Where Are You My Love?, Directed by Merve Gezen
Where Are You My Love? follows the lives of transgender sex workers in Istanbul, Turkey, where they struggle to survive in a society that rejects their gender identity. Ece is about to celebrate her ‘second birthday’ — the anniversary of her surgical transition — but first she and her best friend Özge must go out with their colleagues to find customers in the dark streets of Istanbul. In a society where it is legal to discriminate against them in employment and housing because of their gender identities, Ece (Didem Soylu) and Özge (Seyhan Arman) have resorted to prostitution in order to survive. Their underground profession, however, puts them in great danger. On a routine night out looking for customers, Ece gets lucky before the others and accompanies a client into the night. But things go bad when she doesn’t come home the next morning.
Before going out, Özge and Ece lightheartedly discuss the discriminations that they face from government officials and an unwelcoming society. They joke about peoples’ prejudices in what becomes a lighthearted introduction to the social themes that govern their lives. From telephone conversations with their parents, it becomes evident that they either keep their identities secret from them or have not spoken to them in a long time. When her mother calls Ece about her military service papers, Ece disguises her voice by muffling the phone receiver with her hand. Her parents still don’t know that she is not the son they think she is. Ece has finally received her female ID card, which she has fought hard to get in a society that does not willingly recognise her identity, but she still faces the problem of mandatory military service in Turkey. Her parents have received the military service papers applicable to all Turkish men of age, and Ece will once again have to take on the government to fight for her rights as a woman. Özge’s family has rejected her identity, and she no longer speaks with her mother. When Özge’s sister addresses Özge by her given male name — Ali — it provokes a fit of rage.
Through casual dialogue between friends, the details of this way of life become clearer. Their conversations are natural, unforced, unstructured, and even funny, revealing important information about their views and experiences, their hopes and their struggles for acceptance and survival. The film employs subtle, effective storytelling of a world that few experience or have even considered. It provides a snapshot of the struggles and tragedies of a life lived alongside discrimination and violence.
Death is a constant companion for Ece and Özge, a symbol of the violence, humiliation, and daily fear that they and their colleagues undergo every day to survive in a transphobic world where assault and murder of transgender people is too common and safety too elusive. Newspaper clippings with pictures of young women cover a wall in Özge’s home — all murdered transgender sex workers. By film’s end, the wall will hold yet another newspaper clipping. The shocking abruptness of each death in the film emphasises the narrow boundary between life and death for people like Özge and Ece. Özge’s sister begs her not to go out at night to work because she fears that Ozge will not return, like so many before her. ‘Death! What death?’ says Özge. ‘Death is very close to me — like eating and drinking. It is like my next door neighbour’. The film begins and ends with scenes of burial, mourning, funeral rites, and prayers from the Qur’an, framing Ece’s and Özge’s story with the threat of death that pervades their world.
But the film also provides hopeful and loving messages as examples of the kinds of attitudes that might replace the prejudices and the oppression. In one of the film’s most beautiful moments, Özge, tired from a night of working, submits to her own rejection by society when she asks her friend Mori a series of questions. They point to her sense of being indefinable in a transphobic society that does not recognise her. She begins not to recognise herself.
‘Mori, who am I?’
‘You are Özge my child’.
Then, after a pause, another question: ‘Mori, what am I?’
‘You are a human my child’.
In a society where transgender people resort to sex work to survive, where their bodies are stigmatised beyond recognition, and where they live with the daily threat of violence, this film returns humanity to their stories. ■
Runtime: 20 minutes
Genre: Dramatic Short
This film is the recipient of the Human Rights Prize at the 2016 Atlas Awards.
Find out more
Find out more about this film from the pages for Where Are You My Love and Merve Gezen in the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) and the page of the film’s production company on Facebook. Where Are You My Love? (Nerdesin aşkim?) premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, has screened internationally, and is the recipient of the Human Rights Prize at the 2016 Atlas Awards International Film Festival. The film’s writer and director is Merve Gezen, a Turkish filmmaker and dramatist whose other films include Hela Sohbetleri and The Conversations of Loo.
Where Are You My Love? features a cast of real transgender sex workers — all except Seyhan Arman, who plays Özge in the film and who is transgender and a professional actress. The news clippings posted on Özge’s wall in the film are real clippings of murdered transgender people. Merve Gezen, the film’s writer and director, spent six months with her cast of transgender sex workers before starting the project, so the script is based on true stories.
The film features the following statements on LGBT rights in Turkey:
‘From 2008 to 2013, Turkey was ranked first in Europe in terms of hate crimes towards LGBT people with the total deaths of 34 transgender people. Due to not having a “hate crime” provision in the Turkish constitution, perpetrators of crimes against LGBT people benefit from “unjustified execution reduction” resulting in light prison terms’.
‘In Turkey, LGBT people do not have laws protecting them from being discriminated against in terms of employment and housing. The transgender people who have resorted to prostitution in order to survive face the threat of assault, beatings, and murder on a daily basis’.
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This critical review was commissioned and sponsored by the filmmaker.
Featured Image: ‘Where Are You My Love’, directed by Merve Gezen. Courtesy; DTM Pictures.