28/12/2018 | Writer: Kaos GL
Actress Esmeray told us the story of 80’s and 90’s; the violence towards trans women in Istanbul and so on…
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We start a new video interview series within our oral history research. In this video series which we call as “Full-Color Display”, we will focus on daily lives of LGBTI+ people, organization of LGBTI+ movement, the struggle in 80’s and 90’s and media.
Our fifth guest is Esmeray. She is an actress and also an LGBTI+ activist. Her play, Cadının Bohçası (Witch’s Pack) is a very well known play in Turkey. She tells her and trans women’s story in her play. But what about before the play? She told us the story of 80’s and 90’s; the violence towards trans women in Istanbul and so on…
“In 88 in Kadıköy. There was Mendirek Park in Kadıköy and all the lubunyas (queer in Turkish queer slang language) used to go there. I was discovering myself slowly at that time. I mean, I had already discovered. But there is someone like me. Well, I was reading at the Nokta Journal, about being lubunya, well, about trans women on the TV show of Savaş Ay, there was something so disgusting. I have never forgotten. They entitled it like, “Real Man has a real man lover.” And they had put a really typical trans photo. I was reading this news etc. But there was no mention of “Trans”. Well, the men who masquerade as women during the nights etc. Or the men who make prostitution for money. I knew these. Afterwards, it was a coincidence. While getting around at Kadıköy, I sat on a bench. A man approached saying that “Let’s go out?” and I said “What? How?” etc. I am narrating this story in Cadının Bohçası. Something like that. I went there again. Aa, there are lots of, lots of. Slowly, I became a part of. At first, you hide yourself. I mean, there are people who come to the organizations, or associations who first come as a heterosexual “I am a hetero but I came here to be in solidarity with you.” After a month, comes out of the closet. I mean this is so normal because at first there is a fear. That park environment was such that. I mean, there was no associations or something like that at that time. Park! People used to meet at the parks. Such that. I mean, mine was a introduction and meeting at the streets, in the middle of the life itself.
“After now five…I mean after meeting with gays well with lubunyas, I realized in them well a difference. I mean, a difference such that I used to feel. I am from them-I could not give a name but a trans situation…I mean, I am a women. I mean, I am women and those were not, lots of were not. Because they had not such an issue. Well I was ashamed of my unwanted hair. Then, heterosexism was so dominant etc. Well, I was uncomfortable with my penis, never, I was hiding whatever…They were very relax about it. Slowly realization of these. And in the family, there was no one to understand you, you know that, I first of all broke of my family. Suddenly at one day, I got up, went out and did not go to home again. I stayed at the streets, on one hand in the search for a job, on the other hand, the lubunyas- well I was at the, Doyum Birahanesi (Pub) was in Aksaray. Where was that, what the name of the neighboorhood? Those with lots of shoemakers. What was the name? Just before arriving to Laleli. Ay, I forgot the name. A very strange neighborhood. Doyum Pub…Those were there, lots of lubunyas ve well I am narrating in Cadının Bohçası, those were there, everyone was there, those who did, small gamblers, all was there. Well, burglars, wanglers, pickpockets, there was a different universe! There, lots of those, I first heard the word “transvestite” there. Afterwards slowly learned that transvestites exist, they had houses at Taksim, not anywhere outside of Taksim. . . And afterwards I started to look for. How could I meet with trans people? They made me introduce... Well, I said that I will be gacıvari (‘like a woman’ in Turkish queer slang language) They said your outlook is very good but you are too hairy. How will this be solved? Darling, we had all hairs. One day they took me to Taksim, made me lie down on the floor at Tarlabaşı. All my body, I mean, from my eye lids to inside and outside of my palms, all over my body was waxed. And also outside of my lips.
The Gulf Girls
“The Gulf War and the older generation gacıvari lubunyas and trans women gave us a nickname. We, five or six, became gacıvari. They used to call us as “Gulf Girls”. Still, they, the trans women from those times, when they see me they say “what’s up gulf girl?” And they used to make fun of us saying that “these disguised themselves as women for not going to military.”. We were the Gulf Girls. Still, there is something in me being a Gulf Girl. I did nat interiorize sex work and sex workings. At first, sex work was something like. Because I had grown in a very feodal family. A dominant honnor concept. You grew such that. I mean, religion did not affect me so much. At my 14 or 15 I became and atheist or maybe I am not yet an atheist. I am like, how does it call? Not deist but. I am a very agnostic person. I mean, humankind is so helpless and the world and the universe is so much so big that, we do know nothing, I think. Whatever, I shall not go down this issue. I had set up these things at those ages. But I could not get rid of the honor and cultural things very much. I was very infected by these. I thought that I was dishonored-I mean I turned into a prostitute. In addition, a man prostitute. It was so disastrous. I did not go to my family and left home. I did not go to anyone. For a while, I was wavering. I was wavering because I was considering events in a sense of honor or in a moralist way. After I became involved in, you see that it was not something like that. Slowly you comprehend that no, no, just like a waiter I give services too. This-it does not need that you view in a political way, you understand that. But anyway you hide it outside. I mean, how could I know, where can I disclose it…For example, at those times, we were ashamed when someone from media, a journalist asked questions. I am not doing sex work, well, at nights I am working as something, as a hairdresser. Or we were giving the names of the occupations that trans women or homosexuals might do at those times. I am a tailor or dress designer, whatever. We were passing over it like that. Because there was a kind of closedness.”
“I made acquainted with Pınar Selek. We immediately turned into friends. I went to the workshop and at the same time I was a member of ÖDP (Freedom and Solidarity Party). But I had more passionate for the workshop. At the workshop, lots of different things were being made. Well, not to say much. I mean, we were transforming the things that we had collected from streets and selling them to the streets etc. Something like that. I met with theater there. I had something like that, I had an aspiration such that. At the school when there was a play I always was chosen. After I learned theater, I could do, theater made me very interested and attracted. At that workshop there were lots of groups, reading groups… We are reading, doing something. Afterwards, they said that why we do not have a theater. I immediately dive into the issue. I will be in it. At first we started with reading. Well, the history of theater. Ay, well there was no history like that. I mean we said that let’s come out from here. Because we dove into the history of sedentary societies and the ages of hunting. Because the people make that women sit at home, men go hunting or we do not know. Maybe they do together. Some stay home, some goes hunting. And those who go hunting make rituals –Burning fires and putting on animal posts and show other how to hunt them. History of theater goes there, I mean. Whatever, we left it there. Practical, well, readings on stage. There we mingled with theater. We started to make street theater. Then, it was going very well. Afterwards the things happened to Pınar, the conspiracy, the workshop dispersed. I mean, we could not keep it together, we could not hold on. We had to shut it down. Because it was under direct surveillance. Then there was white Renaults. Still they went o. In 19997s. 96-97. White Renaults were following us always and always. We knew that. I was going out for çark (cruising in Turkish queer slang language) . I did not leave sex working then. Until I made koli, (sex partner in Turkish queer slang language) -I liked it- they were there and nobody could make us madilik. (throwing shade in Turkish queer slang language) I knew the police was waiting there. I was coming and going, they were waiting. Afterwards they left us. Well, they are trasvestites, I mean, those are not with the organization. Anyway, they knew that Pınar was not with the organization. Afterwards they left us. Suddenly it disappeared. Even I became something like that, well, they were staying there it was good, the clients could not make us madilik. We had to shut down the workshop. Afterwards I started to go to Cultural Center of Mesopotamia.
“At the Ülker Street, The Hortum Süleyman (Hose Süleyman, the police chief was known as Hose Süleyman because he was torturing trans women with hoses) had come in 1992 or 1993. We knew Hortum Süleyman. You know the violence. He had waterspouts, there different ones. Continuously, were being taken under custody while turning home, we were being taken under custody from an investigation, we could not go out, we could not go to market, we were being taken under custody while going to kiosks. Everywhere, we were being taken under custody. Hortum Süleyman left suddenly, was relocated. We were happy such that. At 1996, something like that Habitat, there was a Habitat term. And they said that Hortum Süleyman will return. I mean, because directly the purification/gentrification of Istanbul had started. Well, whose to be purified? Homeless children, alcoholics and well the transvestites. They will bring the hortum süleyman. We thought that Hortum Süleyman will come and go, he comes for only Habitat. Hortum Süleyman came to Beyoglu again. And it was summer term and everybody went to holiday. Let’s go to holiday, Hortum Süleyman goes back and we turn to our homes. We made so wrong. To our surprise, Hortum Süleyman had to come to settle down. Of course, the first constraints onto Ülker Street. Awfull suppressions I mean. The street closed down. There was an state of emergency at the Ülker Street. Always there was a police at the front door of everyone. We could not go out. We were taking kolis in from backsides. Kolis were so determined that, we discovered places at the back of the street. We were going down from the fifth floor with, with blankets, cording sheets together, we were going down. There were void spaces in between streets. We were going to the other street from those voids. We discovered places from the entrance of the other street, from the bunker we were going out to the other street. Koli comes. We are describing the way to the koli, the man goes into the bunker and comes. We take the koli up to the fifth floor with sheets. Kolis were coming like that. It was something like that. It was so funny. I mean, now it was something like for our lives, what a fear, what a struggle, when hortum Süleyman came we were jumping from fifth floor hop with sheets whatever. Now, now I cannot do. I have acrophobia. You say I cannot but well you do. Hortum Süleyman suppressed really hard. At last, the doors broken, all the doors were broken with sledgehammers, the homes were burned down, houses were sabotaged, the meubles were thrown into street. We could not go into the Ülker Street anymore. We lost it. afterwards we dispersed. Everybody went somewhere.
And the play!
“Amargi was established. I had comprehended feminism, I had learned that language, I started to read. I was attending the theater courses at Mesopotamia Cultural Center. I started to course. Officially with a high discipline on three or four days of every week I was attending the theater course. For two years, I participated to this course. Then, when I had come to the half way in feminism theory I left sex working, but I was not looking from a moral point of view. I left it because it was enforced upon me. You cannot enforce me, I can work at somewhere else, I said, I went on. Then, nobody gave me job. I tell this story everywhere. My finding a job was too hard. I tried to stand up on. I starved. Then one of my friends gave me a work. A feminist woman, in the cafe sector. It was already my working area. I worked, i worked there also. At last, it came to. Amargi was established, we were discussing the feminist theory academically. There was protests and marches. Well at first the meeting at Konya. A meeting with the name of “All the women marches to Konya”. At the common point, we will meet, at Konya. We embarked as messengers. Me, too, amongst the messengers embarked from İstanbul. Such actions and protests were going on. Our relations with Lambda Kaos was very good. Lambda, Kaos, well, Amargi and other women organizations, a very well feminism and LGBTI discussions started. I am unemployed. What can I do? What can I do? My landlord said to me to sell stuffed mussels. I started to sell mussels and nomore could not go to the. By the way in Amargi we started a theather group. Theather Amargi. We practicised one year there. At the end of the year we created a play, Yazmadan Dökülenler play. We made the premier of Yazmadan Dökülenler at, it was very important for us because she was the first women to go on stage, Armenian woman, at Afife Jale Theather, we made the premier. Then the amateur theathers, all come to the very same end. After a year that theather dispersed too. Then let’s make a feminist theather, it was another thing, it is not easy to settle down it dispersed because of that. I started to sell stuffed mussels and all accumalated in me. And while selling mussels, unbelievable stories, you meet with a different world, very different. I mean, you are always at streets, but being a prostitute at the street is very different from the stories of a peddler or the stories of a trans woman. All piled up in me. And one of my friends said to me “why not to stage up and tell these? You have such a talent. You are a very good narrator, your talent of mimic is very good. Go up.” I started to laugh. I told her my stories and she said “look the skeleton has emerged.” Then I met with Ayça Damgacı. We worked with Ayça for two months. It was not a playwright. Narration my life story. There is no direction, Ayça said it is not for direction, it is not. You will narrate. Something like a standup I mean like ortaoyun and meddah. They said “take your bohça and stage up.” Then, I had to very much care about the discourse. It might go very well another slang meanings. Because of this, how I can put feminist language in the theater…For this, Boyalı Kuş Theater, I meat with Jale Karabekir. We worked a month with Jale Karabekir. My very first performances were for feminist women and Lambda, homosexual society and LGBTİs. Becaues the play has improved by playing. Critics, self-critics, I mean my all narratives are such that. They emerge with the audiences. Then my friends said that we should transpose this to public audience. Our friends from Amargi, they organized, they formed groups from different institutions. Then there was no whatsapp or facebook. A e-mail group was formed. That group worked independently off me. They organized very very well. Anatolian Cultural Center, they became a sponsor. There was a premier at Bilgi University, the Cadının Bohçası, and it went popular. Then, it played at all the universities. At that time, such that, I was starting, all the professors who gave gender lectures, they either sent their student to the play or invited me to the universities. There was no university left in Istanbul. Ankara is just like that. Then, Turkey tour started. Afterwards Europe Tour and the second play and third play, that is it.”