Thursday, 8 May 2014

Interview with Midori Koçak

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Midori Koçak, a transgender woman from Turkey. Computer Scientist & Engineer with 13 years of PHP experience and chorist at the Turkish National Broadcasting Channel (TRT). Hello Midori! 
Midori: Hello! I really appreciate that you invited me to this interview. Your interviews are so inspirational and I am really happy for being part of it.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Midori: I was born in 1984, 4 years after rightist military coup. My father was a left wing socialist army officer. In that era, thousands of people were fired from their jobs and tortured for days. My father was one of them. After that he become a successful businessman.
People having parents in the army, know well how is difficult to communicate, my parents were more difficult to communicate because of having this success pressure. Because of that, I didn’t have somebody to share my feelings, or have courage coming out for years. I always knew some things were not as they should be, since I was aware of myself, and this is some age between 3 or 4.
Monika: At what age did you transition into woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? Did you have any support from your family or friends?
Midori: Actually I am still in process. I tried to come out at the beginning of my puberty and faced a very brutal reaction from my parents. They were well educated people; however being a woman or “like a fag” (as my father says) was a shameful thing. I did not experience any physical violence but psychological, which was extremely painful at age 14. 
Courtesy of Midori Kocak.
So I decided to be a successful person, to be economically independent from them. 14 years passed, at the age 28, August 2012 I decided to take action because the level of depression was intolerable.
In November 2012 I contacted trans people, I started to get dressed in a more unisex way, tried some anti-androgens but the real efforts started somewhere in November 2014, using hormones, estrogen, in a daily routine, going to psychotherapy sessions. To realize changes is very difficult because you see every day yourself in the same mirror, and you cannot understand your hair has grown or not.
At first I encountered a big reaction from my family and my childhood friends. I am a translesbian, I really like women, and never had any relations with any guy and I never had any gay past. So it was shocking for them to accept this. I was planning to move to London to live there, I stayed at one army officer, a friend of my father.
At that time, I was working as an IT Director in the Czech Republic, at family business, in June 2013. I did not come out yet, but I was wearing unisex things, skinny jeans, loose t-shirts. So that guy phones my father and warns, “Be careful, your child would be a gay!” So my father fired me, and said “You can go anywhere, you can live in streets, I don’t care!” The time that I had been waiting for since my puberty was there. So I returned to Turkey and started to work as a freelancer.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Midori: I met with my friend Alkım Ciritci, I asked her “If it is difficult to be a transwoman in Turkey?”. She answered my patiently, we talked for hours about everything, and I realized that the difficulties of being a transwoman is not more than being in a walking prison. Also some other friends were helpful.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Midori: The hardest thing is the reaction of the people. At the beginning I said that I had been a chorist at State Radio and TV Channel of Turkey since 2008. After I was so unisex, some people were paying attention, they were not saying anything to me but I was hearing trans-phobic talks about my situation.
Our choir consists of 82 people. On December 6, before our first concert with the new maestro, the oldest member of our youth choir, Ayşe Hülya Öztin (she had been a member of the youth choir for 26 years) started a campaign saying that I had no right to perform, because I didn’t know songs and I was not present during rehearsals. She was also giving me nicknames like “a transvestite typed boy”. I was exposed to a trans-phobic mobbing. 
But I did not give up, even they decided to prevent my performance at concert, I took part in the last rehearsal, I talked with the maestro, and showed that I knew all of the songs and told him that I was not more absent that any other people in the choir. 15 minutes before the concert that woman and 21 old members of choir tried to pressure our conductor that if I was going to perform, they were not going to perform at the concert. 
As a response, I said that “I am a trans person still in process, my friends are discriminated at streets; transpeople were killed because of being trans. If I don’t perform today, I do injustice to all of trans people.”
Courtesy of Midori Kocak.
That was my first forced coming out among 82 persons. At the end our Conductor Omer Yusuf Topcu said that “As a citizen of the world, my opinion is positive about Midori’s performance”. So I performed that day, I think we won a victory against transphobia that day.
After that day I decided to come out to all of the world. I changed my pictures on Facebook, started to dress as a woman, had my open identity everywhere. After 2 weeks, I started to work as software director in a company. I came out to my brother and my mother too. 
At the beginning everything was difficult but seeing that I was respected with my open identity, no one cared about my gender because I was a software engineer with huge knowledge. We met together with my father, mother and brother, talked in a good way and made peace.
All of that happened in 5 months, and people say that this was very fast. I think previous efforts made by LİSTAG (LGBT family group of Istanbul), their documentary “Benim Çocuğum” (My child), talks between a member of Listag Pınar Özer with my mother, made this process shorter and with less pain. I really appreciate all of them.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in the Turkish society?
Midori: There is a media pressure. The media are controlled by businessmen that do not want to bother the right wing government. The Turkish government of today is moving towards a dictatorship of Erdogan, who tries to make Turkey into a cheap workforce paradise. So he advises people to produce 3 children.
For them the concept of sex is based on reproduction. Being a LGBT person, having concept of sex and love not based on any other thing like reproduction, money or anything else, having pure feelings, loving a human without any borders threatens this ideal family concept.
Being a trans person is very difficult at streets because these prejudices are supported by the government. We do not have hate crime law in Turkey. Also in Turkey the media say that all trans people are sex workers. This is a very discouraging thing for trans people. Most of them continue to live their lives in a mental prison; coming out is like hell for them. 
However, coming out is so much better for a person itself. When a trans person is an expert about something like me or famous Bedi Usta, a master of handcrafted jewellery, then we have good jobs are we are respected by the educated people. However, most of people in Turkey being uneducated, they react at you by saying “look at that”, saying bad words, or make violence against person they did not know.
In addition, there are also homophobic people. I call them secret homosexuals, they hate homosexuals to keep their homosexuality secret. Because of all of these issues, I decided to move out of Turkey. I thought about moving to Italy or the Netherlands to continue to work as a Software Engineer.
Courtesy of Midori Kocak.
Monika: Could transgenderism be the new frontier for human rights?
Midori: Of course! Living, walking at streets, talking is a type of activism if you are trans. You show to the people that gender role is not something to brag. It is possible to live with freedom and with person's own identity. This is the main problem of every person even if they don’t belong to the LGBT community. People live social roles sewed by society, and generally they are opposed to breaking these roles.
Monika: What is your general view on transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far?
Midori: If we talk about Turkey, we have two main LGBT icons. Zeki Müren was a gay singer that was famous in the 60s. And Bülent Ersoy, she is a transsexual singer being famous in the 70s. The society have respect for them because of their talents. On TV or in newspapers, transgender people are shown as being aggressive and sex workers.
Many people have misconceptions that if you are a trans person, you must be a sex worker, and they can talk to you about your price! Another thing is that transgender people are depicted so dramatically in movies. Turkey is very famous with its soap operas shown in the Middle East and Eastern Europe and Balkans but I don’t remember any soap opera having trans characters in it.
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBT communities? Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBT group?
Midori: Being lesbian, gay or bisexual is about sexual orientation, however being Transgender is not about that. There is a misconception among LGB people that if you are trans you are automatically gay or lesbian. That’s not true. I faced many stupid reactions from LGB people when they saw I had relationships with women.
Also being transgender is not easy to keep secret until you are perfectly passable. Even that, you have to be an open transgender person during your process. This is very difficult. LGB people have to understand and respect the value of this challenge. Because there are some LGB activists calling themselves as politically trans or calling themselves “A female” but with complete male look without any effort of change.
Monika: Is there anyone in the Turkish transgender society whose actions could be compared to what Harvey Milk was doing in the USA in the 60s and 70s for the gay activism?
Midori: For the first time in Turkey’s history, we had many LGBT candidates for Local Elections. They made their campaigns with their open identities. Unfortunately none of them was elected. Nonetheless, I think this is a huge step for LGBT community and visibility.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Midori: There are two major parties in Turkey. The one in power is the Justice and Progress Party whereas the second party is the People’s Party of Republic. The second one is the party that I support, though, left wing parties are so slow at working. Right wing parties are working really hard and they are always wining.
It is very difficult for a young person to make some changes in the Turkish politics due to the hierarchical candidate system of the election law, protecting powerful parties and there is 10% threshold that is killing the representation of small parties. I believe more in the solidarity of small groups. The solidarity groups should be organized by using a network type organisation structure model. Everybody has to help each other, so we would not need the politics of lies and miserable state helping us.
Courtesy of Midori Kocak.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Midori: For now love is a big disappointment for me. I am a romantic, emotional person that is always trying to give love 100%. However, I never had anything back other than unfaithfulness.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Midori: I really like the street style. Casual and not so expensive things. I really like skinny jeans and loose t-shirts, mini skirts, and dresses. Also I really love red colour, my lipsticks are always darker red.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Midori: I have some memories written at riposante.blogspot going until the transition. I have to continue that project. However, I am in a very confusing period of my life, having problems with my family and work. I am tired of being a freelancer and I also look for a job now.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Midori: My plan for that period of time is to study visual creative design masters, statistics, decision support systems. I would like to create smarter software with a classy design.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Midori: Don’t be afraid. Instead of anyone else, get some professional support, immediately contact people like you. It is not true that if a person is a member of LGBT community then he or she is a good person. There are bad people and good people like in any other community.
However if you try to meet, talk and ask questions to people like you and get their responses, you will understand that you are not the only girl wit gender dysphoria. The second thing is to be an expert at something to have your economic independence. The biggest armor that will protect you against your family and society, is your education, profession and expertise.
I would like to say that nothing is never too late. It is your right to live your life. There would be times when you feel depressed, alone and sad. However all of these are part of the process and there is always a light in the end of the tunnel.
Monika: Midori, thank you for the interview!
Midori: I really appreciate that you made this interview with me. It was an honour and a pleasure for me.

All the photos: courtesy of Midori Koçak.
Done on 8 May 2014
© 2014 - Monika 

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