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
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.
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?
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.