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‘Middle Eastern countries are a hell for LGBT individuals’

SEDA TASKIN spoke to an Iraqi refugee about the dangers of being a transgender woman in Turkey

DAMLA KANER is an Iraqi trans woman. She fled Iraq so she could live a life free of threats and discrimination in Turkey. But her dream only lasted three days.

Migrant LGBT individuals in Turkey have to struggle against not just xenophobia, but also against homophobia and transphobia. The story of Damla Kaner, who left Iraq for Turkey, is only one of those.

 ‘You have to act every day of your life, watch your movements, how you walk, how you laugh, how you carry yourself’
Damla Kaner: ‘You have to act every day of your life, watch your movements, how you walk, how you laugh, how you carry yourself’

Damla Kaner was born in 1998 to a conservative family in Iraq. Kaner speaks four languages: Turkish, English, Persian and Arabic.

Kaner says that life is made up of just religion for her family and says she has been subjected to violence from her parents and her four brothers. She says her life in Iraq was reminiscent of a horror scenario, and that she went on the search for a “new world” when deciding she wanted to make the journey to Turkey.

“I was in Iraq, there was no place I could go. I couldn’t go to another country without my parents’ permission because I was a minor. It was like I was trapped in a prison. I couldn’t find a way out. I couldn’t tell my family and my surroundings about my identity, if I did, they would have definitely killed me.”

Kaner applied for a Turkish visa as soon as she became an adult and left Iraq with just a small bag.

“The day I left my country I was reborn.

“While on the plane to Turkey I listened to the song called ‘liberated bird’. I felt like a bird freed that day like that song. Unfortunately, this feeling lasted for just three days.

“All the doors were slammed in my face. I settled in the house of a friend I met online. But a few days later, a burglar broke into the house and all my money was stolen. And then my roommate kicked me out of the house at night.

“I was all alone in a big city like Istanbul. All the job applications I made during this process were negative.

“However, a friend of mine who had seen this situation later informed me about the application for asylum and then I applied for it. They [authorities] sent me to the city where I am living in now.”

Kaner says she has settled in the home of a friend who works for an LGBT organisation in her city and that she was left unemployed and systematically harassed during her time there.

She is usually dismissed immediately from jobs and is subjected to hate speech and verbal abuse from her employer and colleagues. Kaner states that she sometimes tolerates these abuses because she needs the money, so she remains silent. 

“Middle Eastern countries are a hell for LGBT individuals. I cannot think of a more terrible concept than that. It’s a terrible experience I can’t put into words. I’ve had it.

“You have to act every day of your life, watch your movements, how you walk, how you laugh, how you carry yourself. But this cannot be called living, it cannot be.”

“Turkey was disappointing for me. And there’s the constant pressure there. We’re having a hard time keeping a house. You are worried every step of the street you’re walking through. Will somebody do something or say something?

‘Every moment of our daily lives is full of fear and that is all my life consists of’
‘Every moment of our daily lives is full of fear and that is all my life consists of’

“We often hear about trans murders. You think ‘Why wouldn’t it happen to me?’ Every moment of our daily lives is full of fear and that is all my life consists of.

“In Iraq, my only wish was to be in a safe country, but unfortunately I am living the injustice of being here. I have to live with these pressures and fear every day of my life.

“We [transsexuals] have to do sex work. My respect for sex workers is endless, but it’s not something I can do. I’m afraid to do that. The only option you have as a trans woman is that.

“Most trans people get killed in sex work. I would do anything to get out of Turkey. Believe me, if I knew another country would take me in, I would walk from here to there.

“Here, LGBT individuals are attacked more by refugees. I came across a lot of deadly cases. Scary things are happening. Harassment has become a part of our lives. A person living every step with fear is already abuse. We are subjected to attacks and pressure from both the citizens of Turkey and the refugees.”

Kaner says her biggest dream is to be an actor and adds, “It is one of the biggest reasons for me to be living today. I have big dreams. I hope I can fulfil my wishes before my hopes are over.

“I want to continue my education. Most importantly, I want to be free. I would do anything to be free. I am very afraid that this process will take too long. I don’t want to spend the beginning of my life in fear. I want to step into life with the spark of life in me.

“But I have no idea how to do that…”

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