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.

My pride story: I’m here and resisting, my love!

Until the earth becomes the face of love: “I’m here and resisting, my love!” [1]

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Hakan’s Pride Story

As a lubunya [2] from Ankara who came out 3 years ago, 2015 Istanbul LGBTI Pride March was my first pride march. When I was a student I could not join because I had no money and later on because I had to work on weekends.

Can someone be assaulted in their first ever Pride March? Apparently, yes, one can.

On Friday, I left for Istanbul from Ankara on the high speed train. I felt both the excitement of Pride and the pride to be finally able to go to Pride. I had previously marched in my own city on May 17 [IDAHOT] and it was the time when I felt the dynamism of the LGBT movement intensely. I was fighting, I was transforming.

After I got off the train, my lover and his flatmate picked me up from Pendik. Yes, Pendik. You love the people picking you up even more, when they travel all that distance to Pendik. Then we caught up on all the fun of Pride Week. That same night we enjoyed ourselves in Tünel, we drank and danced. On Saturday we went to the picnic at Maçka and met lots of beautiful people there. We fell in jugs of beer on Mis Street, partied again, had fun again and kissed on the streets!

Resist Pride March!

Then that day arrived. On the morning of the march we had our breakfast and went to Taksim around 15:30. I shared the video “Mahsun, take me to Taksim” from the film “Tabutta Rövaşata” that morning. Because “I had to go” to Taksim. We saw the tension and the police check points. We considered the possibility for an assault. But we still entered Taksim with Hasan, holding hands. Although that day was the Pride March, those who saw us hand in hand looked twice at us. I thought to myself, “Visibility is a must in our heteronormative society”.

That’s when the resistance started. We could not go up to Taksim from the side streets. We had to drop our lollipop banners and get out. As soon as we got out, a TOMA [3] came from the direction of Taksim and cornered us on Mis Street with high pressure water. We got gassed on Mis Street. We first took refuge in nearby establishments. I can tell you the spirit of Mis Street was glorious. We were together with those who stood against the TOMAs and who resisted for hours.

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We got gassed, resisted and stood against our assailants together. But I cannot deny that the most significant and the most romantic moments were when my lover sprayed Talcid [4] on my face as I got gassed. When it is so difficult even to come out, to come to a point where you can resist against the system and the assault with your lover on your side, it is a memory that makes me shiver to this day. It feels extremely good when you have someone worrying for you as you resist and when you both try to save each other from harm against the police.

Even though we ended our relationship two months after our resistance together, Hasan remains my biggest comrade in the path of resistance I have taken.

Until the Earth becomes the face of love: “I’m here and resisting, my love!”

Click here for the original Turkish version of this story on our project partner KaosGL.org.

Stories grow as we share. If you want to tell your Pride story, send your maximum 500 word story to web@kaosgl.org and we’ll publish it in Turkish and English on Kaos GL and LGBTI News Turkey. Don’t forget to add your name or pseudonym!

 

[1] A popular chant in Pride Istanbul goes: “Where are you my love? I’m here my love!”

[2] Lubunya refers to a gay or trans person in Lubunca, the LGBT slang spoken in Turkey.

[3] Intervention Vehicle to Social Events is the infamous water cannon vehicle used by the Turkish police.

[4] The lozenges used for stomach problems, they are also used for their anti-acid effect against the teargas.

 

 

My Pride Story: No descriptions!

 

Today in Pride stories: Free love is impossible to describe and the ecstasy of getting lost in her eyes…

Pragsidike’s Pride Story

I’m only twenty years old. I have never been able to understand what I was feeling, until today. I never believed in love. I love the cinema, I watched films about homosexuality, the ones which really capture you, I watched most of them with tears in my eyes. I know the cruelty they inflicted for years. Inequality, injustice were everywhere and evermore. People never got past beyond these silly reactions, they were unable to. Together, we will go beyond these…

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Until today, I have always been interested in women, as much as I have been in men. I thought of my interest for women as a matter of emulation, of being inspired by other women. Up until three days ago. Imagine someone who thinks of herself as heterosexual and who does not believe in love, getting lost in a woman’s eyes. The excitement I felt, the tone of her voice, her smile. There is no way to describe how I felt. There shall be no descriptions, we shall love freely.

Click here for the original Turkish version of this story on our project partner KaosGL.org.

Stories grow as we share. If you want to tell your Pride story, send your maximum 500 word story to web@kaosgl.org and we’ll publish it in Turkish and English on Kaos GL and LGBTI News Turkey. Don’t forget to add your name or pseudonym!

My Pride Story: We carry flowers in our mouths!

We carry flowers in our mouths. Flowers that you will never be able to wither.

Orkoninya’s Pride Story

I had the chance to join the pride march on June 2015 for the first time in my life. Everything was planned weeks before the march and we departed Ankara with my boyfriend at the time and two other friends.

I remember shouting suddenly while listening to Bandista’s  “Aşk Şarkısı (Love Song) in the car:

“Look at that, a rainbow!” A giant, colorful parabola was greeting us. After seeing so many rainbows on our way, we realized that love was on our side, this day was our day.

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The night we arrived in Istanbul, my excitement did not let me sleep. As thousands of people, we were going to shout, unite and paint Istiklal Avenue into the colors of the rainbow that we are. But the next day I could smell the tension in the air as we arrived on Istiklal Avenue. Hundreds of police officers were mocking us on every corner, turning their despising stares on us. Once more, it did not take them too long to target us with their barrels, filled with plastic hate. We ran away from TOMAs* spraying hatred and homophobia on us, some of our friends got hit, people were rushing about, covered in blood. We took refuge in a shop, the shutters were drawn and we started to wait. As everyone started to cough out the pepper spray, I remembered the gas chambers. We waited, we waited, we waited… I was struggling with a disease called panic attack back then. I was panting for breath, my eyes started to black out and I sat on the floor, coughing. I did not have the power to go on anyway. We went back home…

I had great dreams of this march, but it didn’t happen. I was happy anyway. There were so many of me there that day, they all filled me with hope. And the rainbow I mentioned, gave us such a salute that I realized our colors were plastic bullet-proof. As Mabel Matiz says in a song, we carry flowers in our mouths, and these are flowers that you can never wither away. We shall open our mouths for you to see, try to take a whiff. You will feel love. Love…
*Intervention Vehicle to Social Events is the infamous water cannon vehicle used by the Turkish police.

Click here for the original Turkish version of this story on our project partner KaosGL.org.

Stories grow as we share. If you want to tell your Pride story, send your maximum 500 word story to web@kaosgl.org and we’ll publish it in Turkish and English on Kaos GL and LGBTI News Turkey. Don’t forget to add your name or pseudonym!

 

 

Tell your Pride Story!

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KaosGL.org and LGBTI News Turkey have started a campaign entitled “tell your pride story!”. Send your Pride Walk story before June 3, and we will publish it in Turkish and in English. 

We all have a spring in our steps as the month of Pride arrives. May 17, International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia was full of enthusiasm. June is around the corner. Pride Walks and activities in Denizli, Mersin, Izmir and Istanbul have either started or will start soon.

As KaosGL.org and LGBTI News Turkey we joined our forces and decided to tell Pride stories in both Turkish and English. Write your Pride Walk/Week/Activity story in a maximum of 500 words and we shall publish it.

Send your story together with your name/nickname to be published and, if you like, a photo or any other visual before June 3, with the title “My Pride Story” to web@kaosgl.org and we will publish it in Turkish and English, both on KaosGL and LGBTI News Turkey.

Türkçe çağrı burada!

Auntie İhsan: A Trans Solidarity Story from France to Kayışlar Village

Ali İhsan Çolak is a  48-year-old transwoman who has been living in Akhisar’s Kayışlar Village for the last 13 years. She has established her trans identity amongst villagers, and long struggled to live openly.

Source: Sultan Eylem Keleş, “İhsan Hala: Fransa’dan Kayışlar Köyüne Bir Trans Dayanışma Hikayesi,” (“Auntie İhsan: A Story of Trans Solidarity from France to Kayışlar Village,”) Bianet, 6 February 2016, http://bianet.org/biamag/lgbti/171847-ihsan-hala-fransa-dan-kayislar-koyune-bir-trans-dayanisma-hikayesi

We are in Kayışlar Village in Manisa [a city in the Aegean Region, Turkey — Trans.], Akhisar district. We enter a green single family house through a massive yard. On our left is a sheep dog, who startles us a little at first. Then, we learn from Auntie İhsan that the dog is “Kontes” [Countess — Trans.], “she is a girl just like I am, that is why she is called Kontes,” İhsan adds, giggling. Behind this house is a 25-chicken flock: Auntie İhsan makes her living selling eggs.

Ali İhsan Çolak is a  48-year-old trans woman who has been living in Akhisar’s Kayışlar Village for the last 13 years.She has established her trans identity amongst villagers, and long struggled to live openly. At first, the villagers called her “Sister İhsan,” then “Auntie İhsan,” how they refer to her still.

Auntie İhsan welcomes us with all her warmth and a smile. We embrace tightly as though our lives touched before at some point. We enter a hall filled from end to end with hundreds of pictures of Bülent Ersoy [a famous transgender singer in Turkey, known as “Diva” — Trans.], A teapot heats on a stove. Auntie İhsan has been a huge Bülent Ersoy fan for as long as she can remember. She unsuccessfully tried contacting her many times. “Are you heartbroken?” we ask, to which she halfheartedly responds, “No, I love her anyways,” and keeps quiet.

Auntie İhsan’s bathroom, a detached mud-brick unit outside, as with other houses in the village, has been in bad shape for the last year.  Unable to endure rainstorms, the bathroom collapsed, leaving Auntie İhsan helpless, unsure what to do.

Recently, Auntie İhsan has been trying to make ends meet by selling her chickens’ eggs, yet realizes she cannot herself afford to reconstruct the bathroom, so solicited support over social media. Dilara Gürcü, from France, knowing Auntie İhsan from the documentary  “Hala” [paternal aunt — Trans.], responded to this call and launched an indiegogo campaign.

Though not very hopeful in the beginning, Dilara and Auntie İhsan cannot believe how much support they had received after a month. The campaign helped collect 6,500 of the 10,000 TL needed for the reconstruction. They drew together the rest from other external support.

Dilara explains the process: “I could not have imagined receiving this much support, however, when the sum reached somewhere around 5,000 I was convinced. I vouched for her and told the constructor we would pay in cash. And he rushed to finish the job before we arrived. For the past year, İhsan had been taking her showers in the backyard during the summer, and at her neighbors’ in the winter. For a woman, it is very depressing not to have a private area to bathe. This place was İhsan’s private area; it became her cocoon.  She owes her existence to this house.  We took a step towards making it habitable. I met amazing people during this campaign. I am very grateful to them all for trusting and knowing that the money would reach Auntie İhsan.”

As we chat, Auntie İhsan says, “Where’s France, where’s Kayışlar Village? It’s the other end of the world. I was not at all expecting such thing would happen. I was very hopeless.”

Auntie İhsan was born in Kayışlar Village, lived in İzmir starting from age 11 until her family fell sick. While in İzmir, she worked at a record store, loved her job, and got along well with the tradesmen in the neighborhood. Indeed, the small business owners called her “the butterfly” as she stopped by at every single store, and was acquainted with everyone.

While trying to establish her life there, and enjoying her occupation, her family fell sick and she felt obligated to return to her village after 30 years. She prefered not to return to İzmir after losing her family. She says it feels good to live in a home filled with her family’s memory and visit their grave.

Following her settling in the village, exploitative circumstances emerged for her. She started working at part-time and under-paid  jobs with no benefits, no insurance. She works for 12 hours but is paid less than half of her wage. She has made a living by cleaning houses for a while; she says such jobs do not come up anymore. She wants to retire by paying for her own pension fund; “At least I would have a pension” she says, but she cannot pay for that either. She lives in a rental house, and her only means of living is the local eggs she sells. Her house is covered in mold all around. We ask what she does when it rains, she says she waits with a  bucket and cloth in her hand.

Auntie İhsan cannot receive her father’s pension either, as her gender identity is stated as “male” on her ID card. She wants to have gender reassignment surgery, and submitted an application. However, she had to give up on that as well due to tedious procedures and expenses associated with the surgery. Women who hear about Auntie İhsan’s story send her packs full of cosmetics. She puts on her make up exultingly with aspiration in front of the mirror.

Press is very much interested in Auntie İhsan; however, the Auntie is not pleased with her statements being twisted in the news and tabloid news stories made about her. She mentions a number of people saying “I came for my class, I’ll do an assignment,” filming her documentary, writing news stories about her, earning money off of this work, and adds “you see, the rich man’s wealth tires the poor man’s mouth [a Turkish proverb used to make a point that poor talks too much about what the wealthy has. — Trans.],” and cracks up.

Auntie İhsan, indeed, wants to work and sustain her life with her earnings, yet she cannot find a job. When we look at her kitchen, we see holes in the ceiling, and an empty fridge. We learn that, she usually eats at her friends’; however, she told us about the buns she baked just for us with the herbs she picked. We enjoy her homemade pastries with tea brewed on a log burner, after which we have to take off.

We leave behind an aunt imprinted on our minds with her warmth, vivacity, and sincerity despite all the difficulties, all the pain she has been through.

Sultan Eylem Keleş is a student in Department of Journalism at Ege University, İzmir. She resides in İzmir, reports for Jiyan and Kaos GL, is a member of erktolia press commission, and an activist at Woman for Peace Initiative.

 

Families of LGBTs in Turkey Dare to Hope

It was in 2013 that I sat in a dark movie theater, alone, ready to cry watching My Child, a documentary about families of LGBT individuals in Turkey. I was going through a rough breakup and an even tougher time with my mother. I cried, well, more like sobbed throughout. The parents’ stories of anguish, helplessness, acceptance, and hope were so honest and inspiring that in retrospect I feel like it helped me snap out of my wallowing. These people had created a mode of activism that transcended statistics and policy arguments. They focused on fostering connection, understanding, and empathy. And there, on the silver screen, I met Sema Yakar or Sema Mother for the first time.

Sema Mother is one of the 7 parents who told their intimate stories in My Child. Nearly two years after I saw the documentary, I finally got to meet the mothers at an International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia event in May. I was hesitant to approach them but when I finally did, I thanked them for opening up my world and for empowering me. Seeing their courage to tell their stories along with the bug of activism that touched many during the Gezi Protests had pushed us, a group of volunteers, to start the translation project LGBTI News Turkey. Sema Mother told me that she loved our work and that she was proud of us. Then she hugged me.

12144733_10153718702151639_5691037926081324761_nA day after Turkey’s repeat November elections, I sat with Sema Mother and fellow activist Metehan Özkan to talk about their trip to the United States in October. I had seen pictures of Sema Mother standing exactly where her son Boysan had stood at Human Rights Campaign, with two balloons in their hands. We tear up constantly. Boysan- LGBT activist, advisor to Şişli Municipality mayor, son, lover, friend, inspiration- died in September in a traffic accident. I feel guilty that life continues and we talk about our plans. But here is this woman, at a painful crossroad in her life, telling me her dreams for the future of LISTAG, the Association of Families of LGBTs in Istanbul.

“LISTAG is proof that another family is possible”

Since 2008, LISTAG has been providing much needed support to parents who are seeking information and guidance on how to understand their gay or trans child. They hold monthly group meetings with psychologists reaching nearly 40 families at each session. Parents of all stripes, religious, secular, young, and old, pass through these doors. Some of these parents, a core group of 20 volunteer families, meet every Saturday to plan their activities, share experiences, and meet new parents. They host monthly potlucks with their children, creating safe, non-judgmental spaces to spend time. This special group is a product of Metehan’s doctoral thesis to create a support and solidarity group with parents and his chance meeting with Sema Mother who had used a pseudonym to publish a column in a mainstream newspaper in 2006 calling on all mothers of LGBTs to be there for their kids, to drop their prejudices, to educate themselves. My Child is an extension of that call.

This socialization is key. Parents often feel a giant wave of emotions like fear, self-blame, shame, loneliness, and confusion when they find out about their kids’ sexual orientation or gender identity. Being gay or trans in conservative Turkey is not easy, as LGBTs face hate crimes, honor killings, and rampant discrimination in all aspects of life. To know that there are other parents out there going through a similar experience and who have embraced their children is perhaps the most hopeful thing out there.

Instead of fixing or rejecting LGBT children, Sema Mother says, “LISTAG is proof that another family is possible”. This is why LISTAG parents have become every LGBTs mothers and fathers as they continue to be inspiring examples of what unconditional love looks like. But Sema Mother and Metehan are constantly thinking about how to make LISTAG sustainable, how to make sure it continues as an institution after they are gone. Their trip to the US helped them imagine a future for LISTAG, express the priorities of Turkey’s LGBT, and come back with revamped energy.

“We don’t have time; we are working on an urgent issue”

The duo was invited to a PFLAG conference in Nashville, Tennessee. PFLAG is the largest organization for parents, families, friends, and allies of LGBTs in the US. They had heard about Sema Mother and Boysan- this was reason enough to connect. Metehan explains that Turkish and American societies are similar in placing family at the core of social structure. The families they spoke to were surprised that a family group like theirs would exist in Turkey and appreciated the influence their experiences in PFLAG and elsewhere informed LISTAG. The fact that families in Turkey and the US face similar challenges meant that they are not alone and that there are ample opportunities to work together.

The pair’s eyes glitter when they talk about all they learned in the biennial PFLAG conference. Participants were asked to think about their vision for the next two years. With focused intensity, Sema Mother says the workshops at the PFLAG conference helped them see that they can realize their goals. She says, “we don’t have time; we are working on an urgent issue” and with more projects, more trainings, and a more effective process, they can expand their support group. Metehan explains that their next plan is to expand the LISTAG model, which exists in the metropolitan cities of Istanbul, Izmir, and Ankara, to more hubs in Turkey. “We aim to bring LISTAG to Samsun in the Black Sea area, Mersin or Antalya in the Mediterranean area, Diyarbakir or Gaziantep in the southeast”, he says. With the creation of regional networks, the LISTAG parents and psychologists would reach families across Turkey. They envision bringing together these groups under one umbrella in two years. “We want to be a pressure group in Ankara to change laws and to be an ally to the organizations working on LGBTI rights”, says Metehan, in his unique way of looking ahead and imagining the emotional force mothers and fathers across Turkey could have in helping create inclusionary policies for LGBTs.

“We emphasize how important the coming Pride is

As Metehan and Sema Mother thought about their future plans in Turkey, they also had the opportunity to meet NGOs and US administration officials and explain the situation LGBTs and their families face in Turkey. The Turkish government has been sending conflicting messages on LGBT rights. This past year we witnessed Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc argue at the United Nations that LGBTs are equal before the law even if there are no special regulations for LGBTs in Turkey. On the other hand, criticizing the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party for nominating an openly gay candidate for parliament became campaign fodder for the ruling Justice and Development Party. Candidates for the party and pro-government media pushed LGBT existence as an aberration that is detrimental to the Turkish family structure and society. Finally in June, the Istanbul governorate, for the first time, banned the 13th Istanbul Pride and police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the thousands of people gathered to celebrate LGBT and diversity. Boysan was in the front lines trying to negotiate with the police to allow the march. The parents, including Sema Mother, were also there and the consul-generals of the US, the UK, and several European nations joined them.

With their memory collection accumulated over the years working on LGBT rights and their hearts open, Metehan and Sema Mother went to Washington, DC. In a pilgrimage of sorts, they went to leading LGBT institutions Human Rights Campaign and the Victory Fund where Boysan had worked in May. They met with Human Rights First, Open Society Institute Foundation, National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, and the Center for American Progress- all prominent institutions that have helped push forward LGBT rights in the US. The duo also went to Capitol Hill to observe a human rights briefing, met with the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus and with members of the Obama Administration, including Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Individuals Randy Berry. “This visit to the US really helped me after Boysan’s death. It allowed me to return to the rights struggle more quickly. I wanted to anyway but now I feel that I can do much more”, says Sema Mother.

Metehan and Sema Mother asked their NGO and US administration contacts to pay special attention and monitor Pride in June 2016. “We emphasize how important the coming Pride is”, says Metehan. They feel it is absolutely crucial that Pride takes place not only for Turkey’s LGBT community but also for the global LGBT movement- Istanbul Pride provides a space for LGBT from across the region to openly exist for one day. But Pride’s importance reaches beyond the LGBT community and exists as a symbol of rights in Turkey. Before it was banned and blocked this summer, the Justice and Development Party had used Pride as an example of the party and its supporters’ respect and tolerance in an election brochure stating that “the AK Party has never had and will never have the intention to interfere with anyone’s life style”. Soon after Pride was blocked, the United Nations, Council of Europe, the US and others issued concerned statements about the state of freedom of assembly and expression in Turkey and safety of LGBT individuals. Metehan and Sema Mother believe that it is in Turkey’s interest to allow Pride.

“We will knock on closed doors, we will continue working”

Conversations with international NGOs as well as countries with pro-LGBT agendas are useful to formulate thoughts to build alliances for the global LGBT movement with an eye on results for Turkey. But the actual work is in Turkey where LGBT associations lobby for equal rights and the need to have this conversation at a policy level. What the parents bring to the table is activism straight from the heart and no matter which part of the political or social spectrum one is, the experience of a mother or a father on acceptance and love can open many doors. “We will knock on closed doors, we will continue working”, Sema Mother says.

After the elections, social media was awash with comments about people wanting to leave Turkey; many who did not vote for the ruling party felt anger, fear, and exclusion. But this soft-spoken woman who just lost her son says, “we need to be hopeful”. There is so much more to be done and “no one took away this field, where we continue to work, away from us”, says Metehan, adding, “there are so many mothers that these mothers need to help”.

This gives me hope.

Zeynep Bilginsoy is a freelance journalist based in Istanbul. She’s also the founder and project manager of LGBTI News Turkey, an English translation resource on LGBTI issues in Turkey.

The Away Days: We told the story of a gay couple

Source: Selin Girit, “The Away Days: Eşcinsel bir çiftin hikayesini anlattık”, (“The Away Days: We told the story of a gay couple”), BBC Türkçe, 10 July 2015, http://www.bbc.com/turkce/haberler/2015/07/150710_the_away_days

The camera moves slowly in a dark flat. A Pedro Almodovar movie poster in the corner. The camera climbing the stairs. Now a hand holding a knife. The tip of the knife bloodied. And a man lying on the floor. In blood.

This is how the video for The Away Days’ “Calm Your Eyes” begins.

When the group shared the video for the first time on their Facebook page two weeks ago, they wrote:

“We dream of a Turkey in which all LGBTI individuals enjoy the freedom to live openly and safely. We dedicate our new music video, “Calm Your Eyes”, to diversity and individuality.”

Because the video tells the story of a gay love… So straightforward, without lying. And in this way, it’s a first for Turkey.

“No explanation”

We meet the members of the band at Moda Stage before their concert in the Istanbul Jazz Festival.

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The Away Days’ guitarist and vocalist Oğuz Can Özen says, “Yes, there have been videos with gay visibility [in the past]. But we openly told the story of a gay couple’s relationship. There has never been [a video] that tells this story so frankly. And the fact that there hasn’t is incredibly surprising.”

The video was released during Pride Week. They say that they hadn’t really planned it that way.

But when the shoots continued and there were only two weeks left to Pride Week, they thought “Let’s wait and release it then.” They thought it would be more meaningful.

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So what did they think about the violence during Pride Week?

“A person can’t think,” says guitarist Haktan İlhan: “When I look at the culture I grew up in, these are things that my brain can’t even register. And there still isn’t any explanation. Is there anyone out there who has been able to register what happened?”

The video was first released on clashmusic.com. It is the website of the London-based Clash magazine, which is regarded as the most prestigious in its field.

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But the members of The Away Days are pessimistic about the video airing on Turkey’s music channels. Obviously because of its content. They did not even submit it to music channels.

Oğuz Can Özen explains why: “If they get back to us with negative feedback because the video contains homosexuality, they’ll hit a major nerve. It’s better if they don’t run it.”

(more…)

Raped and Assaulted, LGBTI Activist Kemal Ördek says: “I’m not well…”

One of the founders of the Red Umbrella Sexual Health and Human Rights Association (Kırmızı Şemsiye), Kemal Ördek, was raped in their home on Sunday. Kemal Ördek shared the following text with us in Turkish and explained the violence, the discrimination, and the fear. 

Source: Kemal Ördek, Red Umbrella Sexual Health and Human Rights Association’s Facebook Page, 2015.

It’s so difficult to write this when my body, my soul aches.

All I want to do is scream. I want people to hear me and then I want to hide in a corner, break away from this world.

How many times does a person cry after all that happened? How many times does a person shake and shiver when they think of what happened?

For years I have been engaged in rights advocacy to bring visibility to the rights violations LGBTIs and sex workers face. So it’s not that I don’t know what this is; I know what discrimination and violence mean.

Up to today, I’ve been beaten twice and hospitalized. I’ve been raped twice. I know very well what rape means, the dominating way manhood descends on me, and the pain of being in the midst of helplessness, alone.

Two men who came to my house… Three men who stole my phone… One more man waiting outside the house. One man who raped me. Three men who wanted to take my cash along with my phone… Three men who threaten me with death… One man who strangled me… One man moaning “I will fuck you, take your money, and come and fuck you again!”… Three men who are at my door and who say “think about what will happen” if I refuse to give them money… Three men who are the same as threats, rape, death.

In the middle of this hypocritical manhood, a sex worker, an LGBTI… A rights advocate…

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 18.40.02What I will tell you is not a simple robbery case. It’s not a mere rape case either. This is the story of a series of events that could possibly end in murder. It is a story of the apathy and the denial and ignorance that come after—the story of the surrounding paralysis of a lonely sex worker and an LGBTI.

“We’ll fuck you, take your money, and fuck you again…”

Two people, they stole my phone. One raped me. At that moment, they spoke to another person, who I found out was their relative, on the phone. They gave him the address of my house. I tried to resist and not open the door when the third came to my house. I somehow managed to convince the two people who insulted me and who were in my home. This time, they demanded money along with my phone. They threatened to kill me. When they realized I did not have cash on me, they took me out to withdraw money from the ATM. The third person joined them. They threatened me on the way to the ATM and said they wanted all of my money. One took me by the arm and said he’d “fuck” me. They told me the three of them will come back to my house after taking out money and “fuck” me. They said if I resist “my ending will be bad”.

I saw a police patrol car at the corner of the road ahead. The people taking me to the ATM through threats became anxious when they saw the police. They said that we’d take a different road and find another ATM. I spoke softly and told them I would not make a complaint and give them the money. I don’t know how but the person in charge believed me. To get to the ATM, we’d have to go near the corner where the patrol car was parked. As we were passing the police, I screamed and ran to the police. I told them they detained me, that they wanted to rob me, that they stole my phone.

“Officer, we’re manly men. You understand us, don’t you? Don’t listen to what this faggot has to say…”

As I tried to explain myself to the police, the police shut me up. They said, “Be quiet. Don’t speak unless you’re spoken to!” In the meantime, the policemen calmly listened to the perpetrators as they said: “Officer, we’re manly men. You understand us, don’t you? Don’t listen to what this faggot has to say…”,  “Officer, he invited us in, you know how they are…”

One of the two police officers searched them loosely and somehow they did not find the cellphone belonging to me on the assailants. I told the police to search them properly and that they had my phone. The police who was searching them said he searched them and could not find the phone. He asked me several times if I was sure that they stole my phone. They found a pocket knife on one of them and when they asked about it, the assailant said “it’s nothing important, officer” and the issue ended there. One of the perpetrators repeated “Officer, he’s lying, don’t believe him”. The police officers started to put us in the car. Two police officers in the front, three assailants in the back, and me in the “cage” at the very back of the patrol car, sealed off with iron. They thought I deserved to be in the place reserved for the guilty. When I said “I feel nauseous, officer, I think I will puke, why I am in here, I’m not well”, the police complained “what, are we going to deal with you, just get in, look at the trouble we found ourselves in”.

“Don’t even dare to make a criminal complaint, we’ll kill you…”

There was a thin iron bar between the perpetrators and me, stuck in the back seat, and an intimate chat between the police and the perpetrators… “Where are you from, officer?” “We’ll be fine, right, brother policeman? I mean, we have families and everything,” “Don’t make us suffer because of this faggot, you and us, we understand each other, right brother?”

As this conversation went on, one of the perpetrators turned to me and threatened me, “I’ll kill you by fucking you over and over, don’t even dare make a criminal complaint, I’ll chop off your head, we’ll kill you.” When I shouted, “They are threatening me, don’t you see, officer?”, one of the police said “Cut it out, don’t annoy us,” and the other told the perpetrators, “Don’t be scared, if he makes a claim, you’ll also make a complaint for slander.”

“I’m the head of an association, what you are doing is a crime, you have to stop them from hurting me”

When we arrived at the Esat Police Station, I told one of the officers that they witnessed that the perpetrators threatened me many times in the car and that they have to do something if they do it again. I said that this was not the first time I experienced something like this, and that I, as a head of an NGO, knew the steps that should be taken against this type of crime—also that their tolerant attitude towards the perpetrators constituted a crime. The two officers, who treated me really badly only 10 minutes before, started to say that they friends of LGBTIs/sex workers: “I know a lot of transvestites, I know you. I don’t discriminate in terms of kind, don’t you worry.” I was astonished.

We’ll bounce you on our lap, who the hell are you, faggot!”

The perpetrators kept threatening me even though we had arrived at the police station. They made threats and insulted me many times in front of the police. “Drop this case. You know what will happen if you don’t,” “We know where you live now. They’ll release us anyway and you’ll have to deal with the consequences.”

I stated to the police repeatedly that they must prevent this, that I do not feel safe, do not understand how they could make me sit with the assailants and they will be responsible if something happens to me. Nothing changed except they kept a one meter distance between us. I waited for several hours for processing while being threatened.

“Will you drop the charges if we find your phone?”

While they were continuing to threaten me, one of the perpetrators kept on approaching me, saying they’d find my phone, and asking me to drop the criminal complaint. Almost all of these dialogues between me and that person happened in front of the police. The perpetrator confessed that he had the cellphone and would eventually give it back to me if I dropped the complaint and met him outside the police station. I told the policemen who were listening to record the talks that they witnessed since it was finally understood that they actually had my cellphone. Nonetheless, all went up in thin air.

While this conversation kept going on, one of the police officers went out with one of the assailants, talked for five minutes. Did some kind of bargaining. Then came inside and called me outside. Took me near the police vehicle and started to talk: “Will you drop the charges if we find your phone?” I told them that I want to first see the phone. The police officer took the phone out of his pocket; my SIM card was taken out. I took both of them back at that moment. Turns out the assailants had thrown the phone inside the police vehicle when they were taken in. The police told me that. I said I will file criminal charges.

“Enough with this Tribe of Lot”

I called my lawyer and sat on a bench in the garden of the station while waiting. In the meantime, a police vehicle came and the police who arrived in it passed by me. After learning about the case, one of them passed by me saying, “Enough with this Tribe of Lot”. I started to shake because of anger. I came to the police station to find justice, found myself in the middle of prejudice, hate and partisanship. Additionally, the assailants came out to the garden and started to verbally attack and threaten me.

“These people rose against the government during Gezi…”

When my attorney arrived, we sat together outside of the station to talk. It was time for the pre-dawn (sahur) Ramadan meal and there were officers sitting around in the garden and eating… Oh, they began… They were talking about me, laughing out loud, saying things like “Look what a big deal he made out of a small incident of robbery”… One of the policemen said loudly to the others, “These people rose against the government during Gezi”. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I started to shake and cry out of anger.

“You were not raped…”

While the assailants were taken to the hospital for a health check, the policemen who were going to take my statement came up to us and asked what happened. My lawyer stepped in and said I am a victim of violence so I should not be traumatized repeatedly, therefore an explanation cannot be given to him. The police officer got angry and said, “I did not ask you, Ms. Lawyer”. A loud argument began. Like this was not enough, the same police told me, “You were not raped, how are you coming up with all this…” The police, the ones who would take my statement, were telling me whether I was raped or not.

“What kind of lawyer are you, do not make our job difficult!”

After going to the hospital to get the health report on the beating and rape, we went back to the police station. I was raped and 6 hours had passed. My statement still was not taken. After surviving such a crisis, we waited for hours at the police station to deliver the statement. There wasn’t even any other work at the station… Since we first arrived at the police station, there was no one else there except me, my lawyer and the assailants. Which strong willed or patient person could wait this much when there are a victim of rape, threats, robbery and psychological violence? When is it reasonable to make a person wait this long? What part of this is correct or understandable? It seemed like they were saying do not make a criminal complaint and just leave.

An officer came out from the statement room and came to ask for our signature for the police report. When I read it, I saw that the police wrote the report from a one-sided view. Most of it were the assailants’ statements. I told them that I would abstain from signing it. The officers got angry and started to yell at me. When my lawyer stepped in and stated that I do not have to sign it, all of a sudden 5-6 officers surrounded us and started to snap at us. At that moment, one officer yelled at my lawyer, “What kind of lawyer are you, do not make our job difficult!” This psychological torture went on for five minutes. I did not sign the report, demanded that the police write down a statement with their own handwriting saying that I abstain from signing the report. They did that.

“This statement is too long, keep it short…”

We were taken to the statement room 7 hours after I arrived the police station. I started to give my statement. Sure I was giving my statement but the officer who taking the statement and who had told me a few hours before “you were not raped…” kept on interfering. Towards the middle of the statement, he “warned” (!) me saying, “But this statement is too long, keep it short. I am being lenient and understanding here. Just describe it briefly”. My lawyer intervened and said I can give my statement however I want, that all the details are important. The officer got angry at my lawyer, raised his voice and said he has to deal with a lot of work and that things like this are not done this way. I was in the middle of seeking justice in a system that does not even allow me to give my statement as I want…

“You’re free to go…”

I signed my statement and applied for a decision of protection and restraining order. The day I wrote these lines, the day after the attack, I found out that the perpetrators were let go without even being sent to the court by the prosecutor. That means that the three people who tried to rob me, who raped me, and threatened me with death are free and walking around in Ankara. But I, the victim, have to hide. I can’t go to my house since the event. The perpetrators keep calling me on my cell number… I don’t pick up but I’m scared.

Thank you for all the genuine messages…

I’m not answering my phones. I’m not picking up calls from anyone other than my friend who I’m staying with, one or two close friends, and my lawyers. I’m not ready to talk. I’m not picking up calls from numbers I don’t know for security. It’d be good to text me if you want to cover this for news.

I’m crushed psychologically. I know so many people tried to reach out, they gave their kind messages through others. I thank you all. Feeling you by me strengthens me.

So how am I now?

How am I?… Not well. I feel lost in between. I have not rested either. I aim to rest but I can’t. I am scared of the people I see when I walk on the street, I keep checking what’s behind me, I’m at my friend’s house and I can’t go anywhere other than this neighborhood, I can’t go to my usual sports, I’m cleaning out my social media accounts…

In short, I’m scared, I have nightmares, I wake up, I have nightmares again. I feel stuck. Every conversation reminds me of what I lived. I want to be alone and get away from everything but at the same time, I want to get rid of the fears I have when I am alone.

My dear lawyers are following the investigation. Of course I can’t stay out of it. I need to get away from it all but I can’t. I have gotten used to running around for victims but when it’s me, I can’t. My psychology is not well, my physical strength is not there…

The perpetrators are free. What am I going to do? What’s the attitude of the prosecutor, will they take the steps we want? How will the trial process be? Why doesn’t it all go quicker? Why are people not sensitive to sexual assaults? Will I forever lead a nomadic life? Do I have to change cities? Why don’t the legal authorities make the effort to solve this situation of stuckness that I feel? How correct or healthy is it to try to prove rape? Isn’t that raping my brain?

I can’t go to the association’s office, I can’t do my work, I can’t follow the process, and when I do, I am traumatized again. I relive what happened a thousand times a day.

I’m not well…

A short but important final note… “Do I have to get killed for you to say two nice things”

“Why did they take so many people into their house”, “What was their goal?”, “There, you can’t get rich easily…”, “Did they willingly invite them in, who knows what actually happened that this happened…” I heard these from LGBTIs, sex workers, activists. If you can still ask these questions after such a terrible experience, if you still try to say that I “made a mistake” after all this, if you cannot say “get well”, then I don’t need you around me.

If we don’t make each other feel better, then we don’t need to continue our struggle together. Know that you, also, have tired me as much as the perpetrators of the violence and the police.

Kemal Ördek, trans – sex worker – rights advocate