Sunday, 29 December 2013

Interview with Şevval Kılıç

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Şevval Kılıç, a Turkish LGBT activist, a member of non-governmental organizations such as Istanbul LGBTT Dayanışma Derneği and Trans-Blok, co-organizer of the Istanbul Trans Pride parade. Hello Şevval!
Şevval: Hi Monika!
Monika: You come from a country that is notorious for transphobia crimes, just to mention the murder of Neşe Dilşeker in 2012 and Dora Özer in 2013. Is Turkey not a country for transgender women?
Şevval: I wouldn’t say it that way but at the same time yes, the number of trans hate crimes is rising as never before. However, transphobia is everywhere with different levels, of course, from Japan to the USA, maybe Turkey is more gender-based-hypocritical.
Monika: What are the current issues on the agenda of such organizations as Trans-Blok and Istanbul LGBTT Dayanışma Derneği?
Şevval: I’ve recently resigned from Istanbul LGBT, and now I am working for Trans-Blok. Our first issue is to stop hate crimes against trans people. Our government is still resisting and ignoring the fact that we are living in a different age. It is still ignoring the existence of the LGBT movement, they don’t even articulate the term “LGBT”, because if you do not exist then your human rights do not exist either.
However, all Turkish LGBT organizations are working hard at that moment to gain more power every day and we know we will have our democratic rights eventually.

Vienna 1999.

Monika: The Turkish transgender community can boast many prominent women both in the past and now: Emel Aydan, Demet Demir, Bülent Ersoy, Seyhan Soylu, Michelle Demishevich, Öykü Özen, and yourself. Is there one leader or role model for the whole transgender community in Turkey?
Şevval: Our trans community is a heterogeneous group. In the past, we had some leaders that represented different ideas and policies, but today we are organized in different political and lobbying groups. For example, some of us are doing street activism. Now we have many role models on different issues.
Monika: You are one of the co-organizers of the Istanbul Trans Pride parade. Could you say a few words about it and maybe promote the participation of transgender people from other countries?
Şevval: We thought that we need to focus more on trans issues. We wanted to speak on our behalf, that’s why we wanted to organize “trans pride”. Every year it doubles the audience, surprisingly getting bigger and bigger every year, and also Taksim Gezi resistance helped a lot to gain more allies this year. 
Inevitably the LGBT movement became more and more mainstream. This is good for visibility but at the same time we need more public awareness and draw the attention of the government to trans hate crimes, then maybe we dance together.
Monika: At the time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow?
Şevval: I was at Ulker street those days in the year 1996. I mean there were almost 100 girls around me. I think I got some parts from everyone I liked.

Preparing for the Trans Pride March
in 2011.

Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Şevval: My dad did not accept me. It took him 20 years to speak and have peace with me.
Monika: By your early 20s you were forced to be a sex worker on Ülker Street, in Cihangir, the main sanctuary of Istanbul’s transgender community. What would you advise transgender girls that consider being sex workers to survive?
Şevval: This is big, I need at least 10 pages for this question!
Monika: What is your view on transgender stories or characters which have been featured in Turkish films, newspapers, or books so far?
Şevval: There has been only either a trans sex worker covered in blood on the highway or famous, glorious, and super rich Bülent Ersoy. There have not been in the media any middle class or regular transgender people for 20 years. This is an embargo on trans community.
We are trying to appear as a new generation, doctors, teachers, workers, etc. but we end up being killed at the end of the movies. I get very tired of seeing this; this creates a kind of visual memory on people's minds. Nobody gets shocked when they see a crime against trans people as it should be. I personally will never see any value in a movie in which trans character dies at the end.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Şevval: Today in Turkey through two different big political parties we have trans candidates, including myself. We are more visible than ever, and of course, I believe especially trans people have this revolutionary soul that can make really big changes.

India 2012.

Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Şevval: I’m 42 now, and believe that this “love” thing is super overrated but regular sex is awesome. :)
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Şevval: I usually look like a super butch lesbian: cargo pants, sneakers, and t-shirts. Once I looked like Pamela Anderson when I was 19-20 but today I prefer more comfy and easy outfits, and also I don’t like people to recognize me
easily as a transgender woman on the streets.
Monika: Having transitioned yourself, what would you recommend to all transgender women struggling with gender dysphoria?
Şevval: You are not alone and you are not doing something wrong, and yes unfortunately you should be one of the strongest persons in the world, like the rest of your trans friends.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Şevval: Actually I’m looking for some funds for our trans social center called ”transhane” (transhouse). So any help is appreciated!
Monika: Şevval, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Şevval Kılıç.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska

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