It is time, says 27-year-old Cihan Ali. Time to have no more secrets from his friends, to tell everyone in the world who he really is. Time to get happy. Time to tell him that he is a transgender man, and will be called Cihan forever from now on.
And that is not easy, he tells RTL Nieuws. “Certainly not if you come from a Turkish community.” But that is precisely why he thinks he should be open about the fact that you can be a Muslim and a transgender person at the same time. By sharing his story, he hopes to be an example to others, something he never had himself.
Cihan was born in Zwolle in 1993 and was born as a girl. His parents, from Ankara, Turkey, were very happy with their first child. However, he had to be operated right away because he turned out to have cleft, in his case a double slit in the upper lip. Furthermore, Cihan was a healthy and happy baby, he says.
Quarrel for the wardrobe
Soon the first cracks began to appear in his rash childhood. He started arguing with his mother more and more, and it always happened in front of the wardrobe. “When she went to dress me for school, she often took a dress or a skirt. I really didn’t want to wear that and we always got into an argument. In the end I was allowed to grab pants, but she kept trying.”
His mother was not looking into that yet, and it didn’t ring a bell when Cihan used to walk to the ‘wrong’ toilet as a toddler. “I always walked to the boys’ toilets and then peeed standing up. It just felt like that was how it should be for me, I did not see the problem. But as a girl that is of course not possible, so that went wrong. The kindergarten teacher was there. not happy about it, but I couldn’t explain why I did it. Of course I didn’t understand that myself. “
In the years that followed primary school, Cihan was always ‘one of the guys’. He played with cars, played soccer with boys in the square and ran after the girls with the boys from his class. “There was really nothing girlish about me, so nobody had a problem that I always joined the boys. I’m glad I was never bullied about that and that I could be who I wanted to be.”
‘Was ashamed of my body’
But that changed completely when he went to high school and the differences between boys and girls became more and more apparent. “From the moment my breasts started to grow, it went wrong. I was ashamed of my body, it was something that didn’t belong to me. I never looked in the mirror, I didn’t want anything to do with it.”
He therefore always wore clothes from the men’s department in one size larger: shirts that were wide so that you could see as little of his feminine form as possible. “And when I had to gym, I put on all my sweatpants at home. Because of this I had to change less and I could get out of that girls’ dressing room as quickly as possible. I thought it was terrible there.”
Cihan also tried to avoid the girls’ toilets at school as often as possible. “I didn’t feel good there, and I didn’t want to be told in the boys’ toilet that I was on the wrong toilet. So I preferred not to go, I often held up my pee all day long.”
Cihan was usually on his own at the time. He had few friends, and his parents did not understand what was wrong with him. He was therefore often alone in his room, always busy rapping and writing. “I started HAVO / VWO at school, but because of the feelings I had, things went less and less well, so they thought I had a behavioral problem. Or they threw it at puberty. The result was that I became depressed. , it was too much chaos in my head. A chaos that I tried to solve on my own. “
‘Felt like I shouldn’t be here’
The feelings of depression went so far that Cihan has thought several times to step out of life. “I still find that intense to say. But it really felt like this was not my world, like I shouldn’t be here. I didn’t understand what I was doing here, because I didn’t fit in with anything: not with the boys, and not among the girls. That feeling was so strong that I couldn’t see it anymore. “
But when Cihan was 18 years old, he finally thought he understood why he was feeling so bad all this time. He fell in love with a girl and got his first relationship. “I couldn’t ignore it anymore, I thought. I just like girls. I called my mother upstairs to my room and I told her I was very happy. I wanted to start the conversation positively. Then I told the reason:” I “I’m happy because I’m in a relationship Mom. But it’s with a girl.” My mother then walked out of my room in shock. She thought I was confused, that it was a whim. She did not answer after that, there was no conversation, in the hope that it would pass. “
‘Gadverdamme, your daughter is a lesbian’
He did not dare to tell his father, but he soon found out. An anonymous account had been created on Facebook and Cihan’s father sent a message: ‘Gadverdamme, your daughter is a lesbian. You have to watch her better. “
Cihan: “I was happy that I didn’t have to tell it myself anymore, but also so sad that it had to go like this. I was shocked that someone sent something so mean, and I also saw how angry my father was about it. I didn’t talk about it after that, also because they thought it would pass. But when I took my girlfriend home one time, and my parents saw that it was not something temporary, they understood it better. “
Cihan was out, had a girlfriend, his parents knew, and yet he was still very unhappy. “I was super happy with her, but still not with myself. The depressive feelings and the chaos in my head remained, for years. Until I heard a story in the media from a trans man at the age of 21. It was the first time I heard it. word ‘transgender’, and so for the first time that I could google it The more I read about it, the more I finally felt at home in the world I suddenly knew what was going on: I was just transgender man. “
This time he did not call his mother into his room, but called her. “Mom, I know why I couldn’t be happy all this time. I still like girls, but I don’t feel like a girl. I’m a boy. ‘ “When I said that, my mother understood everything so much better. She reacted calmly and thought it was super nice for me that everything had fallen into place.
I gave my father a letter in which I wrote down everything about my life. A day later he had read it, I knew that, but he said nothing about it. He visibly needed time to digest the news. And I understood that too. In addition, my father is not a talker, and he is Islamic. This subject is certainly a difficult subject in our culture, a big taboo. “
Few people with a migration background in gender clinic
There are huge waiting lists for people who want treatment at a gender clinic in the hospital. On average, a patient has to wait two years before starting the program at all.
But there are relatively fewer people with a migration background on these waiting lists, says Annelou de Vries, youth psychiatrist and researcher at the gender center of the Amsterdam UMC. “There is no reason to assume that there are fewer transgender people in certain communities. Yet we really see far fewer people coming to our clinic with a migrant background, or who have a conservative religious background.”
Why this is the case, De Vries is not sure. “But in the conversations I have with patients who do come by and come from this community, I notice that they especially have difficulty with the question whether they are accepted in their environment. We hear that from the parents: they want their support the child, but are also afraid of reactions from their community. “
De Vries welcomes the fact that Cihan wants to tell his story. “It is without a doubt good to show the outside world that transgender people come from all groups of society.”
Cihan has also struggled with the fact that he is Islamic and transgender man. “I have often thought: may I still believe, may I feel this and be a Muslim. But I know that you can be yourself in our faith, and I am now, so this is good.”
‘No one benefits from negativity’
There will probably be people who think differently about this, Cihan also knows. Those who read the faith differently, will find that this cannot go together. “That is also allowed, everyone can think what he or she wants. But to the people who want to leave a negative reaction, I especially want to say: don’t do it and scroll on, because no one benefits from negativity.”
Ultimately, after a long search, many conversations with a psychologist and then gender-confirming hormones, Cihan was referred for surgery. March 12, 2020 is the day that changed his life forever. He now has a beard, a deep voice, and new friends are amazed when he tells us that he was once a girl.
“I often think: if only I had known all this before. But I could not have known it before, because there was never an example for me, never someone from our community that I knew and was also a transgender person. That’s why I think it is now too. so important to be an example to others, because it is so important to be yourself, I hope that boys, girls, men, women, who have the same feelings as me and live in families where this is not negotiable, see now that the story can also have a positive outcome. That being yourself always pays off. “
‘I am very grateful to my parents’
Everything has fallen into place for Cihan, and especially now that his parents are more and more at peace with the situation, he is doing better. “My father said ‘he’ to me for the first time recently, which is really nice. In any case, I am very grateful to my parents for accepting me, because I know that it can also be different in our community.
I feel fine now. So good, in fact, that I can say I’m happy. In this interview I actually dare to say that so clearly to an outsider for the first time. And wow, that feels good. “