Trans men in Turkey whose manhood is unblessed
Çiçek Tahaoğlu - 13/03/2014
With the Gezi resistance, society came out to LGBTI people and LGBTI people came out to society. The “get used to it, we are here” slogans worked to a great extent.
But the taboos, the confusion, and the meetings continue. For example in the issue of trans men, people say “How does that work?” “So you can transition from women to men?” “Are there really any trans men in Turkey?” “Even if there are, the numbers must be low and it must be a unique situation…”
Yes, there are trans men in Turkey. They even have a trans men’s information site called Transsick-o and it will soon mark its first year online. The numbers are not as low as you think. The closed Facebook group called “T Kulüp” started out with 30 people but has now reached 215 and membership is increasing.
“Twelve years ago there was a trans man activist but he was the only one,” said Berk, the communication coordinator of the group.
“Voltrans was formed in 2008. T Kulüp is only a new beginning. There is a feeling of ‘I think I am the only person like this in the world’ that every trans man goes through; it’s a terrible loneliness, one that cannot be understood without living through it.”
This is how the group gets larger. “We share information and our troubles; there is friendship, solidarity, and support. There are people from all ages, social classes and beliefs,” Berk continued.
“This solidarity entails everything from following each other’s hospital documents to supporting each other when feeling melancholic. We know if a surgeon operates badly, if a hospital undertakes any practices that are against the law. Solidarity and friendship are prioritized. We want to be active participants in the transformation of legal and medical procedures in order to make these practices better. We want our voices to be heard.”
So who are these trans men? What do they do? How does the gender reassignment process work? Are they open in their social lives? Is the transformation to being a man in Turkey a blessed thing or is it a cause for discrimination? What are the most common problems in their daily lives? Let’s hear from them:
“I live with my partner in a village in Ankara”
Toprak: I am 37 years old. I do freelance transcribing work. I am originally from Malatya. I live with my partner in a village in Ankara. I am also an activist; I have worked with many LGBT, feminist, and socialist organizations, especially with Pink Life. I use testosterone and I had a mastectomy but I will not undertake the gender reassignment surgery.
I am an out trans man in my social life, with my friends, family and within the rights struggle. But to my neighbors, on the street, I am not out and I live as a cisgendered man.
The main problem lies in the perception of trans men as more female than male. Being a trans man is not something that is blessed in the male world. But in general, we are discriminated against in employment. Holding a pink identity card [for females] while appearing male is the cause of discrimination. People look at our IDs and then decide not to employ us.
“I came out to my family after finding courage from Gezi”
Serkan: I live in Istanbul. I graduated from an English Language and Literature department and I work as a social media coordinator in a company. I am at the beginning of my transition and I’ve started using hormones.
I came out to my family in June after finding courage from the Gezi resistance, thinking “a different world is possible.” My father completely rejected me and does not even speak to me on the phone. My mother is still wavering because she is the mother; she is more compassionate and moderate than my father. At least she’s trying to build bridges between us. My girlfriend has known from the start. She does not have any problems with it and we have been living together for 3 months. I am open to the people I see regularly in my social life, my family knows but most of our relatives do not know because my family is stuck in the “what will others say” mentality. I resigned from my job when I first came out and I started a new job but I am not out in my work environment because I do not want to jeopardize my financial situation.
In comparison to trans women, trans men tend to be seen as being in a more advantageous position during and after gender transition; there is a perception that their integration into society is faster and smoother. This is true to some extent because we do not have as much of a problem with “unavoidable visibility.” Furthermore, because we live in a patriarchal society, we are not “additionally” oppressed as “men” whereas trans women are oppressed as women and as trans people.
Nonetheless we experience a lot of different problems that are invisible to others. Particularly in a society where gender is defined through physical traits and sexual organs, a man who has not undergone phalloplasty, hormone therapy and has not grown facial hair is viewed as a “deficient man,” and even as “a masculine woman” by some… Such misguided perceptions can exist even within the LGBT movement. Particularly during transition, trans men are not recognized as men by men and are therefore excluded from the category and, since they are also excluded from women, they are in a kind of social purgatory.
Unfortunately, there are too many problems with day to day living. Bureaucratic hassles, disbelief in my identity papers and being treated like a thief; problems with job interviews and acceptance; problems that emerge when I am assigned a seat “next to a lady” on interstate bus trips based on my ID; being denied rental housing when I interview with my girlfriend on account of being an unmarried couple; the interesting looks I get when, despite being happy to be perceived as a man, I try to use my official ID to get around their objection; during my transition, being addressed and treated in deeply upsetting ways by the hospital staff and a majority of doctors who are utterly uninformed about the process.
Being seated “next to a lady” and the bathroom problem…
Ozan: I am a 29-year-old journalist with a college degree. My life is divided in two: Social and professional. At home, among friends on the street, I live my difference freely. But not in my professional life!
Employment is one of our biggest issues. Even those among us who are highly educated and speak two foreign languages cannot find employment. I do not wish to be financially dependent on my family or others. This hurts my feelings and my pride. Therefore, I have trouble starting the transition process.
I am somebody who threatens social gender roles. I was born without a penis. Despite that, I have been loved by heterosexual women who have told me “it was impossible for me to get to know you and not fall in love!”
Many things that do not even cross people’s minds in the course of their everyday lives are vital problems for us. A very basic problem, for example, is the bathroom problem. Especially if you are in the process of transition. What are you going to do? How long can you hold it?
For example, bus journeys. If you get a seat next to a woman, she says, “I do not want to sit next to a man.” You can’t get a seat next to a man because of your pink ID card. You can’t even communicate if you do not fit the category in people’s minds of a “proper human being with whom one can speak to.” Is this a man? A woman? They don’t even listen to me preoccupied as they are with this question. As a result, even a simple request for help with an address can be a huge deal.
“Of course the FTM transition is not blessed”
Berk: I am 27 years old, I am an activist and make a living through translation and redaction. Looking for an adventure this year I began to study Foreign Trade. My transition began when I was a senior in college in 2008. I got my BA in Sociology and went on to graduate school to study philosophy. I took a break from my studies to finish up my affairs related to my transition. I got my blue ID card and intend to go back to academia.
I am out to everyone. When I began the process, I discussed it with everyone. I did not have any more patience with self-censorship. Except for situations which may be threatening to my safety, I am open in all environments, be it the barbershop or the gym, or with my relatives. I see the experience of being a trans man as a part of who the person is, not as something that needs to be hidden, something that is “damning.” It is part of what makes me who I am, much like studying sociology or growing up in Ankara…
Of course, FTM transition is not blessed. First of all, it is shameful in this country to not (be able) to fit the stereotypical gender roles. To put it crudely, you are “a lesser man,” “a parvenu, an upstart” as it were. You encounter two basic attitudes: “My man, look! There are certain rules to being a man that you need to learn!” or “you are a man, therefore you should know,” or even, “let’s size you up to see how much of a man you are” attitude. What is worse is that both women and men do this.
If you do not fit perfectly within the binary gender roles, it is hard to even walk on the street. Somebody might give you the shoulder, verbally harass you. They might even say, “let me come over and make you feel your womanhood.” Say you are transitioning, gender segregated bathrooms and the urinal culture is a big issue, being treated like a kid since you look young can be another issue. As for public space, the most difficult thing is to be a man with a pink ID card.
I have had to explain why I carry that card innumerable times as if I like that ID or that name; I had to prove I had not stolen the ID, or that it did not belong to my cousin; hundreds of times, I faced the same incomprehensive and judging looks, whispered conversations; hundreds of times I answered the question “Oh, it is possible to do that from female to male?” I lived through trillions of coming out experiences, can’t count them all…
 A common practice of assigning seats based on gender on intercity journey buses. Solicited or unsolicited, women are assigned seats next to women.