LGBTI students

How marginal can you get? On discrimination and how METU students stood their ground

Middle East Technical University in Ankara is famous for two things: academic success and a tradition of resistance to political power. Whether it is in reaction to the overnight decisions to bulldoze the forest in the campus or the attempts at changing the stadium’s name  (“Revolution”, as anointed by the legendary revolutionary student leader Deniz Gezmiş and his friends), students have always stood their ground and claimed their space collectively. The tradition remains untarnished, as students’ protests forced the rector to revert his decision to first cancel and then to move the annual spring festival from Revolution Stadium. Despite the rector’s attempts to marginalize LGBTI+ and leftist constituents of the student collectives, the students successfully stood their ground through their solidarity.

As some of our readers might remember, Ankara is still under a blanket ban against all LGBTI related activities, including film screenings and panels – despite the lifting of the state of emergency last year. Although the ban has struck a blow to the public meetings and collective spaces of LGBTI+ people of Ankara, the LGBTI+ student clubs and movement is committed to continuing their social and cultural activities. Such was the case in METU’s Spring Festival, until the rector suddenly decided to cancel the festival, claiming that the students’ demand were financially burdensome, that the students even requested a “tractor” – confusing the DJing software Traktor with the farmer’s favourite, tractors. The rector said the following words, when his decision caused huge uproar:

“First of all, we haven’t cancelled the festival. On the contrary, we have agreed with students from UGT (International Youth Collective) on all matters including the concerts at Revolution Stadium. Yet this group later changed its mind, after having a meeting with LGBT, Marxist, Extreme Leftist, HDP groups [sic]. Their requests cost over a million in total. They even asked for a tractor. We have never had a prohibitory approach as an administration. We are more METU than you. For example I’ve been in METU for 35 years. I know just as well what is what.”

Of course, the rector’s attempts to wag a finger at “good” students being tempted by the evil marginals like “LGBT, Marxist and Extreme Leftist and HDP groups” fell on deaf ears. But once again the official discourse blatantly discriminated against and others the politically active students with the usual tactics: Lumping together all “others” as a united front of villainy, using identity markers and political positions as if they were adjectives to stigmatize the students, reframing the legitimate requests of students to continue their traditional festival as irrational and greedy and as a cherry on the top, claiming to be more METU than “you”. Regardless of the rector’s claims to authenticity, a university is nothing without its students, who have chosen to use the weapon of humour against the misrepresentation of their intentions. The students gathered in front of the Rectorate, carrying a handmade tractor model painted in the colours of the trans flag, garbed in a rainbow flag, a license plate that says “extreme left” and with a hammer and sickle. Indeed this act of creative resistance reverts the power-holders’ attempt at the caricaturized representation of the diversity of the students, by turning the rector’s words into a concrete object shown below.

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Various artists have offered to play for free and supported the students. On April 16th, around a thousand students gathered in protest. On April 17th student collective UGT, in charge of the organization of the festival, had a meeting with the Rector for two hours: The festival is to be celebrated for the 33rd time, at Revolution Stadium on April 24-26. We hope to see the solidarity of students, with all their diversity of ethnicity, political opinion, gender identity and sexual orientation, continue and grow in all campuses around Turkey. Love will win!

*Photos are taken from İnadına Haber.

**This article is based on news from Gazete Duvar and sendika.org.

Interview | Trans student, Şafak Koç, was expelled from the dormitory: “The number of those who undergo gender affirmation surgery and get murdered is the same as the number of those who don’t undergo the surgery and commit suicide.”

Source: Trans student, Şafak Koç, who was expelled from the dormitory: “The number of those who undergo gender affirmation surgery and get murdered is the same as the number of those who don’t undergo surgery and commit suicide.” (Yurttan atılan trans erkek öğrenci Şafak Koç: “Türkiye’de cinsiyet geçişi yapanlarla, yapmayıp intihar edenlerin ve öldürülenlerin oranı eşit”) F. Çiçek Yaman & Rojhat Tunç, Gazete Hayır, April 3, 2019, http://gazetehayir.com/roportaj-yurttan-atilan-trans-erkek-ogrenci-safak-koc-turkiyede-cinsiyet-gecisi-yapanlarla-yapmayip-intihar-edenlerin-ve-oldurulenlerin-orani-esit/

On Wednesday, March 27, we made an interview with Şafak Koç who is a student at the Department of Media and Communication at Üsküdar University. Şafak was expelled from Ataşehir KYK* Dormitory for Girls where he had been staying before coming out as a trans man. We met with Şafak after this event to reveal the problems that LGBTI+ individuals have in their social life.  Şafak began his story by describing his life starting in Van and then moving to İstanbul. The interview is below.

First of all, can you tell us about realizing your gender identity?

A child discovers his/her gender identity around at the age of 3. I thought I was a boy, but I realized my body was female when I saw the penis of my male cousin at the age of 5. I didn’t talk at all until the age of 9 because of the discourses that “girls don’t do that” and  “girls don’t play with boys.” I was not able to talk with people and express myself. I didn’t even know how to walk actually. People used to tell me that “you don’t even know how to walk.” I researched about gender identity for 3 years, because everyone around me was either female or male profile and I didn’t fit among them.

 

I couldn’t act like a woman or reveal the man inside me because I was ashamed. When a person told me that “you walk like a man” I got so sad. I wondered: “is there something wrong with me?” Moreover, I had nobody to help me and I was always confused. I hadn’t shared this confusion with anybody until the age of 18. I searched for things like “the mind is male and the body is female; what does this mean?” I thought a person who is not like this would not search for this kind of information. Then, when I was 18 years old, I learned that I was a transsexual person. I became so happy because I realized I was not alone and there were people just like me. On the other hand, I was scared of what my family would say. Because the number of those who undergo gender affirmation surgery and get murdered is the same as the number of those who don’t undergo the surgery and commit suicide.

Did you have problems during your high school? High school years can be problematic.

Yes, of course I did. Girls had to wear skirts at our school. Wearing trousers was forbidden. I would wear it compulsorily and I couldn’t go outside of class by any means. My hair was always in an updo and I couldn’t get my hair cut. Also, girls who  had their hair cut were considered awkward in Van. Then, people started to ask me “why don’t you go out with boys?” They even thought that I was a lesbian. So, many friends of mine ended their friendship with me without even talking to me just because of this thought. Everyone around me thought I was a lesbian, because I wouldn’t go out with boys and would act like a man. But, believe me, acting like a man was not something I could avoid–I felt that way deep inside. What could I do? I started to wear trousers in 11th grade and I was given reprimand. I had reactions from my family because of it too.

How did it go after you realized your gender identity?

When I went to a psychologist for the first time in 2016, I asked: “I really wonder how many people are there like me coming here?”. The psychologist answered me that [there are] “two other people.” They were children of teachers and they came here from other cities. That means I was the only person who was born and raised in Van who had the encourage to be their self. This frightened me a lot. I left Van by changing my choices.  I wanted to come to İstanbul and study media and communication because I though I would be somewhat free if I came to İstanbul and studied here. But then, I thought and told myself “what about other people?” It makes no sense. However, my family didn’t want me to study media and communication so I enrolled in the school by myself. Besides that, I was arrived just one day before the end of the enrolment period and it was difficult. I thought I became free when I came here. Everyone had come down hard on me and were both physically and psychologically abusive. I was already so confused because I was 18 and their reactions made everything more difficult.

So, you were the first person who saw a psychologist in Van about it?

Yes. But that doesn’t mean that there are no transsexual people there. We are not visible. For example, the suicide rates in Van is really high and people don’t know the suicide reasons for the majority of deaths.

How did your gender transition process start?

When I began studying at university, I planned to start the process after I graduate and become economically independent. But I broke down psychologically this year; it is really difficult to bear. So I went to a psychologist and learned that I had to start my gender transition for my mental health and medical treatment was started.

Have you ever had a chance to talk to your family about it, do they know?

I have. They know. But they reacted really bad. I don’t blame them completely, because this is something that they have never seen before and they are shocked about it. Just think about it: the person who you think is a girl for 18 years is actually a boy. They didn’t accept it. They insulted and beat me, just because I am a transsexual individual. Why do these things happen? It is really strange. Moreover, some people think that this is something arbitrary. Who wants to live a life like that? I think people should really understand. My family cut their financial support for me when I came to İstanbul. When they did so, I moved to a KYK dormitory because I had no place to stay. I have many relatives here, but I didn’t want to go to them. I have a sister one year older than me. She lives in İstanbul. But I couldn’t call her either when I was expelled from the dormitory. She already said to me that she wouldn’t help me if something happened. She told me to be still and live my life as a woman even if I am a transsexual person. I thought everything ended when I came to İstanbul, but I felt uneasy about going outside during the first couple of months, thinking they might be around. I couldn’t talk to anyone again. If a person is scared of his/her family, yes, there will be a little fear. The fear is less than the previous year, though. Now I think that everything that will happen can happen because I’ve given up on myself.  For some reason, my fighter side came to exist. I came from there, but I still fret about what those people are doing. Some of them send me text messages. It hurts a lot. They are forced to get married and I think about being forced to get married to some guy, I would probably commit suicide. Every 6 in a thousand people are born transsexual. This is not a low rate.

Can you tell us about the period after you moved to the KYK dormitory?

When I first entered the room, I told my roommates that “I am a transsexual person”. “Keep it in mind when you dress up or undress if you feel uncomfortable about it.” There was no problem. We were 8 people in the room and one of them wouldn’t come to the room. 6 of them were supporting me. This year was the same. We slept together and were really close. I am currently staying at the house of my friend who I met at the dormitory last year. I had no problem with the students at the dormitory. Just one time, the female president of the dormitory told me “your hair is so short, you look like a man. Grow it long!” I got so angry at her and that’s why I had my hairs cut shorter the next day. And then, she laughed at it. I and the president would joke with each other. But she would often interfere with the students staying at the dormitory and ask questions like “why do you wear such revealing clothes?”.  For example, a female student was expelled from the dormitory just because she hugged her boyfriend in front of the dormitory door. When the meals were terrible and students protested demanding better quality food, all the protesters were punished. Actually, almost all KYK dormitories are the same.

What was the process which led to your expulsion from the dormitory?

This year, I have been fairly visible on Twitter. A news article about me was published and I started to become known. Almost everyone at the dormitory learned that I am a trans person. The majority supported me while only a couple of people reacted badly. I was a little scared because if a complaint about it was made to the dormitory I would directly be sent to the disciplinary board, it would be written in my records, and my scholarship would be cut. So I decided to share the situation with the dormitory administration. I had consulted with the psychologist of the dormitory a couple of months before. I had told I was a transsexual man. I had shared my concerns and worries. The psychologist had told me “don’t share it with anyone at the administration, they will immediately send you away.” But I shared it with the administration last week. I told them “If a complaint is made, you can get trouble and a woman can get uncomfortable. If she makes a complaint to somewhere else, it gets worse for me; therefore, I am sharing it with you now.” At first, they seemed to be reacting well, but I was expelled from the dormitory the next day.

Let me tell you about these two days. On the first day, the day when I came out being a trans man to the president of the dormitory, they told me that they understood me and wouldn’t see me as a deviant. They even said that saying to someone, “you are not a deviant” is a transphobic statement. Because you cannot say it to any person when it is not true. Therefore, you cannot say it to me, as well. Then, the psychologist of the dormitory said that “We will ask you to leave tomorrow, you should stay at the house of a friend of yours temporarily”. After news started to spread, a lawyer contacted me and told me that they were trying to intimidate me and they were treating this way so that I wouldn’t cause a problem. The lawyer explained to me that the administration may had heard about it through Twitter or a newspaper article; they would try to shut the event down and thought that I may do something or that they may get affected by it. The lawyer told me to contact them if a problem occurs tomorrow, and that they could come to the dormitory right away.

The next day, I told the president that I didn’t have a place to stay and I was not dependent on anyone because the state granted me the right to stay at this dormitory. I asked for a month of time. She tried to look like she was treating me well again and told me “We need to think for ourselves. You leave the dormitory tomorrow and stay at a friend’s house, won’t you?”. Then, she gave me a paper and asked me to sign it. Afterwards, I acted as if I believed her; I told her that I wanted to go outside to call a friend in order to learn if the house was available. I called my lawyer.

After the lawyer came, the president heard about it and went mad. She locked me inside a room and didn’t allow the lawyer to come inside. She started to shout, pressed the alarm button, called someone, and asked them to come to the room immediately. 6 women came to the room; one of them was the psychologist of the dormitory and another one was an officer working at the district directorate. We started to quarrel. All of them started to shout at me. When I told them that I had the right to defend myself, they told me that they would initiate legal actions. When I answered that “Okay, you are talking about legal actions, but I am an ordinary citizen. So, I want you to negotiate it with my lawyer.”, they didn’t accept it once again and told me that they would have nothing to do with a lawyer. They asked me to direct this to a higher board. The president of the dormitory had always been like this. She didn’t even get a signature from a women she previously expelled from the dormitory. She had made up something and expelled them, but she tried to make me sign a paper because there was no reason to expel me. In the meantime, they kept telling me that they would take disciplinary action but I didn’t believe them at that time. “This is ridiculous,” I laughed at them.

During the quarrel, they often talked about my gender identity. I felt really offended. You get really offended when a person insults you just because you are a woman; it is the same, or double time worse. They acted like I was a guest of theirs and a burden to them. One of them said that “if even your family doesn’t care about you, why should we do?”. It hurt a lot. Then, I reminded them about my right to stay at the dormitory. I told them that I couldn’t stay at the dormitory for boys because my identity card is pink. Because my identity card hasn’t changed; even if I take hormones and become a man and my beards start growing, I am seen as a woman in this country as long as my identity card doesn’t change. So, they cannot expel me from the dormitory just because I underwent breast surgery. One of them told me that “you say your identity card is pink and claim you are a man. You contradict yourself. If you are a man, just leave!” When I repeated that I didn’t have a place to stay, they told me that “did you consult with us about it?”, as if it is something arbitrary. I asked them directly, “So, I am being expelled right now, just because I am a transsexual person, am I right?”. Nobody could say anything for a while. Then, one of them told me that I was being expelled not because I was a transsexual person, but because I was disrupting the moral order.  When I told them that what I was doing was not immorality, they said to me that “It is not immorality, but you are disrupting the order. Why did you reveal yourself? Why are you sharing it on Twitter? Okay, you are a transsexual person, but you should have kept it to yourself, why do you share it with people?” When I told them that the situation which I am in now is the result of the society pushing us to be invisible, they said to me that I am facing all these because I made myself visible. I understand it, they don’t know that transsexuality has a place in society; however, gender transition is one of our rights stated in law. Nethertheless, their attitude was like this.

When I told them that I didn’t think they had helped me, they got angrier and said to me that I had 3 hours to leave the dormitory. They threatened me by saying that I would be punished more and something bad would happen to me if I tried to resist.

You said that the psychologist of the dormitory was there during all the quarrel. How did she react?

When I told the president that the psychologist already knew that I was a trans man, the psychologist denied it. However, she had asked me not to tell the president about it, otherwise, she would get into trouble too. All these people in that room were afraid of each other. Think about it, even the psychologist couldn’t remain unbiased.

There are 788 students at the dormitory. Are there other LGBTI+ individuals you know there?

Yes, there are. I am sure about it. There are 4 LGBTI+ individuals that I met at the dormitory, but none of them are visible, because people are really cautious. I have a pansexual friend at the dormitory. They always protested the situation saying “Why can’t I walk by holding hand with the person I love? Why can’t I talk about it to someone? Why are people always biased about me?”

So, did the students react against the administration?

They started to a petition to show they were standing by me. They thought they could use it as proof when a lawsuit was opened. Something like “Şafak was expelled for no reason because nobody was disturbed by Şafak.” There were so many signatures at the petition, however, they stopped because they were afraid of someone notifying the president. Then, we consulted the lawyer and they said that it would not cause a problem. They continued to collect signatures for the petition afterwards. In addition, I received so many text messages from the dormitory. The people I don’t know sent me messages saying “We were not disturbed by you, how come they expelled you, you were an honest and composed person”.

How did the students at the university react before and after the event?

I have had no problem at the university. There are already visible LGBTI+ people there, like me. The rector, the dean, and my friends know that I am a transsexual man. Some of the students have negative attitudes; despite that, I have never experienced something like that before. I am introverted because my voice is high pitched, and I sometimes don’t want to go to school.

After the event, how did the school administration react? Did they support you?

I don’t know if they know about it or met with anyone. I have no idea.

You are seeking a job in the meantime. What difficulties do you face in business life?

Generally, “It is okay for us, but the customers may feel uncomfortable,” they say. Trans women are in a more difficult situation than I am because people don’t notice trans men after the gender transition. Even before that, it is hard to notice if his voice is not high pitched. After starting to take hormones, you become like a biological male when your beards start growing. But trans women are more easily noticed. They cannot find a job under any circumstance and are forced to work as a sex worker. At first the system constrains them and forces them to do so; then people criticise them by saying “why do they work as a sex worker?”. But it is the system that forces them to do so, and I cannot understand this.

You are staying at a house of one of your friends and have recently been looking for a job. Are there any LGBTI+ individual who you know went through the same process?

I have two transsexual friends. Both of them were expelled from the dormitory. Let me share the story of the expulsion of one of them. This boy goes to his home town and meets his lover there. The lover’s brothers and father beat the boy for an hour and a half, harassing him. They threaten to rape him. The event takes places in the newspapers and the boy gets expelled from the dormitory. He was forced to leave the school; then he was expelled from the school too. I reached out to him and asked that “Why did you give up?”, but he said to me that “What else could I do?” Just think about it, I will stay quiet, not go to school, and leave the school, etc. I would never do something like that. This year, another friend of mine was expelled, too, moved to a private dormitory, and they told me the same thing. They make us ashamed of ourselves. I got so sad about all this and I had already known that it would happen to me too. I was expecting it. For a month, I told my friends that I would never stay still if I were expelled. Because, if I were the only one living all these problems, I would just go away and not care about them at all; however, -believe me- some people are not accepted to dormitories in the middle of Anatolia, just because of having a short hair. Just because they have short hair. So, I want to set off a reaction at least. In the end, I am not doing all these so I can go back to the dormitory. We need to set off a reaction to prevent anything like this. They don’t accept us to the dormitories for boys, we cannot stay there. We are expelled from the dormitories for girls. Then, they should build a dormitory for trans individuals or stop discriminating against us. If I felt guilt, did something to a woman, or stole something, they could expel me right away. But there is nothing wrong with me. Just think, you get expelled from the dormitory, because you are a woman, Çiçek. Or you, Rojhat, get expelled from dormitory because you are a man. I think this is ridiculous.

Is there something you want or plan to do for LGBTI+ individuals?

For example, I will be on the videos of the program called “Soramazsın” (You cannot dare to ask) as a transsexual man. It will be broadcasted in the third week of April. But it is not something that I do to become a celebrity. When we look at the media, trans women are known and visible, whether or not they want to be; because people cannot help but notice them from their voices. But trans men are like “I became a biological man and will continue my life like this from now on.” As it is for Rüzgar Erkoçlar. He said that “I don’t want to be mentioned as an LGBTI+ individual”. Because society really tries to make us ashamed. So, people are not trying to be visible, they try to save themselves. But I have realized that I am not the only one I need to save, after the things I saw in the east of Turkey and the people in the east who reached out to me. So, I attended the video program called Soramazsın, despite the fact that my family can see it. Other than that, there is a documentary which is planned to be broadcasted internationally. It includes my gender transition process and the event of getting expelled from the dormitory; it will be filmed for 2 years. Actually, I attend to do various projects in several places. There is also a book project and a journal at Sabancı University.

Şafak’s life, starting in Van and moving to İstanbul looks like it has two different stories from city to city but it shows us a scene where, between the cities, only the methods of pressure are changed . Şafak has highlighted many times that transphobia, homophobia, and biphobia are reproduced in social life through many ways (series, movies, education, workplaces, etc.) and one of the ways to prevent it is to be visible. He has stated that the main reason for his will to prevent it is because this problem is not only his personal problem; it is a mutual problem shared by many people recently. Lastly, despite all the physical and psychological violence, Şafak clearly declares that he will not give up fighting; he invites people sharing these problems to be “visible together” and to fight together.

Translator’s note, KYK: Higher Education Student Loans and Dormitories Institution of Turkey

Discriminations against LGBT+ Students in Universities: METU, A Case Study

Middle East Technical University (METU) Gender and Women’s Studies graduate student and independent trans activist Murat Korkmaz’s study called “Discriminations against LGBT+ Students in Universities of Turkey on the basis of the sample case of METU” has been published.

Source: Discriminations against LGBT+ Students in Universities: METU, A Case Study (Üniversitelerde LGBT+ Öğrencilere Yönelik Gerçekleştirilen Ayrımcılıklar, Vaka Araştırması: ODTÜ) Eda Yılmaz, Pembe Hayat, March 7, 2019

http://www.pembehayat.org/haberler/detay/2078/universitelerde-lgbt-ogrencilere-yonelik-gerceklestirilen-ayrimciliklar-vaka-arastirmasi-odtu

The study “Discrimination against LGBT Students in Universities of Turkey” by independent LGBTI activist Murat Korkmaz was published in February. Korkmaz, who received an undergraduate degree from METU’s Department of Psychology, is currently continuing their graduate education in METU’s Gender and Women’s Studies Program.  The study, which has been published in cooperation with the European Union Sivil Düşün (Think Civil) Program and with the support of the European Union, aims to determine the discrimination experienced by LGBTI students in the sample case of METU in the academic year of 2016 – 2017.

The biggest problem: University management

The experience of several tense situations around the LGBTI community gaining official status on campus and their push for gender-neutral bathrooms in 2016-2017 motivated the study. According to Korkmaz: “Especially at these two topics, there was a distinct attitude of the university management towards us. We were not paid attention to, we had to work really hard and to protest in order to be paid attention to. And eventually, we were faced with voting and broken promises. Despite the fact that these demands were supported by hundreds of students (through a petition). In general, I think these processes seriously consumed the time of LGBTI students studying at METU and wore us out. During the second half of the year, we struggled for nearly four months for gender-neutral bathrooms. In addition to the problems we had with the university management, we suffered from several serious attacks on social media during that time. There were some students at METU among the perpetrators of these attacks. In other words, the steps that we tried to take in order to implement structural changes on campus faced a great number of policies of intimidation.”

Korkmaz, who tells us that they has suffered from a lot of discrimination since they started to live openly as trans / nonbinary on campus, says that this is another reason leading to the study:

“2015 and 2016 were the years when I became clear about my sexual identity and made ‘radical’ decisions about what I am not, at least. I started to exist with my Trans/Nonbinary identity openly in a performative sense on the campus. These struggles for existence brought along the most intense discriminations that I suffered during my education at METU. There was not a single day that I spent without being harassed or defined as male by the university personnel and the lecturers during my academic studies, or while in the library or on the quad, despite the fact that I explicitly expressed my trans identity, although it should not be a necessity for me to declare my identity.

To what extent are LGBTI+ people free at the [more] liberal METU?

Korkmaz, who started to report their experiences in addition to those of the people who took part in their research, also has a journal called Akışkan Sayfalar (Fluid Pages) with which they aims for LGBTI+ people to be able to develop and improve themselves.

“Was it true that  LGBTI+ individuals didn’t have to hide themselves in METU where they are told to be free? I wanted to see this and to explain this. I tried to show that what we go through are not just personal experiences but are parts of a systematic and structural problem.

I wanted the study so we could demand changes regarding these problems from the university management and all the students of the university, by contacting the lecturers and the administrative staff with whom we can communicate about this topic; because we would have a study in hand, showing and proving the problems LGBTI individuals are struggling with.”

138 Recognized Discrimination Cases

The 25% of the participants in the study stated that they were LGBTI+ individuals, 43% said they were not LGBTI+ individuals, 7% did not want to state their orientation, and the remaining 3% marked the other. 12 of the total 78 participants were interviewed in person and the other 66 filled out an online questionnaire. According to the findings received from the participants, there was a total of 138 recognizable cases of discriminations on the basis of sexual identity and sexual orientation at METU in the 2016-2017 school year. The classification of the cases are as follows: Hate speech, structural LGBTI-phobia, negative perceptions, cynical attitude & laughing, showing by pointing, taking pictures & shooting video, verbal harassment & insults, threats, and physical assault.

 

Cases

graph

“I don’t want my trans identity to be jammed into one of the female or male identities.”

Korkmaz does not forget to thank Sivil Düşün (Think Civil) that supported the publication of the study. Korkmaz highlights that this support is really meaningful taking into consideration that trans people are neglected in every field and Sivil Düşün’s support is really valuable in terms of regaining their motivation as a person struggling for their rights and studying these rights. Korkmaz adds:

“Firstly, as a citizen of this country, as a graduate of METU, and as a graduate student of METU, I don’t want my trans identity to be jammed and ground into one of the cisgender female and male identities. In addition to ending discrimination, I want real recognition. I need to state that I will continue to issue my demands and follow up on my current demands.

Lastly and most importantly, I hope we as LGBTI people can overcome this and other similar discrimination-based obstacles, which prevent us from receiving education and improving our condition, and that we can create safe environments to ourselves.“

We Exist On Campus: An Interview With Dokuz Eylul University’s Eşit Şerit [Equal Stripe] Society

Source: “We Exist on Campus: Eşit Şerit” (“Kampüste varız: Eşit Şerit”), Gözde Demirbilek, Kaos GL, September 27th, 2018, http://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=26681.

With our new written series “We Exist In Campus” we are directing the microphone toward LGBTI+ communities at universities. Our series’ first guest is Dokuz Eylül University’s Eşit Şerit [Equal Stripe] Gender Research Society, which during fall semester started running a booth on campus. We gave the floor to Ata Alan of  Eşit Şerit.

tocat-2018(1)

When was Equal Stripe founded? To whom is it open?

Our society is a community of students, collaborating with local authorities and many institutions, that does work in the fields of gender and gender based violence, queer studies, and sexual health, and which works to develop space on campus where LGBTI+ individuals and women will be able to be more comfortable expressing themselves, and to strengthen solidarity towards this same aim. It has been active since April 2014, and since November 2015 it has held the status of official student group affiliated with Dokuz Eylül University’s rectorate. It is open to people who want to carry out work in these fields.    

Since starting work on campus in 2015 what kind of course has  Eşit Şerit followed?

We have tried to participate in the the politics of the Municipality of Buca where most Dokuz Eylül University students live. When we were denied space on campus, we turned this into an opportunity and contacted Buca City Council, and now we have a space there too. In April 2017, we established the Equality Council of Buca City Council, which mostly consists of students from Dokuz Eylül. We are trying to create space [for LGBTI+ individuals and women] within the university but also in Buca.        

What kind of methods did you choose to oppose the shrinking number of spaces [for LGBTI+ individuals and women]?

We try to produce solutions to problems that we face due to the university, sometimes through talking at meetings, sometimes through awareness-based activities that we organize. If the obstacles of the university administration reduce our motivation in the activities that we carry out at school, we somehow find the energy to stay together. Above all else we are friends, friends who deeply understand each other, friends who stick together. We somehow find our motivation to expand and protect this space. We are stronger together!    

Have you started work on the fall semester?

For the new semester we started a stand, we opened our first booth on the 25th of September at the Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences, which is located at DEU’s Dokuzçeşmeler Campus. In the coming days we will also open our stand at the various faculties that are found at DEU’s College of Education Campus and the Tınaztepe Campus. We are the ones with the rainbow [flag]!     

When is the group’s first meeting of the year?

We will hold a meeting when we finish running the booth, on the 13th of October we will meet with our new members at the cafe Dera Köşk and plan the new semester together. We are waiting for you!

“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.

 

Trans Students not accepted at the Dormitory despite their Entitlement to KYK Housing

SPoD (Social Policies, Gender  Identity and Sexual Orientation Studies Association)’s hotline has been responding to many calls from trans students, complaining about not being allowed at the dorms they are entitled to, despite being awarded accomodation at KYK dorms.

Source: “Trans Students not Accepted at the Dormitory Despite their Entitlement to KYK (Credits and Dormitories Institution) Housing” (“KYK yurtlarını kazanan trans öğrenciler yurda alınmıyor”), Aslı Alpar, KaosGL.org, November 12, 2018, http://www.kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=27017.

CRAIGANDKARL

Illustration: Craig and Karl

Trans students calling SPoD’s hotline are saying that they are barred from using the dorms by dorm management and ask what they can do in this situation.

KaosGL.org asked the association’s lawyer Hatice Demir about the discrimination against trans students in KYK dorms and its legal dimensions. In this interview, Lawyer Demir explains the rights that trans students have against these discriminatory practices and the consequences of the arbitrary practice at KYK dorms. Demir suggests that many of the students barred from using KYK dorms are also barred from their right to education and that even when trans students are allowed in they are being isolated.

When they call the hotline, what do the trans students say about the discrimination at the dorms?

The list of students awarded accomodation at KYK dorms was published at the beginning of the semester, yet additional placements continue. Trans students who have not completed their legal process were awarded housing by KYK dorms, but called the SPoD hotline saying that they were not allowed in and asked what legal measures they can take against this treatment. The callers reported:  ‘I’m entitled to the use of dorms, I carried out all the necessary procedures, but the management will not let me in as they can not decide if they should place me at the female or male dorm’.

So how does the dorm management respond to these students?

Trans students are generally told “It’s your problem. Nobody else is experiencing these issues. Go handle it elsewhere”. The callers also report that they are often insulted by the dorm authorities and that the dorm guard will not let them enter.

On certain occasions, dormitory staff allocate an empty room to the student, which means they live in isolation. When single occupancy rooms are given to trans students, the dorm authorities use the excuse of “security”, stating: “we don’t put you in the same room with them to protect you”. Yet, the same dorm management do not do anything  to rid discrimination against trans students in the dorms. Moreover, they consolidate discrimination with such isolation.

Isolation at the dorms remind one of the isolation witnessed in prisons, because whenever trans individuals are put in the custody of the state, the state is clueless about where to put them. This is due to the fact that the state ignore the existence of  trans people. Such an oblivious attitude corresponds to the state isolating or excluding the individuals using the excuse of “security”.

Similar conditions apply for trans inmates. The prison placement is done on the basis of the color of the ID* and the assigned gender on the ID. Therefore, in a similar vein to what happens to trans students, trans inmates too, are sent to the prisons allocated for the gender written on their IDs and yet again are isolated when the administration says “we can’t provide your safety”.

What does the student do when not allowed in the dorm?

Those who get enough financial aid from their families or from their scholarships can rent a flat or a room. Yet those without such means go back to their hometowns. This means that they are barred from exercising their right to education.

Is there a regulation which supports such discriminatory attitude?

Of course not. Higher Education Credits and Dormitories Institution Dorm Administration and Management Regulation do not state anything regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. This means that there are no legal grounds for these arbitrary discriminatory and practices, yet it also means that LGBTI+ students are ignored and that the regulation is prepared based on a binary gender regime.

What can the trans students do if they are subjected to such discrimination?

As we have no prior lawsuits filed before, we do not have exemplary verdicts. However, a lawsuit can be filed at Administrative Court. Then, if the lawsuit is not concluded at the first degree courts, I believe it can be resolved at supreme judiciary. I think that the procedures at KYK can be improved to a non-discriminatory practice through the legal appeals of trans students who have been discriminated on the basis of their gender identity and denied the rights they are entitled to.

“LGBTI+ Friendly Student Dorms” project initiated by İzmir Genç LGBTI+ Association aims to render the LGBTI+ youth’s experiences at student dorms visible.

Within the scope of the project executed in collaboration with Heinrich Böll Stiftung Association Turkey Branch, a book written by LGBTI+ students  titled “LGBTI+ Dorm Experiences” was published.

*Translator’s note: Turkish ID cards are color-coded according to biological sex. The new non-color-coded ID cards have started being issued recently, yet the older ones are still in use unless the holder changes it. In any case, the gender slot is filled in by the state based on biological sex and trans individuals have to undergo a long legal and medical bureaucratic procedure to change the identity card.