Intersex activism in Turkey
Şerife and Belgin talk with Kaos GL about the situation of intersex people in Turkey, bodily interventions without consent and the influences of these on activism.
Why is intersex awareness important?
Belgin: Intersex awareness is important because intersex people are the most invisible sexual minority group. This is changing nowadays thanks to efforts like Intersex Awareness Day. On this year’s awareness day, as part of the UN “Free & Equal” campaign, a video about intersex has been published for the first time.
Intersex problems originate from invisibility, secrecy, shame and unawareness. Society, governments and even medical professionals don’t know the problems and needs of intersex people. Our right of self-determination is violated, intersex individiuals are condemned to secrecy and silence, so it’s essential to create awareness about intersex.
Şerife: Intersex individiuals are unfairly left in loneliness and despair. They want us -intersex individuals- to believe that we’re defective and wrong. To break this misconception and liberate intersex people, we should create awareness. We should say “Intersex exists”. If I’m not aware of myself, don’t know who I am, then I can’t convince society to accept me. We should first empower ourselves as intersex individuals, and then continue to fight against violations of our human rights. Getting rid of secrecy is also essential.
Did adding the “I” to LGBT change anything for you?
Şerife: Globally and locally, Adding the “I” to LGBT is a very important milestone for both the LGBT movement and the intersex movement. Intersex individuals in Turkey are reaching each other, creating friendships and solidarity, organising panel discussions, making videos, going to universities to give lessons about intersex; these are all happening thanks to collaborations between intersex activists and LGBT activists. Is it enough? Not enough, of course. There are many more lonely intersex individuals out there, we need to reach them too. We should develop our ways of advocacy together. Our dear departed trans activist friend Aligül Arıkan also made a very important contribution to collaboration between intersex and LGBT movements in Turkey.
Now we want to legally establish an intersex organisation and we will continue to growing the solidarity here. We want new collaborations like Aligül and Belgin’s.
Belgin: Yes, adding the “I” changed a lot of things. Most importantly, now conservatives are naming intersex people as “the people of Lot” (Sodom) too; in the past this honor belonged only to gay people (Belgin laughs). It’s complicated. After the Gezi protests LGBTI visibility increased, but this time conservatives began to use this LGBT abbreviation against us. They use the term as “LGBTI person” or “individual of LGBTI”. This is like saying “tuberculous person”. They are trying to degrade and pathologise us.
Whatever, if I put aside the letters and abbreviations, I can definitely say that collaboration between LGBT and intersex has really helped us. It’s true that we, as intersex activists, tried really hard to convince LGBT organisations sometimes but I also can’t deny the huge support of many LGBT friends. This solidarity moved us somewhere good. We did some things that we couldn’t even dream about before. Panel discussions, visiting to universities and a film festival in Douarnenez, creating new friendships, walking in pride march, we did all of these with help from LGBT friends. Of course we still have a long way to go.
Photo: Şerife and Belgin
Are in contact with global intersex organisations?
Belgin: Yes, as far as possible. We’re in touch with friends from Australia, Germany, and also France since the film festival, as well as other countries. OII Europe has a web a page dedicated for Turkish content and we’ll keep in touch with this organisation. I believe that after completing our legal registration process in Turkey, we’ll see much more support from global intersex organisations. I thank all our international intersex activist friends for their help up to now.
What do you need to gain momentum for intersex activism?
Şerife: In Turkey we have to become a legal organisation to gain momentum for activism. Yes there are LGBT organisations that help us but we should have our own intersex organisation now. We’ll gain more visibility and more of a voice this way. We want to advocate for our bodily rights and stop violations.
Belgin: First we need a change in Turkey’s political climate, I think. Just before and during the Gezi protests there was an inspiring and motivating activism environment. And then came the ISIS bombs and the military coup. There is a regression in every aspect. Activism shifted from streets to closed areas, but of course we continue to resist and try to obtain new wins. We will continue to write, to create, to speak and express our existence. Even if it goes slow, we’ll also complete our registration process. Meanwhile, even saying “I’m intersex” to someone you meet for the first time becomes a political act sometimes. The struggle for visibility continues every moment.
What should be done to overcome the discrimination of intersex people that begins at birth?
Belgin: First, pediatric surgeries on intersex have to stop. Interex individuals should be enabled to take control of their own bodies. Parents and medical professionals should know that intersex is not a disease, not a wrong or shameful thing. This begins at home and at hospital; if we come over discrimination in these two key areas, then we can overcome discrimination in school, in workplaces and in broader society too. In Turkey we should focus especially on two things; creating a network between parents of intersex people, for solidarity and awareness, and to show medical professionals that intersex individiuals are not experimental objects or robots which they can impose a gender.
Şerife: First we should inform families. Parents who have an intersex child should not take them to operating theatre in the first place. This must not be the first thing parents think when they learned that their child is intersex. These surgeries make deep wounds both in our bodies and our souls and these don’t heal, not during our whole life. Children are condemned to sex interventions they don’t want. Most intersex individuals suffer from this. Pediatric intersex surgeries are human rights violations and these violations should stop.
Are you planning to co-organise new events with LGBT organisations in near future?
Belgin: We’re always open to discussion about this. We can continue panel discussions again. Also we want to make new videos and we can show these in different cities by the help of other organisations.
Şerife: We’re always collaborating with LGBT organisations. We’ll continue to work together and we want to create a stronger solidarity network.
What do you want to say to other intersex people?
Belgin: Now I’m going to talk like self-help books but I believe that there are many intersex people out there who need to hear these words. Don’t let anybody define who you are. Don’t look at yourself through other people’s eyes. Look into the mirror with your own eyes. Find your name before others name you. Try to befriend yourself, grab this friend’s hand and make sure your friend stands up. Make sure your friend can look into your eyes with love in the mirror. This won’t be easy. When you feel tired, don’t hesitate to request help, reach people and show them who you are.
Translation: Belgin İnan