Monika: Today I am going to interview Hayat Çelik, a Turkish transgender activist from Istanbul, LGBTQ+ activist, and YouTube vlogger. Hello Hayat!
Hayat: Hello to everyone from Turkey, Istanbul!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Hayat: I was born in 1980, in a small village in Sivas, as the youngest child of a family of 4 children living on a farm. I often compare myself to the cartoon characters of my childhood, Heidi and Yakari. I was born in the arms of Mother Earth, so I have a strong connection with Nature.
After completing primary education in a village school, my family enrolled me in a state boarding school in order to continue my education. Since our financial means were not sufficient, I stayed in the state dormitories for most of my education life, including university.
Monika: You created your Hayat Çelik YouTube vlog in 2011, and it has become one of the most important sources of information for the Turkish trans community. What inspired you to start vlogging on YouTube?
Hayat: My YouTube adventure started by uploading my amateur videos I shot as a student in 2011. But at that time there was no glut of YouTube videos like today, and it was not very popular in Turkey.
In 2017, I had to resign from the LGBTI+ Non-Governmental Organization where I was working, as I was exposed to severe problems caused by mobbing and management crisis. I was 37 when I resigned and although I was looking for a job for a long time, I could not find a suitable workplace.
I think that both being 37 years old and being an open trans woman had a negative effect on this. I graduated from the Radio, Television, and Cinema department. So I decided to regularly create video content on YouTube, so I could do my own job and contribute to the transformation of society with video activism.
Monika: Every time I talk to transgirls from Turkey I can hear that the Turkish society perceives the trans community only in black and white colours. On one hand, you have Bülent Ersoy, one of the most popular singers of Turkish music, and on another hand there are trans sex workers that are often persecuted. Where is the truth?
Hayat: Until the 2010s, yes, trans people’s visibility was reflected in the mainstream media as a two-polar reality. There was no gray area, if there was any, it was not reflected on the public screen.
In Turkey, since the 2000s, with the spread of online media, in society’s perception the bipolar world has begun to crumble. Transpeople of different professions are becoming more visible now. Although we cannot say that the bipolar social perception has completely disappeared, we have come a long way.
Monika: We all pay the highest price for the fulfillment of our dreams to be ourselves. As a result, we lose our families, friends, jobs, and social positions. Did you pay such a high price as well? What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Hayat: From the moment I started to open up to my external world, I also experienced a difficult process in which the support networks of social life were increasingly closed to me and I became lonely. From the moment I started being myself, the people around me started to change. When I pulled my mask down, the world that used to smile at me showed me its true face, which was cruel, very cruel.
My friendships ended, I was not hired, and the family I was born into deserted me. I remained in the desert like a sapling with all its roots exposed.
|“I tried to commit suicide
I tried to commit suicide several times. It didn’t happen, even death didn’t accept me. Right from the point where everything was reset, I said life, spite of hate, and after years I took the name Hayat and named myself my struggle to hold on to life. From ancient myths to monotheistic religions, if we recall the direct relation of naming to power, I have had a say in my life by taking my own name. The appointed ones left, the elected came to power!
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Hayat: I am generally satisfied with the effects of the hormone therapy. Only, after about 2 years after the therapy, I got fat around my belly and cellulite in my hip area. Also, my body became sensitive and my sexual desire decreased, which is something I am not satisfied with.
Monika: We are said to be prisoners of passing or non-passing syndrome. Although cosmetic surgeries help to overcome it, we will always be judged accordingly. How can we cope with this?
Hayat: It can be much more difficult for some of our friends to be at peace with their bodies. Because at the end of the medical procedures, they try to reach the image of a woman or man they dream of. If our expectations about the process are not realistic, then we can feel sadder and need more aesthetics. There is only one copy of you in this world, love your unique, unique aspects, love yourself, and then you will see a much more beautiful person in the mirror.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Hayat: I’m past the age to take someone as a role model for myself, I’m an adult individual, my personality has already settled. In my adolescence, although there were trans women I could take as role models; unfortunately I didn’t have the chance to see them. There was only Bülent Ersoy on TV. I was not hiring her as a role model. More so, I found Zeki Müren close to myself. In Turkey, for our young trans nowadays, there are many trans role models. For my peers, the names such as Seyhan Arman, Ayta Sözeri, Esmeray, who come to my mind now, are role models who can take part in the media and I say they are good. Thanks to my presence on YouTube and the Trans Therapy Group meetings in Istanbul that I have coordinated for 8 years, I am happy that I can be a good role model for our trans youth and shed light on their lives and future.
Monika: Do you remember the first time when you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Hayat: The first time I met a trans person was at the Pride Parade, if I remember correctly. At that time, I was not yet describing myself as trans because the use of the term “transvestite” instead of the trans expression was common, and I didn’t want to be a transvestite. The term “transvestite” was used only to mean “a man disguised as a sex worker”.
|“I am generally satisfied with the
effects of the hormone therapy.”
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Hayat: A new generation of transgender people in Turkey thinks that they are very lucky. Because now it is much easier for trans people to access information about their transition process and to meet and socialize with other trans people. They’re less likely to live with gender dysphoria and feeling all alone for a long time. Before they reach the age of 18, they can discover their trans identity and resort to the medical and legal process. There’s a lot of trans visibility. Although the basic problem is still transphobic discrimination, living conditions in Turkey are better than in the past, and I can say for transgender people it is relatively better.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Hayat: I am not a person who especially follows fashion. I don’t need to especially follow it anyway. Brands bring their new fashion designs to their showcases every season, and we, the consumers, choose and buy clothes that appeal to our style from that fashion trend. Frankly, I am not a member of a social class that can buy clothes just because it is fashion. It’s about both economic status and how fashion appeals to my style. During the day, I wear more comfortable, sports clothes. However, if it is a special day or night, of course, I take care to dress according to the theme of that day or night, within my means.
For example, I was invited to my friend’s wedding this Friday. I spent almost my entire day thinking about what to wear for the wedding and arranging a suitable outfit. It is often preferred as the traditional white wedding ceremony in Turkey. My friend turned a new white page in her life. I decided to wear white shoes and a white jacket to suit this spirit 🙂
Of course, as a trans woman, I have a hard time finding suitable shoes for myself. It feels small if I wear 39, but it feels like if I wear 40. Fortunately, it is not that difficult to find shoes in size 40-41 nowadays. Some brands’ products are at most 39. This is an indication that, in fact, fashion is also designed around the bodies of non-trans women and is based solely on an ideal cisgender woman type that conforms to gender stereotypes. According to this discriminatory understanding, a woman wears a maximum number of 39, thin waist, big breasts, plump hips, etc.
Monika: Do you often experiment with your makeup?
Hayat: No, I don’t wear makeup very often. I only use eyeliner and lipstick in my daily makeup. I use eye shadow and illuminator as an extra for YouTube shots.
Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Hayat: Yes, sometimes it feels good to hear a good compliment.
Monika: Do you remember your first job interview as a woman?
Hayat: Yes, I remember, it was two years ago. I was invited to interview for a job that was well suited to my experience. In my head, “Do they know that I am a trans woman? Or did they call me because they thought I was a cisgender woman? Some questions were flying around. The person that interviewed me was the president of a women’s organization and their statutes stated that they were against the discrimination because of “sexual orientation and gender identity.” Despite this, there was no meeting where I got a positive result.
|“In Turkey, since the 2000s, with the spread of online media,
in society’s perception, the bipolar world has begun to crumble.”
Monika: What would you advise to all transwomen looking for employment?
Hayat: Try to go to a job interview with as much positive energy as possible and get general information about the institution you are applying for before the interview. Try to find out whether their corporate policies are against discrimination, against sexual orientation and gender identity. If you cannot find any information on this subject, you can go with a friend, if possible, to avoid a possible risk of discrimination. If you have the qualifications required for the position you are applying for, have confidence in your abilities and experience. Good luck!
Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ community?
Hayat: I am one of the founding members of the Trans Istanbul Initiative and I have been working for trans people for a long time. I edited the “Gender Transition Guide” publication, which was prepared as a guide for trans people, and I am still holding online therapy group meetings. I can say that this is how I get involved in the life of the LGBTIQ community.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Hayat: There may be many loves in our life. If you are asking about love for people, I could not live with that love very well or I focused the feeling called love on the wrong people. I don’t think love itself is a very healthy feeling anyway. Because love is an intense emotion that cannot be controlled, that takes over and controls you.
For me, love was like a youth adventure, a transition from youth to adulthood. Of course, in the early years of my youth, I wanted to meet the right person and enjoy love with him. Since love is a raw, sour feeling that has not yet matured, when a person matures, the feeling they experience matures and is no longer love. However, in this world, the existence of a person you love, with whom you can enjoy every moment of your life, is invaluable.
|“I am thinking of writing my memoirs
someday in the future.”
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Hayat: Yes, I am thinking of writing my memoirs someday in the future. For now, I am delaying it, so that it can be a good, quality book, I have to be more equipped and read more. I hope I will write one day. I would even film it if I could. A very good movie script might come out of my life.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Hayat: I am now 41 years old and I would love to stand on my own feet without being economically dependent on anyone. Time is much more precious to me than it used to be. I want to make good use of the rest of my life. I hope that in the next 5-7 years, I will have the opportunity to appeal to a much wider audience with my YouTube channel. I wish I settled in a small coastal town with my life partner.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women that are afraid of transition?
Hayat: We trans people can fear many things in our transitions, whether it is surgery or opening up to the family and our friends. But in this life, the most terrible thing for a person is to be devoid of their dreams, without being able to realize themselves. In order to survive and attain the life we want, we must go above all of our fears. The moment we give up our dreams, that’s when we really die.
|“The most terrible thing for a person
is to be devoid of their dreams.”
Monika: My pen friend Gina Grahame wrote to me once that we should not limit our potential because of how we were born or by what we see other transgender people doing. Our dreams should not end on an operating table; that’s where they begin. Do you agree with this?
Hayat: We can surgically get rid of a deadlock that we have been experiencing since our childhood, which makes our life very difficult. It is of course a great source of happiness to solve the most basic problem of our lives. However, life doesn’t end there. Once you have solved this basic problem, you will see that there are more things that you could achieve. You must be open to finding answers to the biggest question of existence and to new adventures that will make life meaningful to you.
All of us were born in very different surroundings, even though we had similar experiences because of being trans. Some fruits can grow only in a specific climate, so we can only reveal our specific blessings only in specific circumstances. Although being trans is what we have in common, some of us are more advantageous or disadvantageous than others in terms of opportunities such as education, economic status, etc. Therefore, in order to be happy, we should never compare our potential and our life against someone else. Don’t be someone else, be yourself. You are much more beautiful that way.
Monika: Hayat, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Hayat: Thank you for enabling me to make myself known to trans people beyond my country’s borders.
All the photos: courtesy of Hayat Çelik.
© 2021 – Monika Kowalska