restricted access 14. Narratives of Gender Transformation Practices for Transgender Women in Diyarbakir, Turkey
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186 14 Narratives of Gender Transformation Practices for Transgender Women in Diyarbakir, Turkey M. A. Sanders Gül regularly passes as a young cisgender woman from Diyarbakir or any major metropolitan city in Turkey, but as a transgender woman, or lubunya, she lives under the constant threat of being discovered by her extended family and falling victim to their repeated threats of violence.1 In an interview, Gül explained that on more than one occasion she was kidnapped by her male extended family members and threatened with assault. Gül desires to find a permanent means of becoming “fully woman,” either through social tolerance of transgender people generated by activism, or by earning enough to pay for sex reassignment surgery (SRS) and marrying her heterosexual boyfriend. She and her partner hope to raise children as a Kurdish family and work for a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and transsexual (LGBTT) organization, leaving sex work permanently.2 In this chapter I draw on narratives of transgender Kurdish women such as Gül to examine how they survive through the use of collective knowledge among networks of transgender sex workers, through aesthetic practices, and through the use of body-enhancing gender transformation technologies.3 Due to recurring threats and violent events, many transgender Kurdish women are in a position in which, in order to survive, they must constantly navigate the difficult everyday social, legal, political, and urban spaces in which they are vulnerable to violence under the state, in the family, and in the public sphere. In Turkey, several extrajudicial governing practices and silent policies make homosexuals and transsexuals vulnerable.4 There are no specific laws in Turkey that target non-heteronormative people. In other words, it is not illegal to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. But it does not take overt, targeted judicial means of governing citizens who do not fit into the state’s prescribed categories of existence to actively wipe out certain subjects. Family, patriarchy, and the military and its mandatory conscription of all “Turkish” male citizens are but three arenas of structural governance. These Narratives of Gender Transformation in Turkey   187 categories of governance are not independent of one another. Instead, they can be understood as layers of vulnerable social spaces in which certain subjects , such as feminine gay men and trans women, are targeted for death. The farther a subject is from the highest privileged norms—Turkish, Sunni, and heteronormatively masculine—the greater the potential that one may be legitimately killed.5 The state’s biopolitical project categorizes bodies through certain norms that create the conditions of life enhancement, and in some cases targeted death.6 Bodies that are not deemed useful for power by the state, such as those of queer Kurds, are pushed into the spaces in which they are most actively targeted. In this chapter I examine spaces of existence that are pragmatically navigated for survival on the levels of employment, military conscription, family support, and the management of family expectations related to gender norms and roles. Methods This study took place during the summer of 2012 in Diyarbakir, Turkey, in connection with two local LGBT/LGBTT nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and as part of a larger study on LGBTT activism in Diyarbakir, Turkey. The research involved thirty LGBTT participants between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five. During this study I had the opportunity to work most closely with trans sex workers. I conducted interviews in Turkish with transgender women as well as with the broader LGBTT milieu of activists. Among Kurdish sex workers, additional languages were often spoken—the Kurmanji and Zaza dialects of Kurdish, as well as Lubunca.7 Lubunca is a Romani-based language that is used today as a coded language among sex workers throughout Turkey. Although I did not have a grasp of Lubunca during the study, the research participants often translated conversations into Turkish, and decided not to translate on many occasions as well. Kurdish was used sparingly among sex workers, in part due to the dialect and fluency differences among Kurmanji and Zaza speakers. Most sex workers under the age of thirty had not learned Kurmanji fluently in the Turkish education system. I became connected to several different local networks of sex workers through acquaintances in the Turkish and Kurdish LGBT activism scene throughout Turkey. Meeting with diverse networks of Kurdish transgender sex workers for three to four days a week for a period of three months, I gained the trust of ten transgender women, gay...


Subject Headings

  • Human reproductive technology -- Middle East.
  • Human reproductive technology -- Africa, North.
  • Birth control -- Middle East.
  • Birth control -- Africa, North.
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