?

When you went to the doctor to initiate the hormone procedure, how did you tell them about the non-binary issue?

Frankly I didn’t try to tell them. I started it as a trans man.

In one of our sessions a psychiatrist asked me “Do you see yourself as a trans man or as a man?”. I said “what’s the difference”. Now I understand what they meant to ask. They meant to ask “are you happy with your trans identity”.

For instance there is this trans male Youtuber. He has many problematic statements like “If you don’t hate being trans then you’re not a trans individual”, “You’re not trans unless you have dysphoria”. I don’t like generalizations and I think that this puts you in a mold when you’re fresh out of a mold dictated by the society. We use labels in the LGBTI+ movement to make things easier for us, to make us feel better; not to replace the old molds with new ones.

 

* Translator’s note: Old Turkish ID cards are color-coded according to gender. The new IDs are gender neutral in color, however not all citizens have changed their old IDs.

 

**Translator’s note: On Turkish intercity busses when one’s buying tickets, women are assigned seats next to women if they’re travelling alone. Therefore one has to fill in the gender slot so that the bus company can arrange the seating accordingly.

 

GNATs Committee on the Inquiry of Human Rights Hears the General Director of  Prisons and Detention Houses on the Status of LGBTI Individuals in Prison

According to a news report by Deniz Ayhan from Sözcü daily, at the briefing on the current status of prisons at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey’s Committee on the Inquiry of Human Rights, the general director of  prisons and detention houses Şaban Yılmaz announced that “there are around 200 LGBTI [individuals] in prisons and one trans individuals reassignment surgery was completed”

Source:  Şaban Yılmaz, the general director of  prisons and detention houses has informed Grand National Assembly of Turkey Committee on the Inquiry of Human Rights: “There are around 200 LGBTI [individuals] in prisons,we have carried out one person’s surgery upon request.” (“Ceza ve Tevkif Evleri Genel Müdürü Şaban Yılmaz, TBMM İnsan Hakları İnceleme Komisyonu’na bilgilendirmede bulundu: ‘Ceza evlerinde 200 civarında LGBTİ var, talep üzerine bir kişinin ameliyatını yaptırdık.’”), Pembe Hayat, http://www.pembehayat.org/haberler/detay/1973/tbmm-insan-haklari-komisyonursquonda-mahpus-lgbtirsquoler-brifingi

“We even got one surgery done”

Yılmaz stated “LGBTI [individuals] have different preferences, so they have different demands as well. We even got one surgery done, a gender reassignment surgery. The person’s surgery took place in Istanbul Marmara University.”

According to the information given to Pink Life by Hilal Başak Demirbaş from Civil Society in Penal System (CISST), “The first gender confirmation surgery  that we know of in Turkey [for an inmate], took place in 2014 with the support of Kaos GL and CISST associations as well as the associations’ lawyers. As a result of the application an inmate ward has been opened in Bülent Ecevit and Marmara Universities.”

“Since 2014 we have received applications from many trans women and men who are in the process of gender confirmation and who are willing to get their confirmation surgery done. Although many applications were done on the basis of the exemplary surgery in 2014, we see that the process and the surgeries have not been carried out in due time. We are applying for inmate wards to be opened in hospitals where gender confirmation surgeries could take place. We know that recently a trans inmate who is doing time for political reasons has applied for a gender confirmation surgery yet the request was rejected on the grounds that ‘it’s not of crucial importance’. We also know that the trans inmate started a death strike as she was kept waiting.”

Recently, a trans inmate’s breast operation was accepted on the grounds that it was “required for the person’s psychological and physical health” by a report prepared by Kocaeli University Medical Science Forensic Medicine Department. The costs for the operation were covered by the Ministry of Health.

“It is an accomplishment of CSOs and activists working in the field that the breast operation was carried out with state support and that the state realises it is not just an “aesthetic” issue. It is also a health requirement. All trans inmates should benefit from such advancements  and the process should be carried out by the General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Houses, with the assistance of CSOs working in the field of LGBTI and human rights.”

 

“The Turkish Constitutional Court is concerned about public order, not the well-being of trans individuals!”

Lawyers continue to evaluate Constitutional Court verdicts regarding gender transitioning. Demir, an attorney, suggests that “ ‘Being deprived of the ability to procreate’ is no longer required but the ID card change necessitates a surgery in any case. The Constitutional Court is only concerned with public order”. Kara, also an attorney says that public order is perceived in this case as the imposition of the binary gender regime and that “court rulings can not be based on speculations”.

 

Source: “The Turkish Constitutional Court is concerned about public order, not the well-being of trans individuals!” (“AYM’nin kaygısı transların sağlığı değil kamu düzeni!”), Yıldız Tar, kaosgl.org, March 21, 2018,  http://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=25388

Lawyers continue to evaluate Constitutional Court’s two seperate rulings regarding Article 40 of Civil Code which regulates the gender transitioning process. [Translator’s note: Article 40 regulates the requirements to have a person’s gender changed legally in civil registry, which necessitates a gender reassignment surgery. See this article for background information.]

The Constitutional Court (AYM) has abolished the requirement to “be deprived of the ability to procreate” in order to gain “the permission for gender reassignment surgery”. Regarding the requirement to have surgery in order to change the records in the state registry the court stated “[It] is necessary for public order, the process has to be regulated by the state”.

But what do these rulings mean? Attorneys Hatice Demir and Hayriye Karar interpreted the rulings for KaosGL.

Rights violations will continue as long as “the requirement to have surgery” remains!

Demir states that the abolishment of the requirement “to be deprived of ability to procreate” is good news yet the rights violations will continue as long as the requirement to “have surgery compliant with medical purpose and methods” to have registry records changed remains:

“A trans subject files a lawsuit to ‘be granted the permission to have gender reassignment surgery’ after using hormones for approximately 6 months under medical supervision. The law stipulates four conditions for this lawsuit to be approved: Being unmarried, being over 18, a health council report and being deprived of the ability to procreate. Among the new conditions, only the requirement to be ‘deprived of the ability to procreate’ is removed.”

What happens at court?

The law had stipulated that “a person cannot become ‘permanently deprived of the ability to procreate’ by using hormones. A person can continue to ‘be able to procreate’ after stopping the use of hormones, under ordinary circumstances.

To briefly summarize the situation as it used to be: You had to undergo surgery in order to be permanently deprived of the ability to procreate yet you had to prove that you are ’deprived of the ability to procreate’ to undergo that very same surgery. Under these rules many cases were being rejected. We had a very difficult time explaining this to the judges.

The Constitutional Court did not recognise this issue as a conflict within the law but has acted to resolve it. What this ruling says is ‘We already have the requirement for a surgery to have the registry changed on the second clause of Article 40 of Civil Code. We don’t need to create an obligation through a condition on the first clause of the same article.’ “

The ruling is due to the fact that court permission does not ‘directly affect the registry’!

Demir emphasizes that the Constitutional Court gave the ruling due to the fact that it does not regard the court order for gender transitioning as an “issue which directly affects the public space and registry”: “When you get a court permission to go ahead with the gender transitioning, you can’t just apply to the Civil Registry.  The Constitutional Court abolished the requirement to ‘be deprived of the ability to procreate’ as the change in registry is already dependent on the surgery on the second clause of Article 40”.

Trans individuals are still seen as marginals

Demir defines the Constitutional Court’s ruling for the requirement for surgery in order for someone to change their gender in the civil registry as a “horrible verdict” and added:

“The fact that the ruling persistently uses the concept of biological gender and that this biological gender can be changed ‘only in exceptional cases’ show that the Constitutional Court regards transsexuality as a marginal identity. The text repeatedly uses the words ‘exceptional’, ‘biological gender’… The ruling explains the subjection of the transitioning process to state regulation based on it being ‘irrevocable’ and involving ‘health risks’. Yet what we can gather from the rest of the text and its conclusion, the Constitutional Court is concerned only with public order and social welfare, not with the physical and psychological health of trans subjects.”

The attitude of the higher courts has not changed over the last 30 years

Demir stresses that the Constitutional Court is claiming that ‘a change in the registry without surgery will disrupt the public order’ in its ruling and says “The most horrifying part of the ruling is that it states the risk that such change will bring the possibility for an ‘unjust benefit for trans individuals from legal regulations which aim to protect women”.

Demir reminds us that 30 years ago the first Court of Cassation rulings regarding the gender transitioning in Turkey had phrases such as “what if men change their gender to avoid mandatory military service” and says that “30 years have passed yet the approach of our higher courts has not changed at all”.

Binary gender regime is accepted as public order

The attorney Hayriye Kara draws attention to the fact that ‘being deprived of the ability to procreate’ is not required anymore  because the rights and obligations of Turkish citizens are based on ‘biological gender’. Kara states that the vote against the ruling for the “correction of the gender slot on civil registry records” is important:

“The vote notes take the demands of people’s struggle into consideration. Yet if we set these notes aside, the reasoning of the verdict is horrifying. It clearly states that the imposed binary gender regime is the public order. The ruling in sum suggests ‘gender is defined by biological and physiological features as well as the physical appearance; rights and obligations are defined by this gender’. It means to say that ‘ People have a right to change their gender but their affirmed gender is recognized legally only after they obtain the defined masculine and feminine physical qualities after completing surgery’. The psycho-social dimension of the gender is not even discussed. The line of reasoning which justifies all sorts of state intervention on individual bodies to protect the binary gender was once more confirmed.
Courts can not base their rulings on speculation!

Kara criticized the dependence of legal recognition on surgical operation and stated: “The court claims that legal recognition and a correction of genders without surgery might be ‘abused, rights reserved for women can be used and people might avoid certain obligations [i.e mandatory military service]’. There is no ground for the allegation of ‘abusing gender transitioning to enjoy rights and to avoid obligations’. This is clearly speculative. Courts can not base their rulings on speculation. This is a hypothetical incident. What kind of data does the Constitutional Court base its presumption? If the court actually checked the data, it would have recognized the intervention as against the right to live and the bodily integrity of the trans individuals in Turkey.  There is institutional discrimination against trans individuals. There is no state protection against domestic and social violence against trans people. The ruling has no discussion of these facts yet states [gender transitioning without surgery] might be ‘abused’. This is speculative. It is horrifying and unlawful.”

Regarding a similar case, Constitutional Court Deputy Chair Engin Yıldırım’s note attached to his vote against the Martial Penal Code, Kara said: “This is an important text which follows the latest developments in international law. It is also remarkable that six judges including Yıldırım, have voted favourably towards LGBTI individuals. Yet the ruling of the court means othering is officialized”

 

Trans activist Demhat Aksoy on hunger strike to protest her conditions as an asylum seeker in Sweden

Demhat Aksoy, a trans woman activist who has recently moved to Sweden seeking asylum, has started a hunger strike to draw attention to her living conditions as an asylum seeker. We are sharing her message below, explaining why she has chose to strike. 

 

“This is a ‘ Hunger Strike ‘ text
Hello, I am Demhat, a trans-woman.
I have migrated to Sweden because my life was in danger and I wanted to have a more peaceful life. Transphobia, harassment and violence was part of my daily life, so though one does not get used to those- I know them well. However, here is one more thing that I have to re-encounter here in Sweden which is called racism.

By all means, the problem is not only racism. If you are a refugee in the asylum process, you are only allowed an isolated life barred from society, away from urban settings. Maybe that is kind of a life most of us could not find; you are settled to a flat, you are given money for the food. What about socialization, social cohesion or work, don’t we need them as well? But there is no place for any of these in the asylum process. There is no limit to ‘waiting’, no definite timing. Some waits for 8 months, some waits for 2 years, some for 5. Not all waitings have a good ending – some can be deported! But this is our lives which are damned to uncertainty.

Life during asylum process…
Actually there is no life during this process. You try to create a daily routine for yourself and this routine is probably the same for everyone who are in the asylum process. We are all living in small towns far from the city center. There is no opportunity for social activities. You get up in the morning, have some breakfast, sleep again, get up again, cook for dinner and sleep again – if you can. When you attempt to register for gym, you cannot – you do not have a right to do it. Because you do not have an ID card. Indeed, if you do not have an ID card, you do not have any rights. You have no rights to get mails, you have no rights to go to gym, you have no rights to buy some internet data, you have no rights to enter entertainment centers, you have no rights to buy certain stuff like mobile phones, cars etc. Indeed, you have no rights other than breathing. They want to see your ID card for any matter and refugees in the asylum process do not have access to ID cards. There are quite a lot of questions straining my mind, but the most important one is the following:
Is our existence identified with ID cards?
Beyond a piece of paper, I am a trans who escaped from death and who wants to live. But it really hurts that I am abandoned to a kind of social death in this country!

What can I do with 2000 Kr?
When I was settled here, they started to give us a certain amount of money for food. We do not pay for the rent, electricity or heating and yes that’s brilliant indeed. However, we are human after all. We have to buy hygiene products, personal daycare stuff like wax, razors, shampoo etc. If you are a trans woman, make-up is very crucial and you have to find out to cover that with the same amount as well.
In the waiting process, you drink, eat and sleep. That is all. But we do need social rights, private spaces. Considering all these, I have started my Hunger Strike on April 30, 2018, at 18.00. My decision is certain and it is a political act!
The Swedish Immigration Authority is in charge of anything that may hurt me during the process!
I will end the action if immigration authorities makes this situation more humane and regulates the following matters.

Demands:
Stop deportation of LGBTI+ refugees
Minimise the waiting process and standardise
LMA cards to have equal opportunities with IDs
More allowances for personal needs
New regulations on trans* medical process

Despite everything, love will win!
Refuges rights are human rights!
Demhat (Bella) Aksoy”

Auntie İhsan: A Trans Solidarity Story from France to Kayışlar Village

Ali İhsan Çolak is a  48-year-old transwoman who has been living in Akhisar’s Kayışlar Village for the last 13 years. She has established her trans identity amongst villagers, and long struggled to live openly.

Source: Sultan Eylem Keleş, “İhsan Hala: Fransa’dan Kayışlar Köyüne Bir Trans Dayanışma Hikayesi,” (“Auntie İhsan: A Story of Trans Solidarity from France to Kayışlar Village,”) Bianet, 6 February 2016, http://bianet.org/biamag/lgbti/171847-ihsan-hala-fransa-dan-kayislar-koyune-bir-trans-dayanisma-hikayesi

We are in Kayışlar Village in Manisa [a city in the Aegean Region, Turkey — Trans.], Akhisar district. We enter a green single family house through a massive yard. On our left is a sheep dog, who startles us a little at first. Then, we learn from Auntie İhsan that the dog is “Kontes” [Countess — Trans.], “she is a girl just like I am, that is why she is called Kontes,” İhsan adds, giggling. Behind this house is a 25-chicken flock: Auntie İhsan makes her living selling eggs.

Ali İhsan Çolak is a  48-year-old trans woman who has been living in Akhisar’s Kayışlar Village for the last 13 years.She has established her trans identity amongst villagers, and long struggled to live openly. At first, the villagers called her “Sister İhsan,” then “Auntie İhsan,” how they refer to her still.

Auntie İhsan welcomes us with all her warmth and a smile. We embrace tightly as though our lives touched before at some point. We enter a hall filled from end to end with hundreds of pictures of Bülent Ersoy [a famous transgender singer in Turkey, known as “Diva” — Trans.], A teapot heats on a stove. Auntie İhsan has been a huge Bülent Ersoy fan for as long as she can remember. She unsuccessfully tried contacting her many times. “Are you heartbroken?” we ask, to which she halfheartedly responds, “No, I love her anyways,” and keeps quiet.

Auntie İhsan’s bathroom, a detached mud-brick unit outside, as with other houses in the village, has been in bad shape for the last year.  Unable to endure rainstorms, the bathroom collapsed, leaving Auntie İhsan helpless, unsure what to do.

Recently, Auntie İhsan has been trying to make ends meet by selling her chickens’ eggs, yet realizes she cannot herself afford to reconstruct the bathroom, so solicited support over social media. Dilara Gürcü, from France, knowing Auntie İhsan from the documentary  “Hala” [paternal aunt — Trans.], responded to this call and launched an indiegogo campaign.

Though not very hopeful in the beginning, Dilara and Auntie İhsan cannot believe how much support they had received after a month. The campaign helped collect 6,500 of the 10,000 TL needed for the reconstruction. They drew together the rest from other external support.

Dilara explains the process: “I could not have imagined receiving this much support, however, when the sum reached somewhere around 5,000 I was convinced. I vouched for her and told the constructor we would pay in cash. And he rushed to finish the job before we arrived. For the past year, İhsan had been taking her showers in the backyard during the summer, and at her neighbors’ in the winter. For a woman, it is very depressing not to have a private area to bathe. This place was İhsan’s private area; it became her cocoon.  She owes her existence to this house.  We took a step towards making it habitable. I met amazing people during this campaign. I am very grateful to them all for trusting and knowing that the money would reach Auntie İhsan.”

As we chat, Auntie İhsan says, “Where’s France, where’s Kayışlar Village? It’s the other end of the world. I was not at all expecting such thing would happen. I was very hopeless.”

Auntie İhsan was born in Kayışlar Village, lived in İzmir starting from age 11 until her family fell sick. While in İzmir, she worked at a record store, loved her job, and got along well with the tradesmen in the neighborhood. Indeed, the small business owners called her “the butterfly” as she stopped by at every single store, and was acquainted with everyone.

While trying to establish her life there, and enjoying her occupation, her family fell sick and she felt obligated to return to her village after 30 years. She prefered not to return to İzmir after losing her family. She says it feels good to live in a home filled with her family’s memory and visit their grave.

Following her settling in the village, exploitative circumstances emerged for her. She started working at part-time and under-paid  jobs with no benefits, no insurance. She works for 12 hours but is paid less than half of her wage. She has made a living by cleaning houses for a while; she says such jobs do not come up anymore. She wants to retire by paying for her own pension fund; “At least I would have a pension” she says, but she cannot pay for that either. She lives in a rental house, and her only means of living is the local eggs she sells. Her house is covered in mold all around. We ask what she does when it rains, she says she waits with a  bucket and cloth in her hand.

Auntie İhsan cannot receive her father’s pension either, as her gender identity is stated as “male” on her ID card. She wants to have gender reassignment surgery, and submitted an application. However, she had to give up on that as well due to tedious procedures and expenses associated with the surgery. Women who hear about Auntie İhsan’s story send her packs full of cosmetics. She puts on her make up exultingly with aspiration in front of the mirror.

Press is very much interested in Auntie İhsan; however, the Auntie is not pleased with her statements being twisted in the news and tabloid news stories made about her. She mentions a number of people saying “I came for my class, I’ll do an assignment,” filming her documentary, writing news stories about her, earning money off of this work, and adds “you see, the rich man’s wealth tires the poor man’s mouth [a Turkish proverb used to make a point that poor talks too much about what the wealthy has. — Trans.],” and cracks up.

Auntie İhsan, indeed, wants to work and sustain her life with her earnings, yet she cannot find a job. When we look at her kitchen, we see holes in the ceiling, and an empty fridge. We learn that, she usually eats at her friends’; however, she told us about the buns she baked just for us with the herbs she picked. We enjoy her homemade pastries with tea brewed on a log burner, after which we have to take off.

We leave behind an aunt imprinted on our minds with her warmth, vivacity, and sincerity despite all the difficulties, all the pain she has been through.

Sultan Eylem Keleş is a student in Department of Journalism at Ege University, İzmir. She resides in İzmir, reports for Jiyan and Kaos GL, is a member of erktolia press commission, and an activist at Woman for Peace Initiative.

 

Hate speech against LGBTI by the Milli Irade Platformu

Hate speech against LGBTI by the Milli Irade Platformu, a pro-government platform of civil society organizations: “Our morality is our value. The people does not forgive those who pushes forward homosexual perversion onto the people as if it were a legitimate act. To legitimize the publicization of sin is an assassination against the values of this people. This initiative will fail yet again with The People’s Will.” (Scroll down for a list of organizations allegedly supporting this statement.)

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