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    Tasmanian take on transgender issues

    by Şafak Timur
    11.05.2009 - 00:00 | Son Güncelleme:

    ISTANBUL -They are often in the media when they are arrested for prostitution, beaten by a client or police, or worst of all when they are victims of a hate crime. But this time transgender people living in Istanbul are on camera to talk about themselves and their lives to an independent filmmaker from Australia’s Tasmania.

    "I just saw two transvestites waiting in the street near two police who were heavily armed standing in front of a police station," said Julien Poulson as he told the Hürriyet Dailiy News & Economic Review about one of the many moments that impressed and inspired him to make a documentary about the transgender community in Istanbul.

    Born to a family with Irish roots who were deported to Tasmania Island by Britain, Poulson is familiar with Turkey through his ancestors as well, who battled against Ottoman armies at Gallipoli. Poulson said he would like to see "what is under the carpet" rather than just the nice palaces in the city like a tourist. He said he first encountered the transgender community "accidentally."

    "We were sitting in a café in Taksim when an acquaintance asked me whether I had seen the transvestite’s street in Taksim and I went to see," he said. There are places in cities where nightclubs in one area make a "red light district," but Istanbul’s transvestite street is not like that, Poulson said. "It is just an ordinary street with a couple of buildings and people from the windows calling out [for clients]," he said.

    Turkey is passing through critical times, according to Poulson that it is eager to be a member to the European Union, while there is also resistance against Turkey’s membership from the EU. This resistance is especially based on human rights abuse cases in Turkey, he said. That is why the documentary is time critical for Poulson. However, he also added that he would try to avoid sensationalism. "I don't want this to be a story designed to titillate the audience by showing a 'bizarre world' or by showing prostitutes working, and so on, nor do I want to heavily politicize this - it is a humanist story," he said.

    "By shining a light on a story that is often neglected or simply not told, as a filmmaker, I hope to make a film that adds to the cultural vibrancy of Istanbul, attracts positive attention and breaks down stigma and negative stereotypes," Poulson said.

    Poulson’s interest is not limited to Turkey. He said soon he has to leave the country and travel to Cambodia, where he works with genocide survivors. He said he has worked in East Timor also under the U.N.’s development program.

    Employing transgenders
    For his documentary, Poulson has talked to dozens of transgender people and the lawyers and people who work with them. Pekcan Türkeş, a veteran theater player, author and lawyer, and Reyhan, a transvestite, are among the people he interviewed. Reyhan is a client of Türkeş and has a role in one of his theater plays. She was also in the famous movie "I saw the sun."

    "Reyhan is so talented and she can dance perfectly," said Türkeş, who also has employed a transvestite in the popular TV show "Olacak O Kadar" [That’s All That Can Be Done] in the past.

    Poulson told an anecdote of something he witnessed in Reyhan’s life as a striking sketch to give an idea about the lives of transgender people. "After her theater performance, in the cab on the way home across the bridge... I congratulated Reyhan on her great performance and asked her, knowing already that she is from a small Kurdish village, what would happen if her mother could suddenly be transported to front row seats at the theater… after all wouldn't any mother be proud, perhaps overjoyed to see her child playing roles in the theater and in films. Reyhan told me, ’If my mother was here ... if she survived the shock of her heart attack then she would get up and try and kill me!’ I laughed. The joke was funny. A day or so later, I went to Reyhan's apartment to interview her, Pekcan was there and told me I must leave immediately. Reyhan's father was coming from the village and as far a he was aware Reyhan was a modern young man employed at a club!" he said.

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