Şahika is a trans woman in her 40s living in the Beylikdüzü district of İstanbul and making her living through sex work. She openheartedly explains everything including police violence in the 90s, the masculinity of the media, and her being forced into sex work since she couldn’t make a career due to social prejudice. She underlines the importance of respecting one another.
At the end of the interview, we listened to Sezen Aksu’s song “Dua” (Prayer) and cried together holding each other tight.
The government hasn’t bothered us
Thank God for this current era. In the 90s, going to clubs, we would hide in taxis in order to hide from the police, because if they saw us they would take us. We couldn’t walk on the streets because the police would chase us.
It is not like that now. We can live in our womanhood and our humanity to the fullest. The Justice and Development Party hasn’t bothered us; on the contrary they have put us at ease. In the past, our hair was cut and we were thrown out of the city.
We resisted in those times despite all the violence and torture we didn’t want to live a fake life and we claimed our identities. If I wanted a fake life, I would sit right beside my mother. There is a thing called being “me”, and we’ve paid prices for being “us”.
My childhood friends…
We’ve suffered losses, including our families in particular. For instance I couldn’t meet with my brothers for 18 years. I was seeing my mother from time to time but my siblings, relatives, my closes acquaintances and even my childhood friends only accepted me after 18 years.
The understanding of trans woman in the public mind was different. They were seeing us as “perverted,” well in fact it is still pretty much the same, not much has changed.
Transsexuality is not something that one aspires to
There are people who think we are trans women because we are raped. What an absurd logic.
For example, it is not the case that the women who were raped start working at registered brothels. It is an inborn condition. You don’t become a trans woman later.
Furthermore, transsexuality is not something that one aspires to.
Transphobia has always existed
Unfortunately, you cannot make a career plan in the past years of intense male and police violence. We were all pushed into sex work.
Thanks to attorney Eren Keskin from the Human Rights Association who fought for our rights in that time, for the rights of us trans women. Now I look and see that we are in a better condition than in the past.
Transphobia has always existed and it still does. It is present in the official state institutions as well as in the society. From courthouses to police stations, from schools to hospitals, it is present almost everywhere.
Today I have rights as a citizen. I am equal before the law just like anyone else. We have experienced physical violence to the utmost level alongside psychological violence, and it is still ongoing.
That period was like that. Female and male citizens used to face the same violence and torture as trans women. In those days, the political and economic crisises were felt strongly. Imagine a country that just came out of [the] September 12 [military coup].
Why did I come to this world?
I use to say many times to myself that I wish I wasn’t born with this identity, but now I say I wish I wasn’t here in this world. Wars, environmental pollution, climate change, increasing femicide and child abuse…
Now, as a human, I think why did I come into this world.
Violence against trans woman is different
We need to distinguish violence against women and violence against trans women. While women are subjected to violence by the men closest to them, we are subjected to violence by male strangers on the streets.
The reason for this violence is “being a trans woman”. The whole world is in disorder, it is not specific to Turkey.
It would not be fair to restrict talk about violence to Turkey. Today, there is violence
in all over the world against foreigners, Muslims, black people, women, children, refugees…
We came to İstanbul to be women
The places where people are born, the education they get and their family structure directly determines one’s future life. For instance, me being from İzmir and being educated grants me an advantage. When I started to live openly as a trans woman, this advantage has had a huge contribution to my life in İstanbul.
Imagine 30 years ago and how there were trans women coming from almost all regions and cultures. Maybe there were some who saw some things for the first time when they came to İstanbul. Everyone came to İstanbul to be women, they had to make a living in this or that way.
Some started to wander on the streets, some started to work at nightclubs. For example, I remember very well that in those times, the clubs didn’t hire just any girl. I always followed in the footsteps of the correct women around me.
I never looked up to a trans woman. Marilyn Monroe and Hande Ataizi for instance. I’ve always had a style. I like dressing well and stylishly. But depending on the occasion, I try to care about how to dress. This stems from my respect for society.
Malatya is safer
I moved to Malatya to escape from this issues I have with my boyfriend and a bit to stay by myself. Walking on the street in Malatya is safer than in İstanbul. This is the tolerance of the Anatolian people I guess.
We live in a society and the society has its own rules which we have to follow. One should dress accordingly. Try to go to a public bazaar with the clothes the celebrities wear in the Oscar ceremony and see what happens. So, the décolleté must have a limit.
It applies to both men and women. I say this as a person who loves décolleté. I don’t go out in the morning with the dress I wear at night. If a dress looks cheap on someone, it means that person’s choice is wrong.
Décolleté was a political action of ours
I love the new generation of trans women, they dress in an age-appropriate way. There are some exaggerated ones among them as well but there are also the trans women who dress very stylish and look more beautiful than many “normal” women.
We used to wear low-cut dresses and go out on the street like that and that was our reaction against the police violence. It was a political stance, we were doing that to say we exist.
There is no need to get dressed like in the daytime since there is no violence at that level anymore. Our décolleté was an insurrection. I never thought I looked cheap on the streets but I also never could look pure either. I looked for pureness everywhere but couldn’t find it.
The biggest rights defender is Bülent Ersoy
If we can live our trans identity today, if we can have the identity of being women, we owe it to Bülent Ersoy. She paved a way for us by expressing herself very well and through the close relation she established with the Özal family.
She was a good example. The biggest rights defender is Bülent Ersoy. She paid a big price. We also have to do some things now.
She doesn’t need to give support to LGBTI activism. She has already done her part. People don’t have to include everyone in their lives.
Activism has turned into an income
LGBTI activism has turned into an income nowadays. I also have friends who work their fingers to the bone but I think some associations perceive it as a means of income because they don’t do any major work.
There is the trans individual guest house for instance, and we watch sadly how it tries to survive in such harsh circumstances. The donations and aids helped our friends in difficult condition. I wish the associations could help in this matter.
I believe places like women’s shelters and nursing homes must be established for victimized trans individuals. People would donate to such places with inner peace.
Sex work is an occupation
I do my job out of love, no one does their job without loving it. If my words are perceived as immorality, then so be it.
If sex work was immoral, then the state wouldn’t get taxes from the registered brothels. I want the freelance sex workers be subjected to tax too because sex work is an occupation.
The right to education cannot be prevented
I recommend that the new generation to get educated. o one should oppose or prevent this right. I would have liked to make a nice career too but my entire life I have feared taking risks.
I love cooking as well as fashion. I would have liked to work in one of these two sectors but because of masculine language in the fashion sector, police violence, male violence and society’s prejudices, we were pushed into sex work.
I have never been a greedy person. I’ve earned and spent through my life. I am a person who started from scratch many times. I’ve spent the money I earned usually on brand name products, bags and shoes.
The difference between Europe and Turkey
I moved to Switzerland to work at a cabaret in the 90s. I lived in prominent European cities for years. There is no difference between Europe and Turkey.
If you are taken to a police station in Turkey, you will be released in no time but they deport you in Europe. Their laws are different. Human rights are better understood.
However, there is no clear difference. For instance, Europeans like money a lot. They were complaining of a 10 Frank taxi fare in Switzerland. We take taxis in İstanbul much more often.
Each sector, each individual has hypocrisy, it has nothing to do with the society. In the past, the media was presenting us very negatively. That is why there is this much marginalization and discrimination.
They used to use captions like “The transvestites spread terror.” In fact, the circumstances were very different. The real estate agents not renting the houses to us is a discrimination that followed this.
My partner has a roving eye
I have been in a relationship for 12 years. Love fades away in time; love is excitement, there are things beyond love in human life. Those are trust and sharing life.
Love is a very beautiful thing. Love refreshes people. There were many people with whom I could have fallen in love but I rejected them. However, my partner has a roving eye. He has never raised his voice. I am a woman of long relationships.
Referendum means that everyone votes by their own free will. No matter what the results will be, the minority has to respect the majority because that is what democracy is.
We, the trans people, will be affected by the referendum results as much as any other citizens. There is no need for confusion.
A president elected by the people has to be respected because this is majority’s choice, but I will assert my rights if I see any injustice against my identity.
In recent days, an election was held in the US. I wish as a woman that Hillary Clinton had won. I want to deliver a message through our republic’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s words: “Peace at home, peace in the world”.
The whole world needs to understand that we are humans first. We have to appreciate people as people. I wish peace and tranquility for everybody. (MD-EU/NU/HAK)
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