Sunday, October 3, 2010

Death of a Transgender Sex-Worker

October 3, 2010

Last week, a beautiful soul was taken when Irem’s life was cut short after a man fatally stabbed her 12 times. Unfortunately, in Turkey, violence against transgender women has become somewhat the norm. This year alone, almost 20 such prostitutes have been murdered in cold blood, sometimes by their customers and other times they are targeted on the streets. Furthermore, according to KAOS (Ankara’s LGBT’s organization) they also have been subjected to excessive harassment and violence by the Turkish police.

The saga of Irem was splashed over the online Turkish edition of Hurriyet last week, beginning with the headline: “A Transvestite Killed by 12 Stab wounds in Bursa.” According to the report, Irem Okan, formerly known by her male name Mesut Şaban Okan, was 28 years old. Within a short period following the discovery of her body the police arrested a suspect, a 22 year old young man named Emrah, after he received treatment for wounds to his hand at a local hospital, and who upon his arrest admitted to killing Irem. According to the suspect, the two had been seeing each for some time and that night “I drank a beer and had sex with her, then she also wanted to have sex with me (as the active partner). I did not agree. A fight broke out between us. While cursing [her], I totally lost it…I remember stabbing two places. After that I don’t know what happened. I had cut my hand. While running away, I took a laptop, cell phones, and some other pieces of jewelry…”

Perhaps, what caught me most however about this story was Irem’s mother’s reaction. Like any mother, she was absolutely devastated. At the funeral, she called for the perpetrator to receive a harsh sentence and said “how could they kill my baby (yavrum)…how will I be able to endure such pain.” Following the funeral, at a vigil held in front of her house, she also passed on a message of frustration, anger, and sadness: “My boy was always excluded from society because of his sexual preference. He wanted to study but they would not accept him. There was no place for him in this great big world…” At the end of this blog entry I have attached links to see photos of Irem’s mother, a modestly covered woman, at the vigil being comforted by Irem’s friends from the LGBT community. Also, there is a link to see Irem’s photos.

Öykü Evren Gökkuşağı, the head of the LGBT organization in Bursa, believes that these murders should be recognized as a “hate crime” and that the Turkish parliament should take the initiative to halt the violence. Evren had been friends with Irem for 15 years, a said that Irem dreamed to become a chef, something that could not be realized however since she was a ‘transvestite.’

The tragedy in this is clear and there is not much to say other than Turkey needs to take measures to protect these transgender women. However, with the current Minister of Family and Women Affairs Selma Aliye Kavaf declaring homosexuality is a sickness it seems that we should not expect too much from the Turkish government to work to end the senseless killings. Also, let us hope the courts prosecute the perpetrator to the fullest extent. It needs to be pointed out that the fact that the suspect stressed that he was propositioned by Irem to have intercourse with him as the passive partner could be sign of a early defense; meaning he will claim that in essence Irem provoked him, a known tactic used by rapists and others to get lighter sentences.

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