I’m a melancholy sod at the best of times as those who know me well will tell you. But recently my melancholia has had some real external justification. With the European economy in meltdown, a government of clueless, chinless wonders in Westminster, the rich getting richer at my expense and all sort of religious shenanigans causing bother all over the world (but when was that ever any different?) life has seemed like a big, grey bowl of porridge for what feels like years. And this morning I duly got out of bed with the same looming feeling of doom and disaster that I always experience on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday in fact any morning you can name. As usual I switched on the computer and scanned my favourite newspapers websites for something that might be vaguely celebratory or joyful. And oddly, almost unbelievably, I found one.
A film has recently been released in Turkey called ‘Benim Cocugum’ (My Child). Directed by film maker and academic Can Candan ‘My Child’ is a documentary about the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and their families in Turkey and their fight for recognition and justice. Now don’t get me wrong, Turkey is not a country that actively legislates against LGBT people but their relationship to mainstream society is still vexed and, in spite of the annual Gay and Trans Pride marches in Istanbul work still needs to be done. A lot of it is around ignorance, which this film seeks to address. And that ignorance can be exhibited at the highest level. Take for instance State Minister for Women and Family, Selma Aliye Kavaf who recently said, ‘I believe homosexuality is a biological disorder, a disease. It needs to be treated.’ She later withdrew her statement, after a public outcry, but the fact that she could say such an ignorant thing at all is appalling. It’s views like Kavaf’s that ‘My Child’ seeks to change by filming LGBT people with their families, charting their lives as they attempt to come out, be accepted and take their place as respected members of society.
It’s powerful stuff with footage of weeping parents telling stories about how they feel frightened for their children, how hard it was for them to go and buy female clothes for children who had been born male and how these individuals know that they are just the tip of a very large iceberg of LGBT families all over the country.
At the film premiere in Ankara three members of parliament from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) attended and were all very affected by the issues that the film raised. Afterwards MP Binnaz Toprak spoke to some of the families who had taken part and said to them, ‘You are the bravest people in the world. This film should be screened in parliament too. I promise to do my best for this to happen.’ I hope that she does.
Now My Child has been rolled out across the country as part of the !f Istanbul festival and has even reached some of the more remote and conservative cities in the south east. LGBT activists following reactions to the film have reported that cinemas have been full even in far flung cities and they have been full, further, of families. At the same time a popular actor Ruzgar Erkoclar has come out in the press as a female to male transgendered person. Not only is Ruzgar very candid about his reassignment and the reasons for it, but his family have also been vocal in support of him too. These are all hopeful signs for LGBT people in Turkey and, though long overdue, point towards what I hope is a more equitable future for them.
So this morning I found something to be joyful about, ‘My Child’ and the message of hope that it is carrying to isolated individuals and families all over Turkey. And if you’d like to read a bit more about the history of transgendered people in Turkey then read my essay in ‘The Orwell Brigade’, a series of essays celebrating George Orwell’s considerable legacy. My piece is entitled ‘Transformation’ and it sits proudly alongside essays about social justice by such luminaries as Quentin Bates, Christopher G Moore, Colin Cotterill, Matt Rees, John Lantigua and Ruth Dudley Edwards. Further details can be found at the official Orwell Brigade Website at www.orwellbrigade.com.
Now I think I’ll go off and have a nice day!