07/01/2021 | Writer: Yunus Emre Demir
We discussed with Zahter, a 24-year-old private sector employee, about the situation of the private sector and the place of transgender persons in the private sector, regarding these days where Zahter had to take unpaid leave due to Covid-19.
Hello, Zahter. I would like to thank you for accepting to participate in this interview. Can you tell us about yourself?
I am Zahter. I am 24 years old. I graduated from folklore department actually, but I cannot do my job, since it is seen worthless in Turkey. Besides, I work in the private sector. I work as a secretary in a company. I live in Izmir. I came here in 2014. Before that, I was in Eastern provinces and Syria.
What is your work experience? Is this your first place of work?
I have never been able to do my own profession. I worked in bookstores, second hand bookstores. I worked as a secretary in a trade chamber. I also worked in a call center. In other words, I generally took part in the private sector, in the service sector. I also worked in a private hospital.
Can you explain the recruitment process? How was it?
My aunts are working in the same company I work for now. Various relatives on my mother’s side are also there. This company is a well-established company. It is an active company in many fields such as oil industry and food sector. I work in the food department. I have a disability report due to my diabetes, and they had to have 4 employees with a disability report in this company. My aunt called me 4 months ago and asked if I would like to get a job in the company she works for. At that time, I was already looking for a job. I accepted it. But I also explained my criteria, I accepted with these conditions. They said it was okay.
My manager, for whom I am working as a secretary, is a very responsive woman. She ensured that no one address me with my name on the ID card, thanks to her, everyone calls me “Miss”. She is a young woman, too, probably she is responsive due to that. She tries to reduce and eliminate LGBTI+ phobia as much as she can in the office and in places like dining halls. Of course she cannot interfere with everyone, but at least I am lucky to have such staff around me. The higher-level managers also know that I am trans woman. I have not encountered any transphobic attitude until now, I hope I never will.
Do you think your work performance would be affected if you were not open?
I could never work. In order to be efficient, I have to be happy there, I have to be positive. But if I conceal my identity and repress it, I cannot deal with it psychologically. This would have made me very demoralized. I can be aggressive and probably do not want to work. It is very precious and exciting for me to work with an open identity and my workplace to accept it.
It is very pleasing that you do not have any problems in this place. Have you ever had problems in looking for a job?
I had a lot of problems while looking for a job. Everywhere I applied, I went with an open identity and directly said who I was. They always have a tongue-in-cheek approach. Standard attitudes were like we will call you back or we cannot work with you. It was sad at a certain point, but I did not refrain from applying the jobs. I have a very good job now, I am very happy.
Persons produce a phobia by themselves, due to their ignorance. But they are also unaware of what they do and the effects of what they do. At the company, I sometimes talk and explain this and some persons’ perspectives have changed about LGBTI+ persons. You need to touch them a little. Indeed, LGBTI+ persons need to live freely in all areas of life. Somehow we need to make it clear that we exist everywhere, as much as we can.
You have had a lot of experience in the private sector. In your experience, do you think the sector is worker friendly?
Almost all of the private sector is in a very bad situation regarding labor rights. In fact, in my own experience during the Covid-19 process, I saw this again: The private sector kills. It is a field that exploits the workers’ rights too much and does not respect their rights. There are very bad experiences in terms of human values in the private sector.
As a trans woman, you experience working in the private sector. Do you think the conditions of the private sector are suitable for trans persons to survive?
Especially the mentality of the administrative structure of the institution we are dealing with is very important. If that administrative structure is genuinely friendly and embraces you with your own identity, the person is more motivated. Personally, if my administrative staff did not welcome me like that, I would not want to work like this. It does not matter if this is a private sector or public sector. What the administrative structure thinks is very important.
I think that administrators in every institution should be trained by the state, local administrations and civil society. They need to get raising awareness training. There is also a workshop where I am and we work there together with 300 persons. Of course there are many different types of persons. Because of me, maybe there are persons who come out among themselves and I feel that. Their conversations with me always are about this issue.
As far as I understand your relations are well with the managers. So how is your dialogue with the customers and other employees you meet?
I do not meet many customers. I encounter them when the regional managers arrive. They also have difficulties when it comes to addressing my name, but never in a transphobic attitude. I actually like to this. It is very good to make them stunned and contemplate on this.
I have no problem with the employees. We have our lunch in separate places, but sometimes I try to go there and chat with them after lunch. I generally have more positive dialogue with female employees. I do not have much contact with the men and the drivers, they are a bit unbalanced. Their reactions are not clear. I also do not want a tension. Only there is a distance between them and me. Knock on wood! My relation is very well with other employees, administrators.
Are you organized in any trade union or professional organization or do you have a plan for this?
I am not. I met them recently to become a member of DİSK. They told me about the necessary conditions about the workplace, I had to come with 10 persons. The persons where I work are generally those who are from the right wing. Naturally, they do not want to do much union work. I am not a union member now, but I hope I will become a union member in the future.
Being a member or not in a trade union in Turkey changes nothing really. I have criticisms about the trade union movement in Turkey in that regard.
What kind of criticism is this? Can you explain it a little more?
While it is very difficult to be a cis-woman in the union, I cannot think about being a trans woman ... I am happy for those being able to ensure this, it is nice and hopeful. But I really want to spend this energy on LGBTI+ movement; I do not want to spend it on union movement, which is not worth it anyway.
I think the trade union movement in Turkey lives in its own utopia,
Sometimes you provide your opinions and do activism on health-related issues both in your political circle and on social media. Do you think your sector is open to various health or physical conditions?
My friends in my work environment are really very sensitive to my health conditions. But I sometimes chat with them to learn about their point of view, and for example I find that they are not that open about HIV. They have HIV phobia. If I were living with HIV, I probably would not be able to say it openly at my workplace. I do not think that the sector is very open to health conditions other than conventional diseases such as diabetes.
But they were very responsive during my diabetes and chemotherapy process. Nevertheless, I could not go on paid leave during this Covid-19 process, they gave unpaid leave, I am a bit upset about this. I had to apply for a loan because I was on unpaid leave. Why would I have to apply for a loan?
Or they are not open to various eating habits. Although I want to eat vegan, the lunch every day contains animal products. I am constantly writing petitions, there are other persons who do not want to eat such, but there is no improvement in that regard.
You said you could not work consistent with your actual profession. What was your dream? If you have future plans, can you share those? Are you satisfied with where you are now?
I really want to be recognized in the field of literature. More than anything, I want to produce something in this field and earn money from it.
Although my dream of the future is different, I am happy with where I am now. Although it is not exactly what I want to do, I feel lucky and happy about it.
But I hope I also make my dreams come true to be happier.
What you are saying is actually a situation that most of the young persons experience. Most of the young persons are just grateful for getting a job. Are you hopeful as a young trans employee living in Turkey?
I have always been hopeful since I know myself. I will never lose hope. I think that if I have achieved these until now, the future is more beautiful.
You mentioned that there were also applications that you were rejected, and these were experienced because you are trans woman. How did you find energy again to start looking for a job? What was your motivation? What helped you to be back on the road?
As I said, there was always hope in me. I always hoped for everything, even if only a small amount. I do this first of all, if I sleep happy at night, I wake up happy in the morning. I start the day with good music, starting with a good breakfast, trying to motivate myself and stay physically well. When my physical health is good, my mental health is also good. These helped each other to bring me to a certain point. After reaching this point, I think you can be happy or hopeful. Nothing can prevent you from anything then. Even if your job is bad, even if you have trouble with persons at work, it is very important not to have a bee in your bonnet.
A significant number of trans persons start their lives by fighting with their families. I think the most difficult part of the struggle is the family. That is why it feels much easier to ignore the persons outside. Struggling with the family also teaches you to struggle with social norms. It is necessary not to avoid fighting. The method is sometimes wrong, sometimes right, but it is necessary to struggle with resistance.
Translation: Özge Gökpınar
Tags: human rights