05/01/2021 | Writer: Yunus Emre Demir
Our guest is ABB Afrodith. We discussed with ABB, whom we know from the nightlife of Istanbul, about ABB’s profession, which is English Teacher.
First of all, can you tell us about yourself? How is your life?
I am very young actually, I am 31 years old. I was born in Hatay. I am actually an English teacher, but in the last 5 years of my profession, I have been in education design and education management rather than teaching.
For the last 2 years, I have worked as a department manager and director at a foundation school. On the other hand, I continue my doctorate program because I embraced the policy of “raising world students, world children”. I also take IB (International Baccalaureate) courses in that program. Thanks to the various topics we study in this course, I can study queer theory in the course. Or I provide areas where I can include the art of queer while producing useful services for the society.
So while I was shaping the last year of my life, which was when I met you, I spent my time on doing research on how to add queer theory to the education and I realized that I can do this very smoothly in IB.
Apart from this, I am a volunteer at the Istanbul LGBTI+ Pride Week Committee. I am on party, event and lobbying commissions. I am an honorary volunteer of BÜ LGBTI. I am a volunteer in Pink Life. I work in Şişli City Council LGBTI+ Assembly’s Commission on Education.
Have you ever worked in a public school? Can you share how the stages of labor life were?
I worked at a university and even appointed as an English teacher to Şırnak at that time, I went there and stayed for 1 day and came back. That is why I was punished; I could not take KPSS exam for 2 years. The period I worked at the university was very good because I was working in the foreign affairs office. I was also working as a volunteer when I was not working there professionally. So it was the team I knew, persons knew me. Before I started working professionally, I had not share my identity, but everyone understood that. I am slightly a drag.
After I started working as a professional, I gained self-confidence and I started working at the university openly. Both the head of the department and the person in charge of the department knew me. But I have never been able to experience this in the entire university. At that time, a LGBTI+ association was established in the city. After the Gezi period, the association was established, things were going very well and I gained self-confidence because of that, but the environment I worked in was an environment that could accept this. Everyone was very white, they were different faculty members. That is why I did not face any problem.
Did I see the advantage? Yes I did. We applied for this position with 3 persons and I think I saw the benefits of being queer compared to the other two for various reasons.
Are you open where you work now?
I never actually concealed it. Nobody dared to ask me this because I build all my relations that way. I let persons to ask me whom I would not hesitate to come out when they ask, and I am open to them. But I do not allow persons to ask by whom I think I will face problem when I told them.
There was a period when you were working open and you are living a period now you are not fully open. What are the differences between these two period for you or is there a difference?
There is for sure. When I was working in college, I could think more creatively and big, but now I cannot think that way. For example, there is a single mother in the content that I put while preparing material and she likes another woman at work, and I question myself a lot when I want to put this. But when I was working at university, I was much more comfortable.
It is also a bit related to the following: I am not only doing a job with the persons I work for now. Actually, I do it with children and the limits of the Ministry of National Education on this issue are very clear. They can even cause my diploma to be nulled by being identifying this as a behavior that is not suitable for the teaching profession. Maybe that is why I totally moved away from teaching and turned my head to education design or HR education departments in human resources sector and I am developing myself in that regard.
I guess you needed air inbetween?
So do you feel that you are discriminated? What are your coping mechanisms in such moments?
I think I am having problems during the recruitment process because I am drag a little. And when I go there better groomed, it can draw more attention in the interviews. For this reason, there were jobs I missed. For example, when I applied to a foundation school, I attended all of the interviews, and the meetings with the heads of departments were very good. Afterwards, the HR manager calls my manager at the institution where I worked before from my reference list during the inspection. “This person is a little feminine, what do you think?” HR manager asked such questions to my former manager. I was not hired as a result of these dialogues. Someone who had 2 years less seniority than me was employed for the same position.
But other than that, in other places, I actually benefit from the advantage of my branch. It is a branch with few qualified teachers. Also, I have not applied for teaching positions since 2014. In the positions I have applied for, employers look at things like whether there is a master’s degree or a published article. The scale is narrowing there, already, I have had its advantage.
Another problem I faced during the recruitment process with Turkish Airlines, which was a sector different than education, I got 5 out of 5 in English exam and 4.8 out of 5 in psychological assessment. I took my documents, I was going to have an interview, but I was not interviewed because I had a military service exemption certificate. They said that those who are exempt from military service cannot be cabin crew either. Even though I raised my objections, they did not accept and I could not attend the interviews.
The things I faced are these two incidents during the recruitment process, I do not know if anything else happened in the others without my knowledge.
Of course, I have not changed a lot of institutions. I worked in 2 universities and at 2 schools. Therefore, I did not have too many problems as I did not move much, but I am working with an incredibly homophobic director at the institution where I am currently working, and I experienced the hardship a lot. My brother, who is also an English teacher but has a clearer identity, was not hired for the same school because of this director.
If you ask how you cope with it, I had to make big plans and brew a plot. I try to build meaningless relations with persons who can be effective in firing that person o. For example, I am trying to keep relations strong by providing free English lessons to our HR recruiter. At the end of these processes, an official investigation started regarding this director. So as you can understand, I am holding a grudge, I am fighting.
So actually there is a very obvious crime of discrimination and you have to deal a lot to deal with it. This process should actually be exhausting for you. Does it affect your motivation?
I love to fight. When I look at the essence of the work, I do extra work, I get tired more. If I had been paid for the free lessons I gave to that person in HR, I would take a holiday abroad.
I want to talk a little bit about the sector. Does the education sector have advantages or disadvantages for a queer?
We work with children and young persons. “Queer” is loved by children. All the teachers that I know them to be queer teachers are very popular. Your transfer of information is very good in the places where you are loved. So you do your job better.
In other words, queers are generally liked by their colleagues and they can affect the culture of the institution. We have 8 campuses connected to the foundation, half of them have queers, half of them do not. I feel the energy is higher where there are queers. In other places there is a constant complaint, unhappiness. I always say that what they need is a queer.
There are a lot of queers in the education sector, especially in the field of foreign languages, both among students and employees.
Well, do you think this is a runoff?
Studying languages is much better for me. If I had studied science, I would have had more difficulty, those fields seem very heteronormative to me. You read a thousand different things here and you solve language questions about them, and you are not actually restricted when you think and work. Language is a very free area to study.
We hear a lot of negative news about private schools these days, about teachers not getting their salaries. Teachers working in the public institutions are also usually assigned to village schools in conditions they are not ready after graduation. What kind of a sector this is, what do you think?
Like shit. Because the success base in preferring medical departments in the country is 50 thousand, for being a teacher this is 300 thousand. In other words, you have to be in the first 50 thousand persons to become a doctor, whereas you have to be in the first 300 thousand persons to educate doctors, there was no limit to teaching until last year. In Turkey currently most of the universities consist the faculty of education. Those who do not consist these faculties also provide teachers with education by formation programs. This is an area that has already more graduated persons than needed; the quality of education is very poor. And when you assign these persons to schools with poor conditions, everything is completely ruined.
I am in the advantageous group because I have already studied high school in teacher high school. I had received a suitable education even then. Teacher high schools have also closed down...
In other words, education is in a very bad situation, but the reason for this is that YÖK has to undergo a restructuring first in terms of quality and quantity.
Now I want to return to you again. You mentioned that you produce materials. Do you think there is a relation between the materials you produce and your queer identity?
Especially when I look at the products I have released for the last two years, I see incredibly beautiful things come out. For example, in a text I wrote in 5th grade last week, the boy is playing with his toys at home. Then his mother and older sister come from outside. His older sister is playing football on the street and their mother came home from work. Their father also cooks because he came early. With such simple images, we can add another perspective to the child. When the children see these at a young age, they became much more ready for them. For example, when I put the same text in the high school group, it seems strange to the child because he did not see such a family until he reaches that age, but I never experience this in the middle school group.
And now I have IB in my life. The things we talk about in this area make me think about the relations between language and gender. In this way, we have the chance to talk these with young persons.
While I am describing colors, I can observe the transformation that when I dress the boys in pink and the girls in blue by going beyond the norms of society. Or I use words that are genderless in terminology.
I cannot use the “They” pronoun yet. I used it a few times but it came back.
In other words, I open spaces for myself while I develop content on this subject, but it is also censored from time to time.
My next question is a question we both know the answer for it, but I want to ask anyway: Do you think this kind of practice or queer teachers cause kids to be gay?
Such practices do not cause children to be gay, but showing them that they should not be ashamed of it if they are gay, this makes them more secure and happy. It strengthens them, makes them to be open.
Our student graduated last year was an open and proud trans woman, and she was one who had difficulties before contacting us. If we had not reached that student and provided appropriate guidance, her life would have been different since she had attempted suicide before. But now she graduated and will continue her education abroad.
I would like to discuss unionization a little bit. Are you unionized? Is there pressure for this in the places you work?
Unions do not accept private school teachers, we are not public employees. There is Turkish Private Schools Association ruled by the financial support of Private school owners and managers. So it is impossible for this place to defend our rights because the origin of their financial sources are these.
However there is a need for such a union definitely. The greatest example of this was experienced by friends at Doğa College. There was no union they could go to, apply for, or act jointly with, so they chose different ways and tried to fight. Somehow most of them got their wages, but their processes were prolonged, their energy wasted, it was demotivational for them.
Thank you very much for your answers. I do not have any other question to ask, is there anything else you would like to add?
I really believe this: I was saying I would be an English teacher in future, when they asked me in middle school. Then when I started to university, I realized that I want to be an English teacher, but why do I? I also wanted a bit to be liked by the others. I want this not only for myself, but also for my profession, for the institution I work for, for the foundation that the institution is affiliated with, for my sector. I started this with that intention.
If I can reach the heart of the students and if they believe my sincerity, they accept my identity and me. I believe this effect is important. I like my job very much, but I do not like teaching anymore. My teaching is always restricted by others. That is why I am not a teacher, I moved forward for producing content.
Now, while you were talking, the following question came to my mind: If you were nor restricted, would you still want to produce content or would you continue to be a teacher?
I would like to teach. Because I love the class, that is my stage. It is very good for me. I attend classes 12 hours a week and those days are very busy but I really forget about everything at that time. I forget about homophobia and the other problems while I continue teaching. I am having fun there. It is so fun and dynamic there... And every year I have to improve myself more. It is a perfect place for this reason.
I have been teaching since 2011. I have been doing the same job for 9 years and the issues are the same. That is why I start to do a job that I take for granted in a more artistic manner. I love this so much so to speak…
Translation: Özge Gökpınar
Tags: human rights, labour