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Is there someone like me? – Full-Color Display: Yasemin Öz

Thursday, December 20, 2018

 

 

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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 fourth guest is Yasemin Öz. She was one of the team whom published Kaos GL magazine in 90’s. She is involved in LGBTI+ movement in Turkey more than 20 years. She tells the story of both magazine and how Kaos GL became a registered association in 2005.

Is there someone like me?

Yasemin tells the story of a question which she was following since she was a child: Is there someone like me?

“For me the biggest problem was always that there were gay men and trans women. There were no lesbian and bisexual women, there was no such a model. We cannot say that at this time in the popular world if LGBTI organizations were not here, there is none to come out of her closet…Well, for example in the case of İntizar there are lives that are being put on the street without consent I mean no one is able to say that “I own this identity” because women, women experience the oppression there again. And…I, well, used to understand that there exists homosexual men and trans women but whether or not there is someone like me I used to not know. It is again…

“Now at that period, well, and the internet and other different alternative information sources were not here and in those so small suburban towns, well, I was a kid who read a lot but I lived somewhere that it was not possible to find any book about these issues. Therefore I was incredibly deprived of these information. There was… I used to read any kind of books, well mostly world literature I used to read at that time, because my family were directing me towards that. Well those writers were known and those were bought to me, and I was enthusiastic but I used to buy adventure books for myself, especially those were sold at kiosks. In those adventure books, I think I was 16 or something, I had read a description of a lesbian relationship and I was shocked. Two women are making love with each other…I mean I was literally shocked, so this possible, well, it does not need one of them to be a man. And this knowledge were so much surprising for me that was something I could not discuss with anyone, an information that I did not know where to hide or to put, but it was even accidentally that I reached that piece of information.”

Summer goes away

Yasemin chases the answer for same question in university, Ankara. The answer comes from a poem written by famous poet Murathan Mungan:

“While I was in university, well, I had two good events that happened to me. At my first year. One is Murathan Mungan. I thought that Murathan Mungan was a song writer before I came to university… What was the name of that band, Yeni Türkü. Song writer of Yeni Türkü. Murathan Mungan’s…I went to a bookstore with one of my friends. Who I met at the university, at the dormitory. Those were the students who thought hard about the intellectual issues. I saw a poetry book of Murathan Murgan there. I said “Aaa, is he writing poems, is he also writing poems?” I did not know he is a poet. I was such a suburbian. Yes, s/he said, I looked up the books. Then a book named “Yaz Geçer” (summer goes away) because of its blue cover, I adore the blue color, because of its cover design I started to read that book. Fortunately I took that book in my hand. The poem, you know, the very first poem, Yalnız Bir Opera, I read all of the first poem in the bookstore, all over. I was looking in the book… I was struck because the poem was just as if telling what I lived through, it tells the love that I felt for a woman, I was so identified with it. I thought that how a man could possibly write in such a depth. Then my friend was there and we were chatting about the poem and I was telling this. S/he said that “Murathan Mungan is gay”. I was so surprised that “how, what” I said “did he disclose this?”. “yes” she answered “she says”. I mean that… I felt as if revealed. Someone who was a homosexual and disclosed this with a high voice and who was not a singer, it was the first time I heard someone like that.”

All the weight lifted off my shoulders

Second answer comes from newly founded Kaos GL:

“I went to the meeting, with ten or fifteen people but too few women, mostly men. One of these women was Yeşim Başaran. Then I thought that this group used to meet forever. I went there…I have a relax attitude since my childhood. When I first attended somewhere, I did not behave as if it was the first time, I speak freely. And people think that I am a very relax person. I went and said that I do not know whether I am lesbian or heterosexual or bisexual but I think that I can learn here, I came here because of these, my mind is very confused, I would like to talk with you etc. At that day the meeting was about what was going to be the next issue’s theme, there was such discussions. But it was like that all the weight lifted off my shoulders, I felt so refreshed. And I was in such a shock that a group of people name themselves as homosexuals. They publish a journal, organize meetings. They put the journal to the bookstores. It seemed to me as a big courage. I find it so couragous. Then, after the meeting, with the girls, especially Yeşim, we continued to chat. When I came to the next week’s meeting, I was in the mood of such “I am a lesbian”. I was so relaxed that in that week. Well, something that I never named, something that I could never put somewhere, and now I am so sure about it…It had affected me such that.

“We were all so poor that and we had no source and our own…There was no social acceptance. We were not an organization that anyone recognized, and already there were a few of us. Therefore, publishing the journal was already a financial issue. We were collecting subscription fee every month and everybody was putting as much as they could afford. Let’s say that if someone working might give 50, 100, 200 and we could give 20 or 30 as much as we afford. We were putting all these money together, and it was for that. The journal…And we had no computer, I mean, a computer was a luxury then. We were already students, and recently computers started to be common. Only one of our friends had a computer. S/he works and her financial situation is much much better than us. The journal is compositioned at her house, I mean, the articles were digitalized then well in A3 format by folding into two or in A4 format to A5, we had changed format because it was small before and then we made it bigger etc. The journal is typesetted by those who understand of typesetting. Those are engineers and computer programmers, they were mostly students. And we were copying the journal at a photocopy center because we did not have enough money to give any publishing house. And going to the photocophy center was a different torture since for me it was a tension to take the photocopies of such a journal from the photocopy house.”

And the Association

In 2005, Kaos GL becomes the first registered LGBTI association in Turkey. But how?

“But at that time we were experiencing such a suffocation. We do not have any legal entity, no money and how we will pay the rent? Our weekly meetings were turning into something that we only spoke about financial issues, we were not able to discuss politics or what to produce because we were not able to find a financial source. And we start to discuss how we might find a solution to this. Me, for example, every month at my Saturday shifts was calling all the members, each by each. Could you please pay your fee, we could not pay our rent, we are in a very had situation but although even we had collected the fees it would not be enough…We were demanding debts from the friends who had money. We were trying to pay these debts. We were in such a loop. At that time in 2004 the Law of Associations were changed. Being an association was made to be so easy I mean at the moment you gave the legal script you became an association. I am a lawyer of course, I started to talk about, let’s turn into an association. I mean they made it so easy, if we find 16 people we might turn into an association even we could not find an open homosexual let’s talk with our heterosexual friends to become our founding member etc. We discussed it for a little while whether we could or not and after a year, I mean in 2005, we came to the point that let’s try to do this. But we had such an idea that. They would not accept our turning into an association, they would open a case for us to be closed. But let them open the case, therefore we could take a step towards the state. And they would give us a concrete official answer. I mean this thing would turn into officiality, something that had no name at that time. Our strategy was that we would be rejected and we would take legal steps, we would apply to EHRC, our intention was such that. And we turned into an association. And really mostly LGBT’s became founders, there were heterosexual friends also. Of course, the governor applied to the prosecution to open a case against us based upon the article of civil code saying that any association cannot be against morality. And we were waiting what to happen…By the way at those year we were going to the international ILGA Conference for the first time, simultaneously. Those were happening at the same time. They come to us and give lectures to us, I mean, how we can use European Union law mechanisms, how we can benefit from human rights mechanisms etc. at that time, our relations with them were improving such that, our relation with Europe. We met with them saying that we were in the face of a closing case etc. They made parliamentarians from European Parliament write letters and sent to Ministries, saying that we are watching with high concern. And then we got the decision of the prosecutor. Declaring that the prosecutor did not accept association being closed. That the case not being opened. I mean it was such a democratic decision, it was written in so detailed, it was analyzed by the human rights point of view, I mean it was as good as our defenses, much better than these, it was a shocking decision. We were not waiting such a decision. We were waiting to open a case against…”

Seeing Yourself

Lastly, Yasemin tells her story after these answers:

“There are one or two turning points in my life, according to which I separate my life before and after. That I separate my life as a before and after is the before and after of Kaos GL. I mean, being a LGBT is my existential form…I mean it is something like to be a woman, that cannot be distinguished from myself and from a life in which I used to not know how to live this and my living form used to be absolutely oppressed I passed onto a life in which I would learn how to live and to find a method and way to live. I mean this is one of the premier aspects of my life…Therefore it has a significant share. And, for one thing, I learned how to express myself. It gives a huge strength to you. When you learned to express yourself and when you take strength from a collective, you are convinced that you are right, when you are able to say that this is a completely individual aspect not a pervert, illegal or abnormal thing and then you will become to be able to say this all to others. To other that stigmatized you. I immediately come out of closet for my friends, to my environment and to my family. For my relatives etc…Because I found myself too rightous. I already knew my identity but there were no words of it in me and I relieved seeing myself with the eyes of the society. Seeing myself with the eyes of my heart and seeing myself with the eyes of those who love me.

“At last to reach the ways of expressing yourself is one of the premier vital things for a anyone. And when you learn to express yourself you also might learn that the life is not so much hard. Well, you start to experience relationships that you never lived. You create genuine relations in every manner. First of all with yourself, after with the world, with your friends and with your family. and with your lovers I mean… With the ones that you start a relationship. And Kaos GL is not only for gender and LGBTI issue. Since my childhood, I was looking for that the justice claim, demand of equality, standing against the injustice and discrimination, violence, and questioning every aspect of the power, Kaos GL was there from the every start, occupied a very important stance. I think it gave a lot to the area of civil society to do all this together, those who would like to do it all together and would like to walk together. Not only about gender, it contributed a lot, it occupies a very significant place. I mean it was for me to reach what I was looking for, Kaos GL. For intellectual aspect, for all the manners. I mean like me, who questions everything, who were created negative in every human relationship, who rejects everything and a dream and practice wish that all these will not go like this, an attempt for all these. It was important. And because of this it made me so strong. It opened a space to be able to practice whatever I believed until that day. I for example have never been a member of any leftist organization or for example I have never been a member of any studentship association because I did not feel that they completely expressed myself. And this one thing expressed me wholly. I mean, as in full, completely what I would like to say is being said here and the people believed the very same thing here. “There were close relations with anarchist groups but it was so complete. They seemed so male, the anarchist discussions. Well I thought that, then I got rid of this, became clean, then I questioned this and then I met people with I am able to shake all of these.  I mean that shocking affect, the intention of deconstructing the structure, I said yes, there is a possibility for this. It of course by passing of time, improved, got more strength, became diffused into the society and took more strength it moved much more forward.

“And for me what is important is that for anyone to listen her heart genuinely and believe in herself, being sure about herself. I mean, otherwise all the society tries to harm to the other. I mean everyone is unhappy and wants to others…They try to take revenge of this unhappiness from the others. It is not for only LGBTs, it is for all of the human relationships, permeated and extended into all of the relations. And when we know our righteousness we should walk in our way. Walking in your way might provide so much not only to you but also to those in your sphere and those who are at your sphere might provide for you also. I really Kaos GL had a very very important story of adventure and this adventure must go on and it enriches with walking in this way, and in this way it bedecked the way with flowers. Anyway, sometimes we might bedecked with cactuses but that can be forgiven.”

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