06/04/2023 | Writer: Özge Gökpınar

“Living in Turkey as a transgender or non-binary individual exposes you to a heightened risk of discrimination and oppression by the government and society.”

Unbearable onerousness of being a NB in Turkey* Kaos GL - News Portal for LGBTI+

Illustration: Bartu / Kaos GL

LGBTI+ persons in Turkey are in precarious situation with the absence of laws to protect them, as well as the harsh hatred of society fostered by the state. Since the state of emergency, human rights violations against LGBTI+ persons continued, where the COVID-19 escalated such violations, in which LGBTI+ persons were held accountable for COVID-19, as well as other diseases, and were targeted virulently by high-level officials. Anti-LGBT movement in Turkey was expanded in the period of the measures taken against Covid-19. The widespread discourse targeting LGBTI+ persons and serious hate speech has become visible and digital violence against LGBTI+ persons escalated in line with this discourse implying homosexuality is a sin and brings diseases along with it. The Covid-19 process has also been a process that led to violations of rights, especially for transgender persons, for example where some trans women were detained by the police on the pretext of pandemic bans, and some cannot access to the hormones. The announced decree for annulling Turkey’s ratification of the Istanbul convention have fostered this oppressive atmosphere more.

Then after the COVID-19 measures have been loosened, in Turkey where neither legislation nor its implementation is LGBTI+ responsive, impunity against hate murders continues to be the reality of the country due to the mainstreamed anti-LGBTI+ discourse. The hate murders against LGBTI+ persons were reported in as 8 in 2021, as 3 in 2022 and as 1 in January 2023. This shows us that LGBTI+ persons are still vulnerable as well as the rights of LGBTI+ persons are still violated and LGBTI+ NGOs in Turkey are still oppressed. Also, they are not able to access coping mechanisms and empowerment strategies. As they lack legal and psychosocial support and economic stability, their well-being is also ruined, and their rights are ignored and denied behind the curtains.

Regardless of Turkey’s anti-LGBTI+ position, the associations like Kaos GL, 17 May Association, Pink Life, Istanbul Pride, Mersin Muamma LGBTI+, Bursa Free Colors and many others in Turkey are working tremendously to promote and ensure the full enjoyment of human rights, fundamental freedoms, and democracy in Turkey while trying to report the violations in order to make them visible.

According to the recent LGBTI+ Human Rights Report of 2022 published by Kaos GL; the targeting strategy of the government against LGBTI+ persons shows itself in the detentions of many LGBTI+ activists; especially detentions of the ones attending peaceful demonstrations. The other strategy of messing with LGBTI+ persons reflected itself in the house raids on the ground of prostitution followed by physical violence. Those are just the most prominent strategies of the government against LGBTI+ persons. The very same report implicitly highlights that behind all the human rights violations faced by LGBTI+ persons stem from a governmental policy that can be briefly identified as “hindering the promotion and visibility of LGBTI+ existences in the public realm”; coupled with the interventions resulting in different forms of violations, not limited to freedom of expression, freedom of association and right of peaceful assembly, freedom torture and ill treatment and right to integrity of the person, right to liberty and security, right to work, right to privacy, right to housing, right to life, right to asylum, right to education, right to health, etc.

“Living in Turkey as a transgender or non-binary individual exposes you to a heightened risk of discrimination and oppression by the government and society. Unfortunately, this marginalization often infiltrates one's daily life, creating a constant atmosphere of oppression. Coping with this reality can be challenging, but individuals may develop mechanisms to navigate their experiences.”

                                                               In their own words by A., NB, 28 years old

In addition, LGBTI+ persons living in Turkey had to face the one of the hardest times ever in February 2023 following the earthquake that hit the southern and southeast regions of Turkey as well as the north and western regions of Syria. According to 17 May Association’s Climate101 report, it is a worldwide fact that during disasters like earthquakes, LGBTI+ persons fail to access emergency aid since they are not mostly recognized as the acceptable recipients of the state emergency support and aid programmes. They are not included in statistical studies and their needs become invisible. Similarly, nonbinary persons may not have access to gender-specific services and emergency shelters or they face other difficulties in accessing shelter related services. Fear of discrimination may also prevent them from accessing any other services available. While persons having more economic power can cope better with the adverse effects of emergencies since they can access quality food and potable water resources more easily or they can leave their cities easily after the disasters; LGBTI+ persons mostly having low-income opportunities cannot do the same since LGBTI+ persons in general and transgender persons in particular, face financial difficulties stemming from discrimination and intolerance making it harder for them to find safe and inclusive work and shelter opportunities. The LGBTI+ survivors face the same situations and discrimination after surviving the earthquake in Turkey and in Syria.

Ankara LGBTI+ Earthquake Solidarity found by LGBTI+ associations in Ankara/Turkey encountered various discrimination experiences of LGBTI+ survivors, from not being able to access food and water, to not being able to access shelter in public spaces on account of gender identity and sexual orientation (perceived gender identity). Also, the compounded sufferings and additional stigmatization were faced by this cohort of LGBTI+ survivors consisting also the LGBTI+ asylum seekers and refugees living in the earthquake region.

While living in such an atmosphere where the government does not ease the daily lives of LGBTI+ persons and ignores the LGBTI+ persons in emergency situations, being a non-binary is also tough, unsurprisingly.

A non-binary person is a person identifies themselves and their gender outside of the binary definitions of man or woman, masculine or feminine, while committed to live their life as free and true to themselves as possible. But for each nonbinary person, being NB can mean something much more diverse and peculiar to them. For some of them, being NB can involve the feeling of dysphoria or not, the need of gender affirmation or not. Or, being NB can involve changing names or/and pronouns and expecting respect for being referred to with the right gender pronoun chosen or can involve changing physical appearance, make ups and wardrobe choices or it can involve nothing at all. No NB had to prove their nonbinary identity to anyone.

“My non-binary identity has been vague since the beginning. I identify non-binary. I think even in the queer community, my gay identity dominates my non-binary identity. In my romantic and friendship-based relationships there have been expectations over my assigned gender role. If my partner is not familiar with queer theory, I was expected to fulfill my "male" tasks inside or outside of relationship. It is generally not understood that I call myself gay because if I dig into my gender journey, the romantic discourse will contain only me as a topic. In academic context as well, using they/them pronouns have been a problem. I like the gender-neutral-default third person pronouns of Turkish, but as a student of an English-speaking University, I had to explain so many of my teachers that I really use they/them pronouns because I don't identify male or female, and not because I just want to be fancy.”

                                                               In their own words by Y.A., NB, 21 years old

Embellished by the self-love and to feel loved, being NB is all about to feel like the truest version.

“The truest version of ourselves is linked to the self-love where we feel real and valid, giving us a break from self-judgement while hindering others to police us. It is a state of conduit of gender expressions, where each of them is a state of queerness. It is not about what is in your pants and under your shirt, but it is about a journey where all the parts of the self are combined and make the whole in its own authentic format.” 

                                                               In their own words by O., NB, 39 years old

While feeling the truest version by NB person, what is the significance of being acknowledged and loved? Living in the spiral of marginalization, discrimination, alienation, NB persons grow up with the experiences of bullying at school; family rejection; discrimination in employment; in health-care settings and in public use of the facilities; living at risk of targeting and violence, battery, abuse and ill-treatment, while having no right to recognition before the law. The stigma and prejudice against them rise due to their perceived gender identity as being labeled as different from the majority. Therefore, self-identification/self-realization is an indispensable element of overcoming the past negative experiences in reaching the truest version of the self.

As a starting point, adopting anti-discrimination legislation that includes diverse gender identities (and sexual orientations) among prohibited grounds and adopting a legislation on hate speech and crimes accepting LGBTI+ phobia as an aggravating factor in sentencing process can help a NB person to enjoy their truest self. However, in countries like Turkey, where the gender diverse persons are ignored although the governments have the power to put an end to the ordeal that gender-diverse persons had to face by bringing inclusion politics, any positive minor attitude change by individuals can affect the feeling of inclusion.

For example, where NB persons are not comfortable with gendered pronouns, their wishes shall be respected without making any blunders by avoiding words and sentences that imply two genders in addressing them. To be more specific, instead of addressing them with binary language such as lady, girl, etc. (or in addressing the group of persons that may include gender diverse ones), rather, choosing more inclusive alternatives such as ‘folks’, ‘gang’ or ‘everyone’ is substantial in respecting the NB persons’ self-realization. In this way, feeling of being acknowledged and valid can be realized. Being seen as valid also fosters the feeling of being loved.

“In such a world, where it is so difficult to love it as itself, as in Arendt’s amor mundi- hardship of loving the world as it is, with all the evil and suffering in it. Loving the world starts with loving ourselves and loving the others. As transition of the mind to greater perfection occurs, we feel the joy as Spinoza states. The joy seems to be felt with the mutual understanding, acknowledging attitude, affection, and love, which is always more preferrable than the hatred. In ‘Within a Budding Grove, Part II’, Marcel Proust states ‘when we are in love, our love is too big a thing for us to be able altogether to contain it within ourselves. It radiates towards the loved one, finds there a surface which arrests it, forcing it to return to its starting-point, and it is this repercussion of our own feeling which we call the other's feelings, and which charms us more than on its outward journey because we do not recognize it as having originated in ourselves.” In the sense of such understanding of love, it would not be uncanny, if we expect microaffirmations against microaggressions, especially from our loved ones as the reflection of our own self, from the chosen family, where we feel ourselves secure and safe.”

                                                               In their own words by O., NB, 39 years old 

This is also the case for LGBTI+ activists and LGBTI+ NGOs in Turkey living in a climate of rights violations, criminalization, targeting and oppression. Feeling valid and feeling loved are the well-being and protection needs of this group. When this kind of protection and well-being needs are not met, without the empowerment and resilience, sustainable and conducive activism will not be possible. In order not to feel like we are shouting against the wind, we have to venture into the world to change it, by being protected with the bundle of love around us.

“For me from a queer perspective, love is not limited to romantic relationships. Love is a multifaceted emotion that can manifest in different forms, including platonic love, familial love, and community love. It is a feeling that provides a sense of safety, belonging, and support, reminding individuals that they are not alone in their struggles. For many marginalized communities, including the LGBTQ+ community, finding love and acceptance can be challenging. As a result, individuals may seek out relationships with people who share similar experiences and values, creating a sense of solidarity and mutual support. This sense of belonging can be particularly important for individuals who face discrimination and oppression in their daily lives.

It is essential to recognize that love is not a fixed concept and can take on different meanings and forms for different individuals and communities. By embracing the diversity of love, we can create a more inclusive and supportive world for all individuals, sense of belonging, solidarity, and safety. For many, this community provides a space for authentic self-expression and a source of empowerment.”

In their own words by A., NB, 28 years old[*]

[*] This article was written as a part of “Strengthening the Trans, Non-Binary and Intersex Caucus in the Western Balkans and Turkey region” project implemented by TNBI caucus

**The articles at KaosGL.org Gökkuşağı Forumu (Rainbow Forum) are under the responsibility of their authors. The fact that the articles are published at KaosGL.org does not mean that the opinions at the articles necessarily reflect the opinions of KaosGL.org.

Tags: human rights