Personal Stories

Personal stories on LGBTI issues in Turkey

Cumhuriyet: “Turkey’s first trans actress Ayta Sözeri: Because I fell in love”

“Love people, time is very precious” said trans actress Ayta Sözeri, who first shared that she was trapped in the wrong body with her mother.

44412Source: Zehra Özdilek, “Türkiye’nin ilk trans oyuncusu Ayta Sözeri: Çünkü âşık olmuştum,” Cumhuriyet, 2 May 2017.

Ayta Sözeri (40), is Turkey’s first trans actress. She is a concerted human rights activist. She is a singer we’ve seen on stage for a long time. We talked about life, acting, and upcoming projects with Sözeri, an actress who impressed screen directors with her roles in TV dramas such as Ulan Istanbul, Lost City, and Shattered.

-Tell us about yourself.

I was born in Germany, and moved to Izmir with my family when I was 6. I am a graduate of Ege University’s Business Administration department. My educational life took place entirely in Izmir. There are four of us siblings. I always wanted to be a singer. I became both a singer and an actress.

-Do you have memories that stand out from your childhood?

When I was a child, I would be happy whenever spring came around. I don’t know if children today play, but we would play in the neighborhood until 12 at night. There were some games I did not know how to play. For example, when we first moved from Germany I did not know how to play hide and seek. I can also never forget the Sunday breakfasts we had as a family.

Sensing is always the same…

-When did you realize you were trapped in the wrong body?

However old you were when you noticed that you belonged in your body, that is when I realized I did not. I think that everyone can ask themselves this question. When was it that you realized that you were heterosexual, when you liked your body, when did you notice these things, that’s when I also realized them. I did so right around the age when everyone starts noticing these things…

-How did you tell your family?

This has a bit to do with courage, you say it however you choose to say it. Of course, there are people who have not been able to say these things. I also had moments when I thought “how can I say it,” but it comes to you and you say it. My breaking point was love. I was in love with someone and did not know what to do about it, so I felt the need to tell someone. So I told my mother.

Inside the art…

-Starting acting…

I actually was not interested in acting, but I realized in middle school that I was not going to be a singer, and because I still wanted to be in the art world, I decided to pursue acting. I told myself, at least I’ll act in city theater or school theater. Of course, when it became obvious that I had a good voice and could sing, acting went on the backburner. Until then, I’d been in a number of plays. I acted at the Levent Kırca Theater, for what seems like years of training to me. Mustafa Şevki Doğan said he wanted to have me act when he heard me singing, while I was singing he said “you’ll act.” I acted in
Life Bonds and they told me “definitely do not leave acting”…

-Which character is most difficult to for you to bring to life when acting?

In the film
Surrender, acting the part of a transexual sex worker was difficult for me. Because it’s an area that I really do not know.

 

The mental map has changed

-Have there been moments when you’ve fallen into despair?

Yes, there have been. I fought for 12, 13 years. I acted in small roles. At the point when I said nothing will happen for me,
Lost City happened. Much like the mental shifts that happened in the way people think about LGBTI people in Lost City, many things have changed in my life as well.

Our lives are in danger

-Each year attempts are made to hinder the Pride Parade. Why are they trying to block this?

They say you can not do this walk due to security concerns. They accept that we live in a country where our safety is not guaranteed. For us LGBTIQs, we are not in a safe country, our lives are in danger. Given that they know this, instead of obstructing the march, why don’t they help protect our rights and bring about laws that will give us positive discrimination. I want to say to them that even with the excuses that they hold onto, they know how much danger we are in yet they are doing nothing.

By loving, it will change

– Are there new projects on the horizon?

There are, we’ll be together again for this new season. I’ll be a guest star on Mustafa Şevki Doğan’s new drama. I am with the director who discovered me. I’ll be playing a woman whose heart is full of goodness.


– What is your message to those who read these words?

I have one message: love people, time is very precious. Be assured that everything changes with love.

We are all two-faced, two-legged, lonely creatures

Source: Ayşe Arman, “Bizler ikiyüzlü, iki bacaklı, yalnız yaratıklarız” (We are all two-faced, two-legged, lonely creatures”), Hürriyet, 20 November 2016, http://sosyal.hurriyet.com.tr/yazar/ayse-arman_12/bizler-ikiyuzlu-iki-bacakli-yalniz-yaratiklariz_40282829

And this happened…

Following Patrick Harris and Michael C. Hall, I also became Hedwig together with Yılmaz Sütçü.

You are wondering who Hedwig is.

According to the Rolling Stones magazine, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” is one of the greatest rock musicals in history! Hedwig is the main character. And an icon for LGBT people.

This is because the musical explores questions like “What is gender? Does it exist? Do we need it?” It talks about ‘our other half’ who we seek all our lives; it delves into the issue of its doubtful existence.

It says “No, we are not different after all, gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans. We are all human!”

And isn’t that the truth?

Yılmaz Sütçü watched this musical in the U.S., became very impressed, and decided to bring it to Turkey. It proved difficult to get the copyright for the play, but Yılmaz wrote a letter explaining the conditions of trans people in Turkey and the significance of staging such a play in times like these. Aaaand convinced them. “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” premiered a few days ago. Yılmaz Sütçü and I both transformed ourselves into Hedwig for this interview. It was not easy to turn into Hedwig. The make-up session done by the experienced MAC professionals lasted two hours. It’s hard to be Hedwig, but not hard at all to wear her clothes. You get the idea, we had a lot of fun during the photo shoot.

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Can you introduce yourself?

-My name is Yılmaz Sütçü. I’m a theater actor and a musical maniac. And right now, I am acting in the musical of my life.

Well, ok Yılmaz, but who are you, what are you, and where did you come from?

-I’m an Izmir guy, who arrived in Istanbul from Ankara. I was born in Izmir in 1978. I have always wanted to be in theater. I wanted to be on stage. Musicals fascinated me. I would close my eyes and dream of being on the stage. I realized that I could sing during high school, while I was hosting a radio show at a local station. I decided that I should focus on music if I were to take part in musicals in the future.

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And you ran away from home?

-[laughing] No, but yeah, something like that! I left everything and began to sing at any venue I could find.

What do you mean?

-Well, it’s like this: I don’t come from a musical family. My family would listen to only two singers: Zülfü Livaneli and Ahmet Kaya. My mother majored in art in college and my father in economics. A normal, ordinary, sweet family. I, on the other hand, was a bit rebellious. When I got smitten with music, I said: “Don’t get me wrong, but this is my life. I don’t want to go to college at all. I don’t want any money from you. I will just follow my dreams.” and I left home. After that I wandered through İzmir, Bodrum, Kuşadası, Didim, Antalya, Çanakkale and Ankara. I sang everywhere I could. I worked with very good musicians…

I can see that it worked well for you. You’re really good on stage.

-You learn a lot over the years. One learns how to sing by listening to themselves all the time. But one day, it dawned on me that I had never gotten any acting lessons. I had more or less covered the singing part, but I still had a long way to go before I could do musicals. I had no training in theater. I was telling myself that I needed to get an education since I wanted to become a star in musicals. But I was already 25 years old.

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Weren’t you a bit too old for acting school?

-I was of course! I could only apply to Müjdat Gezen’s acting school. I took the exams and they admitted me. I moved to Istanbul in three days. I was singing in Ankara during the weekends and going to classes in Istanbul during the week. I was working on soliloquies, memorizing my lines, doing homework on intercity busses. I don’t have faith in anything unless it involves passion. Musical theater was my passion. I did everything I needed to do in order to reach it. And I learned this: age doesn’t matter as long as you really want something!

But Müjdat Gezen said “You’re a lost cause!” to your face.

-Oh, yes. We did so bad on our final exams that he yelled at us. He was right though; we were terrible! There were issues with our attendance. That’s why he was mad at us. I wanted to get a scholarship for the next two years but I didn’t qualify for it. And he said those words: “You’re a lost cause!”

d.pngI THANKED HIM WHEN I RAN INTO HIM LATER

How did that affect you?

-Grrreeat! I felt really sh*tty. My pride was wounded and that’s why I began to give my all to it. I tried to become better and better. I fixated on those words. I said to myself: “I can do this. The teacher is wrong!” I began improv in order to prove him wrong. Four friends and I began an improv group called “Improvisation, Ltd.” We were doing gigs in comedy clubs. And we were doing really well. The experience I got there brought me to this point. Years later, I ran into Müjdat Gezen and I thanked him. I thanked him for not giving me a scholarship. For telling me that I was a lost cause. As I was trying to prove him wrong, I had come a long way.

What did all this experience teach you?

-The importance of wanting something and perseverance. And, also that it’s impossible to amount to something without working really hard. That I had no other choice than improving myself throughout my life.

I LOSE MYSELF WHEN I’M ACTING

Famous actors like Patrick Harris and Michael C. Hall have played this part before. Did you feel overwhelmed because you are not a famous actor? Or did you say “This is the production what will give me my big break”?

-Not at all. I really admire them as actors, I was not overwhelmed at all. I become ecstatic when I’m acting. I’m so happy when I’m on the stage. I hope the audience is also happy.

Those actors have been acknowledged as the best of their fields. Do you have such expectations for yourself?

-Neither Barış nor I are the kind of people who stage plays to get an award! We promised ourselves to never become like that. Works that are produced with that mentality don’t become successful anyway, they can’t. If we are seen worthy of an award, of course we would say thank you and accept it.

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CONFRONTS YOU LIKE A SLAP IN THE FACE

What does acting mean for you?

-Wow… acting… It means constantly recording everything, every emotion in human life and pulling it out of your bag of materials and offering it to the audience as possibilities. You are evaluated based on how many options you can offer and this forces an actor to be always open to developing. I have to say that my passion for theater was nearly pathological. I was constantly watching and reading plays. On the weekends, I would roam the second-hand book stores, looking for translations. I guess I was possessed by theater!

So, was it difficult or easy?

-Oh god! It was so painful! This job is done with humans. So you go through a lot that is hard but necessary to face. You see yourself in front of you, like a slap in your face. Acting makes you face everything you deny or reject. If it fails to do that, it pushes you out of the play anyways.

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 IS THERE SUCH A THING AS GENDER?

What is this play really about? About our bigoted morality?

-That too of course. But according to the playwright, it tells the origin of love. It explores the humans’ search for their other halves, who they lost when they were punished by the gods. This other half of ours, whether it really exists or not. It asks “Is there such a thing as gender? Do we really need gender?” Most importantly, it questions our bigotry, our hypocritical moral judgments. It shows how we live two-faced lives and eventually turn into two-legged and lonely creatures!

What affected you the most in the play?

-There are a lot of unfortunate events in the play. But this series of unfortunate events are narrated without a plea for pity. I was struck by how life is questioned in the play.

My Pride Story: Pride from Sisterhood to Sapphism

 

Today in Pride Stories: Who cannot settle with feminist sisterhood, sapphism and LezBiFem

Gaye’s Pride Story

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Nowadays, I am in the middle of a busy work schedule which I thought was ‘temporary’ at first. Like other things that I postpone, I was waiting for the right time and place to write and share my little story, with a cup of coffee on the table and shed from the anxiety of being late to work.  Sometimes activism needs the right time and place too… For me and my friends, working or being broke is such a common reason for not being able to go or organize an event; it is a relief to know that we will run into each other at Pride at least.

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My Pride Story: From 15 people to tens of thousands

Today in Pride Stories: From the first Kaos GL cortege on May Day 2001 to Pride Marches of tens of thousands…


Murat Özen’s Pride Story

It’s the year 2001, my senior year in university. As a “kezban” [1] who has just begun to know his identity, I frequently go to Kaos GL. In one of these visits, I overhear a discussion on whether to join May Day demonstrations as Kaos GL. When they ask me “will you come as well?”, I cannot say yes straight away.

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My Pride Story: Istiklal has never been so beautiful

Today in Pride stories: Friends calling to ask “are you ok”, my brother calling to ask “what are you doing with those fags” (!)

Cihan’s Pride story

When I read Hakan’s Pride story in the middle of the night, I said to myself “Yes, I have to share mine as well”.

Last year’s Pride March was my first Pride as well. In the previous years I was mostly held back by my make-up exams – I’m not lazy, studying medicine is hard work- and more importantly visibility was a problem for me. I was thinking that I would be somehow visible among the tens of thousands of people and not having an Istanbulite koli [1] to stay with and being poor had impacts as well.

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My Pride Story: Ideological banner!

Today in Pride stories: Our paths, that crossed for the first time with the people in our procession during that march, never parted.

Tunca Özlen’s Pride story

It’s 2012, a year has passed since we founded the Red of the Rainbow, together with a handful of people. The pride of coming out, finding each other and holding on together is not enough. The struggle is pushing us to producing politics, to going out on the streets. We want to see what our political claims correspond to in life. With the hope we mustered at the march we attended in Ankara, we rolled up our sleeves for Istanbul Pride March. 

We said we would walk behind the banner “Equal citizenship is in socialism!” After all, we believe in equality against discrimination, citizenship against pan-Islamism, socialism against capitalism. We have never gotten banners made in our lives and here I found myself in a flagmaker’s on Kazım Karabekir Avenue. Then off we go to Istanbul. It was time for Pride March. It’s our first time participating as an organization, we are excited of course. With our red rainbow flags and our banner, we joined the march from a point we saw fit.

A friend, who we later on found out was a part of the Pride Week Organizing Committee did not take his/her time to ‘welcome’ us: “Your banner is ideological, you either take it down or walk at the back!” Only we were ideological among the thousands of rainbow flags, slogans against heterosexism, the tens of thousands who filled Istiklal Avenue, ultimately we are communists! The imposition of “Pride March above politics” is itself ideological, we don’t buy that! We said “We will walk behind this banner, through the crowd”. And we did what we said, we are communists after all.

Our paths, that crossed for the first time with the people in our procession during that march, never parted. We were a few before the march, our numbers grew, even if [just] a little, after the march. We accepted being a few at the beginning, in order to grow. If we took down our banner that day, we would have given up altogether. Today we are not few at all, for we focused on growing our crowd and not on our banner. But we are still terribly ideological!

Stories multiply as they are shared. If you would like to tell your Pride story as well, send your writing of maximum 500 words to web@kaosgl.org, we will publish it on both Kaos GL and LGBTI News Turkey both in Turkish and English. Do not forget to include your name or nickname.

My Pride Story: Being born into love

Today in Pride stories: Maybe my story doesn’t take place in Istanbul, maybe I didn’t walk with thousands of people, maybe I wasn’t soaked by water cannons but that day a big void inside me was filled.

içimizdenbiri’s Pride story [1]

May 21, 2016/ Lefkoşa [2] March Against Homophobia

Note: Maybe it wasn’t Pride, but it was for me.

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A child, who never thought they could and who never did join Pride, whose self acceptance process started only a few years ago, who is only trying to let themselves go to be happy. This child has only lived inside themselves and raised their voice only for others. But that day something was different, that day this child walked for themselves. You know why? Because love…

Maybe my story does not take place in Istanbul or any other big city in the world, maybe I didn’t walk with thousands of people, maybe I was not soaked by water cannons, I wasn’t exposed to homophobic stares, maybe I wasn’t shot that day, but a big void inside me was filled. The hope that years took away from me piece by piece was standing in front of me as a whole and all it needed was a little courage.

When we got to the starting point of the march, there was a little group and we did not draw too much attention. But minutes later, people started gathering, people who brought their children with them, people who drew rainbows on their faces and eyes. As the crowd got bigger, I couldn’t stop the enthusiasm rising inside me. I grabbed a flag, looked at the crowd and the first thing I felt was happiness. I wasn’t the “other” anymore, I did not feel different. I was there, everyone was seeing me and I was smiling like there is no tomorrow; we were infinite. The march started and people started joining the crowd along the way. Old aunts and uncles applauding from their balconies. Slogans, whistles, laughters, I didn’t want any of that to end. But everything ends and so did this, but this end was the beginning of many things.

If I learned anything these past few months of my life, you become someone when you let your guard down, a person. And your whole life stands in front of you and looks at you. Your feelings are free, your thoughts are not restricted. That is when love comes- or not but that’s what you think- it enters your life when you least expect it. The feelings whose existence you did not accept for years stand in front of you like a mountain. No one knows, and many don’t believe it but there you know it and the rest is not important. What you hold on to is not that love or what you feel for that person, it is just that hope. Then the desire to get up and do something is born inside you and your march towards the sun starts.

As Sezen Aksu [3] says “If I didn’t die of love, if I wasn’t born into love, would I devote myself to fairy tales?”

Stories multiply as they are shared. If you would like to tell your Pride story as well, send your writing of maximum 500 words to web@kaosgl.org, we will publish it on both Kaos GL and LGBTI News Turkey both in Turkish and English. Do not forget to include your name or nickname.

Translator’s Notes:

[1] İçimizden biri means one of us in Turkish.

[2] Lefkoşa is the Turkish name for Nicosia, a city in Northern Cyprus.

[3] Sezen Aksu is an iconic Turkish singer/song-writer.