Personal Stories

Personal stories on LGBTI issues in Turkey

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.

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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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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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