Personal Stories

Personal stories on LGBTI issues in Turkey

“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.

 

“Let’s fight against Homophobia by having our stories told”

Lesbian, bisexual, and transsexual women tell stories about the violation of their rights and how they were exposed to discrimination. First story by Zeynep S.

Source: Aslı Alpar, “Hikâyelerimiz anlatılsın diye homofobiye karşı mücadele edelim”, Kaos GL, March 19, 2018, http://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=25360

About 2 months remain before the 17th of May, the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. Throughout these 2 months lesbian, transsexual and bisexual women, through KaosGL.org, are going to tell their stories of the violation of their rights and how they were exposed to discrimination. We will listen to lesbian, bisexual and transsexual women’s experiences in every aspect of life from education, health and family to work life.

The first story belongs to Zeynep S:

Not being able to tell our story

I have experienced discrimination in regards to sexual orientation several times. Being verbally abused by your peers in school and by your family and the inability to walk the streets holding hands; aren’t these already discrimination? Still, I want to talk about my most tragi-comical discriminative experiences. I call it tragi-comical because it was in an event organised by an NGO that claims to be working for women’s rights where I came across by the event organiser turned into discriminative behaviour.

Eight years ago, there was a meeting in Ankara. Women’s conditions and experiences were supposed to be discussed. In this activity, women of different ages were gathered together and the mediated conversation was directed to recounting experiences. The topic was sexism.

Immediately starting to talk in a meeting has never been a thing I would do. I waited, I listened to everyone else. Listening to severe sexual harassment stories encouraged my audacity. Yet, I continued listening. About 10 women quoted their stories. Rape in marriage, sexual abuse, safe sex methods and abortion were discussed. All the sexism-related experiences discussed were between men and women. Possibly. I wanted to tell my story, too, but since no other homosexual women shared their experience and even the existence of homosexual women wasn’t discussed I was pushed to my corner.

There were some missing points, but there was a sincere atmosphere. I decided to tell my story as the meeting was getting to the end. I felt brave since I had recently come out to my mother. I started talking, before telling my story I decided to make an introduction.

I said: “We spoke about sexism but all the stories where experiences between woman and man,” I was about to continue when one of the participants said: “what else could it possibly be.” It was one of those times when I would escape from speaking in a meeting; when I heard that I blushed and my heart was jumping out of my mouth. The moderator didn’t say anything so as I was trying to calm myself down I said, “sexism can be experienced between women too.”

The moderator asked, “Are you a homosexual?”

I answered, “Your topic has nothing to do with me being a homosexual or not. This is the topic; sexism is not only being experienced between men and women.” This broke my courage including the story I was about to tell.

The moderator asked again: “Are you a homosexual? Please tell if you’re lesbian, as long as you’re telling your story.”

This insistence, encouraged the guests as they were staring at me with their curious eyes, someone asked, “Some doctors believe your homosexuality is an illness, have you ever received treatment?”

I told them homosexuality was not a disease, that their claim was not scientific and that I identify myself as bisexual. As I was not yet done with my sentence, the moderator panicked and said things like: “our meeting is about to end. We have said quite a lot in the past 1.5 hours.” However, s/he didn’t say anything to the participant who said “homosexuality is illness” and s/he ended the meeting. My story stayed with me.

In the end, a title was asked for this series of articles. I would say: “Let’s fight against Homophobia by having our stories told”, this is my title.

Photo Credit: Kelly Beeman

KaosGL: How to “pass” police tests in Istanbul LGBTI+ Pride March

Istanbul LGBTI+ Pride March was banned by the governor’s office for the third year in a row after more than a decade of peaceful marches. With the ban, police set up checkpoints across Istanbul’s main thoroughfare, İstiklal Avenue, and central Taksim streets. Police prevented people from gathering en masse for Pride using these checkpoints, as well as riot-control methods like tear gas and plastic bullets. Still, a few hundred people could gather in Cihangir and groups read press statements via Facebook live.

Below are stories from Pride-goers as they attempted to “pass” as non-participants through police checkpoints.

Source: Yıldız Tar, “Onur Yürüyüşü’nde polisten alıktırma (!) testi,” kaosGL.org, 27 June 2017, http://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=24097

Tote bag, badge, colorful shirt, earring, scarf, sometimes tshirt, sometimes shorts, and sometimes only the way you look is enough! People who have passed the police’s “LGBTI+ test”, those who failed it, and those who’ll stay for summer classes tell their stories to KaosGL.

Foto: Şener Yılmaz Aslan / MOKU

Our country launches a new practice and people who wanted to attend the LGBTI+ Pride March had to compete to “pass.”

Police blockaded the whole Taksim area the day of the march and allowed people to enter Istiklal Avenue based on their “types” throughout the day, leading to farcical dialogues. Police forced a person wearing a rainbow pattern to strip, said “normal people can pass,” among so many others.

We asked people what they went through that day, the police’s reasons if they weren’t allowed in and what they experienced if they managed to enter the area, knowing it’s a problem if you’re naked and another problem if you’re dressed.

“I got in by hiding my shirt with my backpack”

Cüneyt is one of the lucky few who managed to pass through the police checkpoint. How he did that is like a summary of the day:

“Police saw the rainbow on my t-shirt and said on the police radio ‘it’s clear you’re supporting them [LGBTI+] through your t-shirt’. So I wore my backpack on the front and passed.

Another tactic to pass the police checkpoint is to stand together with both sexes. Most probably as a result of the police’s not knowing about bisexuality, varied sexuality and gender possibilities, and even more so about the fact that people attending this march can be heterosexual, Gülay was able to pass the checkpoint easily:

“I passed hand in hand with Barbaros. They did not say anything like ‘Maybe they are bisexual, maybe they are here for the march.’ So we entered freely.”

“We tried to look like a straight couple”

Elif applied the same method:

“As I’d entered [Taksim] in the morning, I was already in when the police cordoned the area off and started to choose people as they like. But in order to be able to report, I spent the whole day trying to look like a straight couple with a lubunya friend of mine, ignoring our friends we passed by. This way I was able to shoot certain cases of police violence and detention. And I was able to take a lubunya friend of mine to Istiklal, who was otherwise rejected by the police, telling him “come my love”.

Ask them about the colorful shirts

“We were three people and we were stopped by the police right at the entrance to Istiklal. Bedreddin was stopped because he was wearing a colorful shirt. Yes, this was precisely their justification. He said ‘it’s a color sensitive situation, you can’t enter Istiklal’. So after listening to the political defense for a while, I realized he won’t understand. I simply said: ‘What’s that got to do with anything, there is no green in rainbow.’ And the police opened the cordon.”

“Hold these guys!”

Hakan +Arda

“We sat for a while at a venue on the entrance to Istiklal. Then a friend of ours passed by and entered [through the police cordon]. As we tried to go after him, a police officer told another one ‘hold these guys’ and stopped us. I had a gray t-shirt, earrings and an orange bag on. So we went through Cihangir and entered the avenue from Galatasaray.”

“We were able to enter after hiding our stuff”

Deniz Buse

“My girlfriend and I came through nostalgic funicular from Karaköy. We were not allowed in Istiklal because of our earrings, bandanas and pins. ‘We are here on Eid al-Fitr, don’t bother us with this’ they said. We said ‘we won’t give them [the accessories]’. I said : ‘If I give them to you here, I will buy new ones from the shops on Istiklal anyway. They replied, ‘Then our friends will detain you and that’s it’. We said we won’t give them. They said ‘then we won’t take them’. We went back to Karaköy. We put all the stuff they didn’t allow in my girlfriend’s sunglasses case and left it on a construction site. We hid it. That’s how we went to Istiklal. We returned and took back our stuff afterwards.

“Your type is not allowed”

Başak’s dialogue with the police

“-You can’t enter.

-Why, is it just me who is not allowed?

-No, you and your friends.

-I don’t get it, why? What’s the deal?

-Your type is not allowed!”

Shoulder bag is a reason for not being allowed!

Erdem

“Five of us entered Istiklal. Our outfits were more or less similar. We all had a casual t-shirt and shorts. Only one of my friends and I had a shoulder bag and we were the only ones that were stopped. It was either the bag or us being too campy, I don’t know. After that I was rejected several times on my own.”

“They’re normal!”

Şevval:

“They stopped me. I asked, ‘Why can’t I pass, look, everyone else is in’. The police said ‘They’re normal’. I snapped like a princess. Eventually they said ‘please come in’.”

“The street is closed to you today”

Fırat!

“They didn’t let me in either. They stopped me right when I was entering the avenue and said ‘The street is closed to you today’. I asked ‘Who is we’ and they replied ‘LGBTI’. When I told them that I don’t understand, they said ‘Don’t understand, just move along’.

“My ID doesn’t say that I’m a faggot”

Ekin: “ We had pins that read ‘peace’. They said ‘Take them off, or you won’t get in’. When we said ‘It just says peace, we won’t take them off’, he asked for my ID. When told them that my ID doesn’t say that I’m a faggot, they stared at us and made way. We walked chanting slogans. We were caught near Demirören. But then we ran away when they were about to detain us. 10 minutes later we were able to re-enter.”

All of this is just a small portion of what happened on the day of the march. There are even more tragic stories on the part of the iceberg that remains below the surface.

Kemal Ordek on Bianet: “I’ve been trying to prove that I was raped for 2 years and 7 court hearings”

Kemal Ordek on rape, law and activism nearly two years after being assaulted in their home. The interview with Bianet was published a day before the court ruled on the case of sexual assault. Ordek claimed that one of the assailants in the attack on their home had also raped them. On May 24, the court ruled that there was no sexual assault. All three defendants were sentenced to 7 years and 6 months in prison for attempting to plunder.

Source: Çicek Tahaoglu, “Tam 2 Senedir, 7 Duruşmadır Tecavüze Uğradığımı Kanıtlamaya Çalışıyorum,” bianet, 23 May 2017, http://m.bianet.org/bianet/lgbti/186721-tam-2-senedir-7-durusmadir-tecavuze-ugradigimi-kanitlamaya-calisiyorum

The final verdict will be given on the president of Red Umbrella Association, Kemal Ordek’s case, on May 24.

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Kemal Ordek, a sex worker, a defender of sex workers’ rights for many years, was attacked at home by three people in 2015. One of the attackers seized Ordek’s mobile phone, also sexually abused them. Then they took Ordek to an ATM to take money from his account. Ordek saw a police patrol car at that moment, and managed to escape from the attackers.

Three days later, when we talked to Ordek, they were explaining in fear and anger how the attackers threatened him at the police station by saying, “We know where you live, we will be released anyway, think about it,” and what kind of dialogues were between police officers and attackers, “Don’t waste us for this poof, we understand each other right, my brother?”

That night, the attackers were released. They continued to disturb Ordek via phone for a while. And a nonsuit motion was granted for police officers who tried to argue Ordek out of their criminal complaint and were making Ordek wait and sit with the attackers in the same car and saying “the people of lut are still alive”.

Ordek, as an experienced human rights defender, pursued the violation that they were subject to at this time. Lawsuits were brought against three attackers, two of them were charged with robbery, threatening, and limiting a person’s freedom, the third was charged additionally with major sexual assault, and they were arrested.

Following the decision of the local court, prosecutor Turkay Turkler appealed the sexual assault verdict with the allegations of non-existence of “an evidence above suspicion, complete, certain and credible”.

On May 24 at 14.00, the trial will resume in Ankara for a summary judgment. Before the trial, we met Ordek and discussed the court’s approach to the sexual assaults, the consent issue and the vague borders of “activist Kemal and victim Kemal.”

“There wasn’t a discussion on consent, it was very important that the penalty was imposed according to the testimony”

Your lawyers described the fact that one of the attackers was punished for sexual assault as “leading case.” Could you explain the reason?

This was a leading case because it reflected the things we wanted to say as activists. In the legal struggle following the things I experienced, the concept of consent wasn’t questioned at court, and verdict was given according to the testimony. The court committee said “there is a sexual assault, it is a major sexual assault, there is a limitation on a person’s freedom, and there are crimes like threatening and insulting,” in consensus and approved a punishment that wasn’t requested, or predicted by the prosecutor.

From these points, it’s a leading case, but it ignored the robbery, which was lacking. Also, they didn’t issue an arrest warrant until the last hearing.

(more…)

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

lezbifempankart

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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