Seda is a transgender woman in Istanbul who was once a sex worker. She is now a cleaning lady. "I only want to have a job, to have a room whose keys I could say are mine," she told photographer Miguel Angel Sanchez and his colleague, Nuria Teson. They spent a couple of months this year interviewing transgender people in Turkey and letting them tell their stories.
Because of the discrimination against transgender people in Turkey, many struggle to find work that's not in the sex industry. Oyku has been a sex worker since the 1990s. "I've lost my soul," she told Teson. "I thought that I would put together my body and my spirit if I got a vagina, but this work I was forced to take just made the opposite. I've been humiliated and mistreated. Now sex is only a matter of keeping the way of life I've got used to." She takes care of other transgender women who, like her, have been abandoned or rejected by their families.
Cagla is a transgender model and actress. She said her family's support has been key in her process, even though she cannot go visit them whenever she wants. "I believe my existence hurts them," Cagla told Teson. "I cannot go and visit them because I know that the neighbors are going to talk ... that they can be questioned about who I am. I don't want to hurt them."
"As a woman you face sexual violence, but as a man you have to face other kind of violence," said Osgur, a transgender man. "I've got beaten up several times because men in Turkey are very tough. I'm not. They looked at me and called me queer. I was embarrassed and they beat me up." He told Teson that he hasn't talked to his father in three years. "I was his girl, and he protected me. He always told me I should have been born a man, but when I told him (about my gender) he didn't accept me."
Didem is a painter in love with the Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali. She would love to make a living of her art, but she finds it difficult being a transgender artist.
"When I first told my family about my real gender, I wrote a letter and ran away," Can, who works as a DJ, told Teson. "Then my brother brought me to Istanbul and helped me. First it was the mastectomy and now, in a month, I will be operated again to remove my genitals. If I could, I wouldn't remove my ovaries. It is very problematic for my health." According to the rights group Transgender Europe, Turkey is one of 24 European countries that require people to be sterilized before a change in their gender identity is formally recognized.
Neva would hide the fact that she was transgender from her parents. "I was a very shy child," she told Teson. She has been seeing her boyfriend for six years now, and his family knows she is transgender. "If he loves me, I love him more. I know there's nothing forever, but I want to believe it is."
Idil used to be a lawyer, but she ended up as a sex worker when she became a woman. As a transgender activist, she wants to help the younger generation to find other paths. "Fifteen years ago, the transgender were from Mars," she told Teson. "Now it's a bit better, but it is a Muslim society so it is tough."
Mirey loves poetry and is a writer himself. He hates people asking him private things about his sexual life or his libido when he started the hormone therapy to become a man. "I feel normal," he told Teson. "I (play) sports, I have a pet. ... When I look at me in the mirror, I see a handsome boy. I can cry, I can be emotional."
Esmeray, an actress, writer, columnist and LGBT activist, is one of the few socially accepted transgender women in Turkey. She defined her sexual identity when she was 18. "The situation hasn't changed much in these years," she said to Teson. "We face the same problems; we still live in a patriarchal, homophobic and transphobic society."
Can, a transgender man, said he has felt male since he was 3 years old. "Every time my beard grows, my voice changes or my body evolves, people get shocked," he said to Teson. "Now I feel strong, I want to be a model for others."
Senem is a 54-year-old sex worker who lives in Istanbul's only LGBT refuge. "I wanted to kill myself," she recalled to Teson. "I heard of a young trans who jumped from the Bosphorus bridge and I thought, 'If she is in her 20s and she cannot make it, how could I?' " She was 16 when she was first attacked for being transgender and she still cries when she remembers it.
Serkan had to flee his home when he told his family his real gender. "I waited for 28 years because of my family," he said to Teson. "I thought I could wait, but I couldn't stand anymore with that lie." Like all transgender people in Turkey, he had to be sterilized before his gender identity could be formally recognized. "The night before the surgery, I felt like an animal in a cage waiting for some kind of investigation," he said. "It was not my choice. I was forced to be sterilized, and that feels terrible."
"I was studying at the university, and the board forced me to quit," Pinar said to Teson. "Then I went into sex work. I suffered a lot. I was the second of my class, but what could I do? I wanted to live as a woman, but I couldn't find any job or pay for a house." She has since quit prostitution.
Ela had to fight her family when she decided to start the process to become a woman. Today, her mother is supporting her. Her mother accompanied her during the surgical process and has been close to her ever since.
Alex, an accountant, says it was difficult to find a job before he got his male ID. He started his process six years ago, and it was difficult because he didn't know what he was. "I had seen the trans women, but I'd never seen a trans man," he said to Teson. "I wanted to be free, but I didn't know even where I should start." He had a lot of health and mental problems, he said. "My only thought was to go to bed and wake up being a man. I considered to wait until my family had passed away." He said he now feels happy and "completed."