I am a woman, a refugee, ‘I am who I am’ — Global Affairs

“What makes people run away from their homes? People are fleeing war, famine, 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 I wanted to talk about it.

When I was nine years old, I looked at myself in the full-length mirror and couldn’t understand why I didn’t have the body of a girl. I identified with my five sisters. I thought it was one of them. I liked to play with them; I wore my mother’s clothes when she spent time with them. I barely spent time with my brothers.

beaten and rejected

When my father saw me like this, he hit me. He hit me so hard with a stick that I passed out and blood came out of 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. Although I was a girl. I knew it then, and today, even though I’m a father, I still don’t feel masculine. I am trapped in my body. I don’t want to have a beard. What you see is not who I am: I am Leyla.

It has not been easy, this choice, this life. I was bullied mercilessly at school. My father even tried to get me expelled.. She kicked me out of the house and I had to work for a living just to finish school.

Then it was college. One would think that he would find some tolerance there. I didn’t – same story: bullying and discrimination, bullying and discrimination. I know that education is the key, for success and tolerance. And education was like forbidden fruit for me. The more they tried to obstruct my development, the more willing I was to use it to achieve my goals.

Covering up

After college, I worked in the media and kept my identity a secret. Little by little, I began to recognize more people like me. We communicated by 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-year marriage.

I finally decided to stop denying who I was and work for our LGBTQI+ rights. I connected with other people in that community and became an activist, blogged, and ran an LGBTQI+ website.

So there I was. Despite all the difficulties, the double life and the taboos, I had a very good life in Lebanon: I had a house, a good car, a good job, wonderful and beautiful friends and children… and problems came my way. .

‘The men came to kill me’

One night I was at home when I heard screams from outside and I knew that men were coming to kill me. My life was a sin and deserved to die, in his eyes. I jumped off the balcony and ran out.

I didn’t take anything because I just wanted to avoid getting caught and killed. I arrived at the airport at 3 in the morning and was in Istanbul before dawn.

When I arrived in Turkey, I was inspired by the freedom that members of the LGBTIQ+ community enjoyed in society. They gave me hope that she could be the woman that 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 that I faced in Lebanon.

© IOM Turkey/Begum Basaran

Leyla with her twelve year old son and thirteen year old daughter.

‘mommy and daddy’

Then two good things happened. First, six months ago, my ex-wife helped with all the documents for the children, and my sister brought them here, and now they live with me. I am mom and dad to them.

Second, I got in touch with an IOM-run migrant center that helped me with legal matters, like getting my children to school and getting regular medical care. They even helped me get a job in an Arab restaurant.

I want to live as I am without worries. And again, I have to thank the 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, in general. I want to live as I am without worries. And again, I have to thank the IOM for helping me set foot on that path.

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 resettlement.

On hold

I’m waiting. I’m not sure where I’ll 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 absolutely useless. There is no benefit to it. It doesn’t accomplish anything. It only harms people and harms society.

It made me stronger and now I have a new family: the LGBTIQ+ community. However, it is not just my community and my family. It is my life, and it is 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.”

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