KARACHI: That the transgenders were marginalised because of their visibility was a sentiment echoed by German documentary film-maker and human rights activist Maria Binder after the screening of her film Trans X Istanbul at the Goethe Institut. The screening was a part of the on-going Aks Festival.
Originally released in 2014, Trans X Istanbul follows the increase in murders and crimes against the transgender community in Istanbul. The police do little to nothing to investigate these crimes and the perpetrators are usually exempt from prosecution. The main protagonist is transwoman Ebru who has spent 25 years fighting against the displacement and murder of those from her community and has experienced exclusion and persecution from the state, society, family and political parties.
“Everywhere they go they are expelled,” said Binder. “More than the gay community because of their visibility because they have already been expelled by their families.” The persecution faced by the community is the same all over the world. She related that it wasn’t just in Turkey, as shown in her film, but even in Europe, there was a discussion among the transgender community as to why states did not take their murders seriously.
Although it is not illegal to be a transgender in Turkey, there are no laws in place that protects them either. “There has been a very long struggle to introduce strong and progressive gender identity and sexual orientation laws in Turkey but that hasn’t happened yet,” said Binder. “Although [the current president of Turkey] Recep Tayyip Erdogan is shown in the documentary as saying that homosexuals and other gender minorities deserve equal rights, in reality he has gone back on his words,” Binder said.
The transgender community in Turkey does not enjoy the same legal recognition as in Pakistan. “You have blue or pink ID cards, according to the two genders,” related Binder.
“But you need to have undergone gender-reassignment surgery to get a pink ID card. It’s not the same as in Pakistan where you can apply for a transgender ID.
“The main issue among the transgender community in Pakistan is education, not identity,” said transgender activist Kami. “The problem is that most of the transgender community in Pakistan is very uneducated and that limits their options in life. If the government wants to do something for us, then they need to focus on our education.
“We have been given recognition and rights in our law,” she added.
“We have an identity card, but there are so many issues with that. We feel we are women. We want to live like women. Why should we have to tick a box that says we’re a ‘third’ gender?”
The protagonist in Binder’s film, Ebru, is now studying to be a human rights lawyer. “Maybe now there will be the first transgender human rights lawyer in Turkey,” said the filmmaker.
On talking about her motivation behind documenting the plight faced by Istanbul’s transgenders, Binder said: “I’ve been working on exclusion and how the mechanisms of exclusion work — especially gender minorities.”
Other than making films, Binder related that for the past three years she and her colleagues had been working on establishing a transgender refugee home in Turkey. “We mostly have LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] refugees from Syria at the moment,” she said. “The situation for transgender people in the camps is the worst of all. They are very vulnerable to abuse and harassment there. Unfortunately the war doesn’t end.”
Originally published in Dawn, April 18th, 2016