Is there a hopeful future for the trans community in Turkey?

Is there a hopeful future for the trans community in Turkey?

Joshua Bruce Allen
December 20, 2016

Actress Seyhan Arman has found acclaim for her lead role in Merve Gezen’s short film Nerdesin Aşkım? (Where are you my love?), which won the Canada International Film Festival’s 2016 Perfection Award and the Human Rights Prize at the 2016 Atlas Awards. This is the brief, bitter story of two transsexual sex workers, Ece and Özge. When Ece is murdered by a client, Özge turns to suicide as an escape from fear and despair. But while violence against transsexuals is regularly in the news, Arman believes that trans people in Turkey have reason to be hopeful for the future.​

Seyhan Arman, photo by Merve Göral

The Istanbul-based actress' career in film, theater, television, and cabaret shows that transsexuals are slowly coming into the public eye. However, creating an emotional bond with her character still required going into dark territory. “A part is a part, and whether it’s comedy or drama, you try to get close to the role. But it’s interesting that, similar to the film, someone burned our trans friend Hande Kader to death some months ago. Two days later, our friend Azize committed suicide. Our lives sometimes mirror the film; death and the fear that it creates, psychological pressure, and being driven to suicide by the hardships that we experience,” Arman told The Guide Istanbul. “When I watched the raw footage, of the suicide scene especially, I was very unsettled. One of the things that really affected me was the character’s inability to talk to her mother. You’re calling the person who gave birth to you and you can’t talk. It’s enough just to hear her voice. At the last moment, after deciding to commit suicide, she tells her mother, ‘This is what I am.’ Maybe that’s the way she expresses her rebellion.”​

At the same time, Arman does not advocate representing the lives of trans people as ones of constant suffering. “I hope that we can make more hopeful films, films about daily life, with more ‘normalized’ characters. Who knows? There could be a trans person working in a café and the film isn’t about being trans but about the events in the café … Instead of saying, ‘Oh we poor trans people, they kill us, they won’t give us a place to live, I can’t get on the metro,’ and so on, we can show prejudiced people how much we are the same.” Arman mentions several trans friends who have acted in on-screen roles that do not fit the usual stereotypes, and they are also becoming more visible in mainstream theater.​

However, wider social acceptance still seems distant. “Today there are trans people who work in public as teachers or doctors, and they’re forced to keep themselves secret. Because a lot of parents, whether consciously or unconsciously, won’t want to send their children to a trans teacher or be treated by a trans doctor. So first the minds have to change,” she explains.​

Compared with Arman’s generation, the youth of today have the advantage of being able to find a supportive community through the Internet. As an LGBT activist and a well-known name in the community, Arman says she receives messages every day from young people wanting advice. “When I was 16, I didn’t even know what transsexual was. In my time there was no one to reach out to, only stories of trans people being killed on the news. Now technology has developed and they see a lot of trans actors, singers, and people who have accepted their trans identity in everyday life. Of course they think, ‘I can do it too. I don’t have to be a sex worker,’” she says. “So when people message me to ask what they should do, I generally recommend that they get qualified. Go to school, follow your profession, earn economic freedom.”​ For a video interview with Arman, check out the BBC's 100 Women 2016 profile on the actress.

Watch Where are you my love? below. Arman also performs regularly as Matmazel Coco at the Madame Margot cabaret club. For more information visit www.matmazelcoco.com