The power of communication
After 3 years of being a psychotherapist, one of the most important things I have realized is that a single word that comes from another person can have an impact on us that may last for hours, days or even several therapy sessions. When it is a compliment, a motivational statement that can have a positive effect, then it can be helpful for one’s self confidence and self-image. However, when it is a psychologically violent and/or humiliating comment, this can have a quite negative impact on one’s self-image and perception of trust in other people-or even the trust in the world-. When it comes to the experience of transgender people, this may involve any comments about one’s gender expression, sometimes questions that are not comfortable for one to answer. Although, the awareness about LGBTQA+ community seems to be getting higher, this is still an ongoing topic that I came across in my sessions at Gender Healthcare. Since I believe that a transgender person who experiences this directly can give the best insight on this topic, I have interviewed a friend of mine-Alaz Han Canbolat- who is a transmasculine person from Turkey and is currently living in there- to understand how it is for him to be a transgender person in Turkey, how is his experience with these challenging social situations.
Hi Alaz, can you tell us more about yourself first?
Hey! It’s Alaz Han, I am a citizen of the world trying to exist on the road with my mission and vision beyond the roles and identities I have. Currently, I’m working in UN World Food Programme as Learning and Development Specialist and doing my MSc Degree in the Department of Clinical, Social and Intercultural Psy. at Padua University in Italy with my passion for organizational and individual psychology through different perspectives. I came out as a transman in 2019 and after that, I felt how it is important about making a positive difference in peoples’ working lives by putting Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) at the heart of the business. Thus, I deliver training sessions, give speech and create content on Linkedln on the topic of DE&I.
Would you like to share your story of transition with us?
Of course, my transition process started in October 2019 when I decided on my name. However, long before that, I started questioning my sexual identity as a teenager. In 2016, when I was living in the US and I was very alone with myself, I agreed with myself that I was homosexual. My body even started to give somatic reactions that I could later identify. In 2018, I always told myself that if I were asked, I would want to be gender like the mannequins in the shop windows. During these periods, I felt closer to the definition of Gender-fluid. In the summer of 2019, I started to get very distant from the me I saw in the mirror and my physical discomfort increased. My almost daily crying spells made me unable to go out in public. After this painful process, I took a step towards the change I needed. After a long process, my partner at that time gave me the most beautiful thing I could have in this life and Alaz was born on October 3, 2023. After my name process, I opened up to my close circle and some of my family members, who I could get support from, respectively. My mother and father came last. I thought that the process would be more difficult for them, so I preferred to leave it to the last. Since my physical ailments reached the last stage during this time, I had my mastectomy surgery in November 2020 without waiting for the court processes. This was a brand-new birth for me because I was very close to the me, I wanted to see in the mirror. After this time, I was very excited to think about my bearded state and for this reason, I started my hormone therapy in March 2021. Since that day, the Alaz I see in the mirror every day makes me happier. Finally, 3 months ago, the permission for my hysterectomy surgery was approved. And now I am just waiting for its date.
You were in Turkey during the medical and social transition, what was the most difficult experience you had at that time? (What was the most difficult part for you) How did you deal with it?
The most difficult thing for me during my medical transition was the slow progress of the hospital processes in Turkey. I completed my surgery in a private hospital because the process was prolonged, and my body discomfort has increased.
In terms of the social transition, opening up to my family and getting used to the name were the two issues I had the most difficulty with. My family was culturally and religiously very distant to this transition process. Even when almost everyone around me was accepting, my parents were living with the anxiety of the community. During this time, our communication was cut off for a long time and I moved first to Bulgaria and then to Istanbul to avoid being affected by these processes. During this time, both receiving therapy and supporting myself with my social circle strengthened my coping skills a lot. As a psychologist, I was also trying to raise awareness about the process both for myself and those around me.
Do you still receive any inappropriate comments or questions from people? If yes, how do you deal with them?
Yes, especially new people I meet can define me as a biological man because of my appearance, and when I share that I am a transgender man, sometimes I can hear questions or comments that cross the boundaries. Especially they can get into sensitive issues such as penis surgery or whether I will have children. In this case, I respond by protecting my boundaries, then I go to therapy and cry for about 6 hours at home :)
I am aware that you also experienced living in Italy for some time. How was your experience there as a transperson? Were there also some difficult experiences you had with other people?
The biggest problem I had in Italy was that I was often stopped by the border police because of the mismatch between the gender on my ID and my appearance. It is sad to see that the world still does not accept the fact of being a transgender person. In addition to this, it was also more difficult to change my name in the documents compared to Turkey. Even now, my old name is still on the bank and on my residence permit.
What can you advice to other transpeople who come across these difficult questions or who receives these negative comments from others?
There were two important things that boosted my self-confidence during the whole transition process and helped me withstand all these difficulties: The first was to become more aware of the whole process, even though I am a psychologist, my increased knowledge and awareness of some issues helped me to understand that I should normalize these comments. For example, I realized too late that revealing my legal name at work was mobbing. As my awareness increased, it became easier for me to maintain some personal boundaries. Secondly, always having the support of therapy helped me to regulate the feelings and thoughts that these comments evoked in me. I can say that filtering what I heard without internalizing it and without blaming myself helped me not to get into conflicts about my own identity. Wherever we are in the world, we will unfortunately encounter these thoughts, so it is our responsibility to protect our own boundaries, feelings and thoughts against external harm. In these difficult times, I always sing this song to Alaz, whom I expect to smile in the mirror: https://open.spotify.com/intl-tr/track/0XUtbvhSlkNhSlMYALjpge?si=88d6a81cd23f4ba5
May we have many years and many paths in free bodies….
I would like to thank Alaz for his collaboration and openness about his story! I hope his story will inspire you all or it will give you some hope for the future!
I would like to add to Alaz’s comments about dealing with challenging social situations/offensive comments of the people.
- First, I realize that it is harder said than done, but as Alaz also pointed out, perhaps there is something we should try to accept: “There will almost always be people around us who are prone to make such comments. So, it may be unrealistic to expect that these comments will disappear completely or not exist at all.”
- Secondly, it is worth remembering that we may not always have the chance to react to people’s comments for different reasons. It will also take a lot of energy from us to react to every single comment/question we receive. Therefore, we can ask ourselves the following question: “Do I think my reaction to this comment will change anything, will it add anything to my relationship or well-being with this person?”. This step also involves doing a little safety check for ourselves. For example, if we hear these offensive/inappropriate comments from a stranger on the street: it is worth checking whether giving feedback to this person would raise any safety concerns.
- In case this comments/questions come from someone we know; we have the chance to provide feedback to prevent the same question to be arise in the future. For this, there is a tool that I really like and use in my personal & professional life 😊 It is called “Non-violent communication”. I will leave a link below in which you can find more detailed information about it. I will explain its’ 4 steps with an example:
Situation: A colleague of yours asked you “What was your name before the transition?”, “What kind of a boy you were before the transition?”. This made you feel uncomfortable, and you did not know how to react. Therefore, you answered it kindly and then continued your work but still feeling down for the rest of the day.
Using the 4 steps that Non-Violent Communication suggests:
- Observations: “I realized that you asked me some questions about my life before the transition at work the other day”.
- Feelings: “I felt quite uncomfortable after you asked those questions and I found myself thinking about the past which was triggering for me”.
- Needs: “I would appreciate your understanding about me not willing to talk about the past”.
- Request: “I would like you to not ask me questions about the time before my transition anymore. Thank you for respecting this 😊”.
You can find more information about Non-violent communication here: https://positivepsychology.com/non-violent-communication/#steps
There is also a book about it written by its’ founder Rosenberg: https://www.bol.com/nl/nl/f/nonviolent-communication/33768329/
I hope you find this blog useful, I hope you don’t experience any of the situations mentioned above and/or can deal with them in a way that makes you comfortable 😊
Ezgi Nur Çınar
Psychologist working at Gender Healthcare