First person: I am a woman, a refugee, “I am who I am” |
“What drives people to flee their homes? People are fleeing war, hunger, violence, extreme poverty and even adventure or love. I left Lebanon. I was in real danger of being killed because I was born in the wrong body and wanted to talk about it.
When I was nine, I looked at myself in the full-length mirror and couldn’t understand why I didn’t have a girl’s body. I identified with my five sisters. I thought I was one of them. I liked to play with them; I wore my mother’s clothes when I spent time with them. I barely spent time with my brothers.
Beaten and rejected
When my father saw me like that, he beat me. He hit me so hard with a stick that I passed out, blood pouring from my ears. Another time he stabbed me in the arm, and I still have that physical scar.
What you see is not who I am: I am Leyla
He never accepted me. However, I was a girl. I knew it then, and today even though I’m a father, I still don’t feel masculine. I am a prisoner of my body. I don’t want to have a beard. What you see is not who I am: I am Leyla.
It was not easy, this choice, this life. I was bullied mercilessly at school. My dad even tried to get me kicked out. He kicked me out of the house and I had to work for a living just to finish my studies.
Then it was university. You would think I would find some tolerance there. I don’t have – the same story: bullying and discrimination, bullying and discrimination. I know that education is the key to success and tolerance. And education was like the forbidden fruit for me. The more they tried to hinder my development, the more eager I was to use them to further my goals.
After college I worked in the media and kept my identity a secret. Gradually, I started to recognize more people like me. We communicated through secret signs during the day, but at night I hid my beard, put on a wig and enjoyed the feeling of being free, of being me.
I married a lesbian to appease my family and we had two wonderful children.
Despite some precious moments, life was still complicated. Very complicated. I married a lesbian to appease my family and we had two wonderful children during our seven years of marriage.
Eventually I decided to stop denying who I was and work for our LGBTQI+ rights. I connected with other people in this community and became an activist, blogger and running an LGBTQI+ website.
So I was there. Despite all the difficulties, the double life and the taboos, I had a very good life in Lebanon: I had a house, a nice car, a good job, wonderful and beautiful friends and children… and trouble came .
“Men came to kill me”
A night I was at home when I heard screams outside and knew that men were coming to kill me. My life was a sin and deserved to die, in their eyes. I jumped off the balcony and fled.
I didn’t take anything because I just wanted to avoid being caught and killed. I arrived at the airport at 3am and was in Istanbul before dawn.
When I arrived in Turkey, I felt inspired by the freedom enjoyed by members of the LGBTIQ+ community in society. They gave me hope that I could be the woman I am. I made new friends and started dressing up in beautiful dresses, putting on makeup, and going out on the town with them. However, even though there was solidarity in our community, in society at large, I faced the same discrimination and hate speech here as in Lebanon.
© IOM Turkey/Begum Basaran
‘Mom and dad’
Then two good things happened. First, six months ago my ex-wife helped with all the paperwork for the children and my sister brought them here, and now they live with me. I am mom and dad for them.
Secondly, I made contact with a center for migrants run by IOM, which has helped me solve legal problems, like sending my children to school and getting regular health care. They even helped me find a job in an Arabic restaurant.
I want to live like I’m carefree. And again I have to thank IOM for helping me
Life is stable, the panic is over and I have my children with me. However, this is not the end of my journey. Turkey has been good to me overall. I want to live like I’m carefree. And again, I have to thank IOM for helping me set foot on this road.
I went to the provincial migration office for an interview, and after two days I was granted conditional refugee status. I have not received any further information on the reinstallation.
I’m ready. I don’t know where I will end up. I think it would be good to move to an English- or French-speaking country because those are the languages I speak.
I want to end by saying that discrimination is quite futile. There is no advantage to this. It does nothing. It just hurts people and hurts society.
For me, it made me stronger, and now I have a new family: the LGBTIQ+ community. It’s not just about my community and my family. It’s my life, and it’s a symbol of my identity. And I know one thing for sure, we are all born equal and we all deserve to be treated that way.”