I became acquainted acquaintance with Emirhan in July 2016 through the trans activism camp traditionally organized every year by Pink Life LGBTI Association in the Torbalı district of İzmir province. He was subjected to violence too; I couldn’t help but cry as he spoke of what he went through.
Emirhan Deniz Çelebi is an English teacher and a highly equipped trans man. He graduated from Ankara Gazi University. He is also a master’s student in the Department of Journalism at İstanbul University and in the Department of Sociology at Yıldız Technical University.
He has travelled within Europe and North America. He is a founding member of the SPod LGBTI. He is one of the people who I feel happy to have in my life.
Let me give him the floor:
Menstrual period was a trauma for me
“I was born in 1990 in İstanbul. I came into the world as the fourth daughter of my family. Me and my aunt’s son, my cousin, were playing together on the grass. Some time passed, my cousin needed to pee and peed standing up.
“I thought about myself and questioned why I didn’t pee like that. So, I asked my cousin why he was peeing standing up. ‘I have penis,’ he said. ‘If that is a penis that he has, then what is mine?’ I wondered to myself. I tried to pee standing up as I returned home but I got all dirty.
“In that moment, I told myself mine hasn’t grown yet and I always thought it would grow until I reached secondary school. That lasted until I got my menstrual period. That was traumatic for me.
“With the menstrual period, my breasts began to grow and I was trying to hide them. The breasts were disturbing me. I realized at that point that something was different”.
I started to resemble my elder sisters
“Conservative women were coming to our school in my secondary school age. Women who wore headscarves were explaining subjects to us how one gets one’s period and bodily hygiene. Girls and boys were in separate classes.
“One day, that women asked a question: Is there anyone who bled in their underwear? I was very surprised, and I wondered if they talked to us about cancer. Because until then, my mother was explaining things to me but I was never listening to her. I was playing Pokemon.
“One day, when we entered our class, the male students said to us, ‘You have vagina and it bleeds.’. I was surprised again. Everything was progressing very quickly.
“I could never forget the boys’ offensive attitude and how the girls retired into their shells. Over time, I realized that I started to resemble my elder sisters but also noticed that unlike my elder sisters, I wasn’t into any boys”.
You are a woman if you have vagina, a man if you have beard
“My family was a traditional one. They bought me a yellow skirt for Eid and I hated to wear it. Noticing this, my uncle-in-law got me some brown trousers.
After that day, I always wore trousers during the years of my puberty. I preferred clothes that didn’t reveal the lines of my body. One day, I felt very bad when my elder sister told me that I had to do my first wax because the hair on my legs was my hope. I guess it was ‘hair equals man’ to me that time. I felt very empty when I looked at my legs after the waxing. I was even neglecting the existence of my vagina because I didn’t want to see it”.
I locked myself in a closet for 24 years
“I would have a man’s body someday; I’d never lost this hope. I locked myself in a closet for 24 years. I was rejecting the men who were asking me out on dates”.
Rüzgar Erkoçlar has led the way for many people. I was scared to death to die with this vagina and breasts. I’d never viewed myself as a woman. I was on a search to get rid of this body.
Pieces of research were always providing information about the transition from man to woman. Most of the information I found on Internet was in English and I started to learn English just to learn and understand this research. I was carrying out my research in Internet cafes secretly in order not to be marginalized. With the support of my high school English teacher, I chose to study teaching English. At that time, my shelter was my courses. I used to hide in closets running away from people.
Today, out trans men confront serious peer violence. I had a girlfriend in high school and she was the first person to whom I came out. Our relationship lasted two and a half years. She cheated on me with a non-trans man. We had a fight and she told me ‘you will die with this body anyway’ and I was left with myself.
Afterwards, I met a girl on Internet and we had an online romance. There were trans men who Rüzgar Erkoçlar was in contact with but I couldn’t contact him. He never replied to my messages.
Do I judge him? No, I wish he could be in the movement or that some other celebrity trans man comes from our community and fights…
I am not a man of one-night stands
I was starting to meet up with my girlfriend whom I met on the internet and I was going to her place from time to time. One day, my girlfriend told her family about my situation. Her family reacted very badly against me.
I was a rebellious young man in those days and I argued back. I was saying things like ‘I love her’. We were like we were in a typical Yeşilçam movie. Then, the relationship ended. I am not a man of one-night stands.
Thanks to my old girlfriend
My girlfriend of that time helped me enter my new life and helped me at the beginning of my trans shift period. I fell in love with someone else and we broke up.
After I graduated from university, I started to work at TED college, and I had a unisex appearance. I started to develop through therapy at Hacettepe. My appearance started to change too during that period and I decided to resign.
The school management on the surface didn’t want to let me go, but it was bullshit as they had brought a lawsuit against me but I hadn’t filed a counter compensation suit. They behaved shamefully, but I didn’t behave shamefully in kind.
I taught my students to fight injustice
I had told my students I had to leave for cancer treatment. I became very angry with myself for having lied like that because I was very fond of my children. My children were very smart. I taught them to fight injustice.
“Even if it is your principal, you will question and seek your rights”, I said. My children were getting prepared for the university entrance exam. During my teaching years, I instilled a fighting spirit to my children. How lucky I would be if I were able to touch the heart of even a single person.
Then I entered Department of Sociology at Yıldız Technical University. I had bared my soul to my family in that period. ‘I called you my daughter for 24 years, from now on I’ll call you my son’, my mom said.
My family accepted me as I am. I experienced no difficulties, I answered their question with patience. My elder sister asked me one day ‘Will you go to the army?’ I started my second grad program at İstanbul University in sociology again.
Only we trans individuals mourn for ourselves
I wanted to be engaged with organized LGBTI activism because I also wanted to do something social. My goal was to do something for trans men.
I enrolled in the Association of İstanbul Social Policies Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Studies (SPoD). When the trans man ‘Okyanus Efe’ (Ocean Efe) died, I realized that only we trans individuals mourn for ourselves. Then I came to see that there wasn’t trans male visibility in any association.
I started activism through minor projects and then was elected as a board member. It was the first time that a trans man became a board member at an LGBTI association. We have to ask ourselves as well if there is transphobia in these associations.
For instance, I was there but how frequently do we as trans individuals go to the associations? For example, we are carrying out studies in the organization in which I am a part of against trans murders. We now have to leave the bad things lived in the past aside and speak about what can be done for the movement.
There are problems with our trans organizations in Turkey. There is difficulty making culture amongst trans individuals. Most of trans women describe trans men as ‘masculine lesbians’. We face the same violence in the society even if we don’t realize it. I’ve taken initiative at SPoD regarding how we can include trans men in the movement.
“Let us put ISIS aside, let me talk to you about…”
For instance, most important issue for us is the hormone therapy because most of us don’t see a gynecologist and we administer the wrong hormone therapy. We have to routinize this therapy on a semi-annual basis.
As far as I know, there are 712 trans men. I gathered this data from our closed Facebook group. At the meetings I attended, I deliver speeches about the LGBTI movement and the violence it faces.
In a meeting I joined in the United States, I was asked to talk about the terror incidents in the Middle East. I said, ‘Let us leave ISIS aside, let me talk to you about the police violence against the trans women in Turkey’.
I talked about the torture that sex worker trans women were subjected to at police stations, and how the police receiving bribes from sex worker trans women on the streets. I’ve always said and will keep saying that an organized struggle is necessary.
I’ve visited 5-6 countries and talked about the trans movement everywhere I went. I observed that when I spoke of the Ülker Sokak resistance, the eyes of those in the hall opened wide, and they felt the pain inside themselves.
To hell with Article 40*
We have to record the things we tell. We need to make our own news, take our own photos and shoot our videos by ourselves. The next generation will come with questions.
We don’t necessarily have to gather under the roof of an association; we can also get organized in smaller groups. We have to act in solidarity against being held hostage to these blues and pink identities. To hell with Article 40 of the Civil Code.
We urgently need a law consultancy and we are trying to establish that through SPoD. We need associations in the organized struggle.
Turkey is a UN member since 1945
We need to get over our prejudices towards the associations. We can overcome these through dialogue. I’ve translated a 48-page book that was prepared by Transgender Europe that was about how trans individuals will be associated with the United Nations. I translated it from English to Turkish for Pink Life.
What I wrote in the preface of the book was: It was in the 1980s when transphobia started to be visible in Turkey, and it started to rise in the 90s. A baby born in those years is still wandering on the streets where transphobia is present. That means, there is still something wrong.
We need to know what means what in the movement. We can study what we can do in the UN.
Our next advocacy should be on the UN level. Why? Because Turkey is a UN member since 1945. Nevertheless, we don’t use that in our advocacy. Unfortunately, we don’t have a strong lobby presence in the international arena.
No, no, of course no. Thousands of no for the welfare of the LGBTI people…We will continue fighting no matter what the result will be, because there is still hope…
We need to read a lot What one reads most recently is what touches his/her heart and mind the most. Hope needs to be kept alive as we fight a mindset that tries to pull us back. We need to continue these fights strategically.
Pressure from civil society is more influential on political authority despite the fact that associations are being closed down with the Statutory Decrees. Maybe we will not see compensation for our work but let’s continue to fight for the sake of the next generation. Trans individuals and women are strong united”.
*Turkish Civil Code, Article 40: A person who wishes to change their gender may request permission to change their gender by applying in person to the court. However, for the permission to be granted, the applicant must be 18 years old and must be unmarried. The applicant must also be in a transsexual nature and must document the necessity to change their gender for their mental health and that they are permanently deprived of reproductive abilities through an official health committee report obtained from an education and research hospital.
Depending on the permission granted, once the gender reassignment surgery fit for the aim and medical methods has been completed and verified by an official health committee report, the court decides to make the necessary changes in the population registry. (MD-EU/NU/HK)
UNEMPLOYED JOURNALISTS CHASING NEWS
* The "Unemployed Journalists Chasing News" project is being realized with the financial support of Matra-Human Rights Program of Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
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