Transcending Borders: Journey of an LGBTQ Newcomer

By Julie Schultz, June 20th, 2017 in

By: Ziva Gorani


I am a transgender, Kurdish, Syrian refugee that has come to Canada, via Turkey, under sponsorship from the Canadian government. I am here to speak to you about a story of a Syrian Queer, my story.

I just want to remind you, I am not a representative of the Syrian LGBTQ community, I am here as one example in a very diverse and colorful community.

I grew up in a conservative Kurdish family, and the conservative part has no relation to religion here. Rather, it is the culture and costumes that, while they form the beauty of Kurdish identity, can also be a burden or a chain that stops one from living in freedom.

I was born within the minority that faced and is still facing external discrimination from the government.

Later on, at a very young age I knew I even belong to an even smaller group, because my gender doesn’t match the gender assigned at birth. I knew then my life will only get harder and harder.

To spare you the drama, I won’t go into details, but my childhood ceased to exist with the first time I was raped. I had to keep my mouth shut after every time or my family would know and I would be the one to be blamed.

I came out to my parents about my gender identity when I was 18, thinking that I’d taken the right step, but I wasn’t fully aware of the consequences. I spent years after living many days of physical and emotional abuse.

My father micromanaged every step I took outside of the home. And those were just the days that I was allowed to go out. On other days, I would be kicked out of the house for days on end with no money and no food.

And that was my life that I had to tolerate until I was able to leave home and eventually leave Syria.

After the revolution, it only took one or two years for people like me to be targeted by any military or armed group. On days when I had to go to school, I had to hide some of my feminine features to be able to pass checkpoints. I was terrified every time I was stopped. But luckily I made it.

After moving to Turkey, I was done with keeping myself in the closet. I came out publicly as queer. My life was officially limited to any sort of freedom of expression. Having friends was not an easy task and even if I had them, they would not want to be seen with me; otherwise they would be judged for being friends with the sissy boy who was a girl inside.

I kept trying to fit, to match everyone’s expectation of me. To be able to have friends, to have a job, and to not be killed.

But none of that worked out, I still ended up being sexually molested by my former employer.

It was then when I realized how far I went to please people.

This incident was the wake-up slap, and soon after my transitioning journey started, opening doors of self-acceptance and adding more layers of violence as well until I ended being accepted and I was brought here to Canada.

I got here alone. I had already lost my family, and then lost the friends I had around me for the two years I lived in Turkey.

I had no source of income except what the government was giving me every month. My hormone levels were enough to kill me at any moment because of self-medication.

And another transitioning journey started to find some sense of stability.

I don’t want to speak about my story just for the sake of making you feel sorry. I am here as a one example of the Syrian LGBTQ newcomers. Many, many have similar stories and it takes strength for us to stand here in front of you on our own feet with our heads held high.

We are asked to be independent, to go out and find our way, to present the good image of a refugee.

We are expected to find a job, a place to live, have many Canadian friends and speak cute broken English.

We all know this is not reality. Even though on some level I match that image with less broken English, but I am not a fair representation of my folks.

The majority come from broken, war torn lands, forces from our homes. From our family and friends. We are still living in the survival mode, unable to let our guard down. How can we understand the new culture we are in?  We don’t know why read in present tense is still spelled read in past.

Being here was not a choice – we had to run away for our lives. So, please don’t forget that fact about the Syrian LGBTQ community. Outside forces forced these conditions on our lives.  We have the RIGHT to the opportunities afforded anyone else in life. While there are so many injustices in the world, and this is just a dream of a dreamer – every single baby should be born into love, nurture, freedom and opportunity regardless of their sexuality, color, or place of birth.

As you all might deal closely or remotely with a Syrian Queer, or if you are in contact currently, know that their smile takes so much work in the morning to put it on. And they are ready to live, to love, to bring happiness into their lives and lives of others. They just still haven’t figured it out yet.

They are still trying to plant their roots again to thrive.

Personally, I just came across the right people since my arrival here. My story would totally be different and I wouldn’t even be here today. So, I am thankful, grateful and in debt of their generosity and unconditional love.

It took individuals like you who care enough to be here and to listen to me, to make my life better.

One last point:

Yesterday I was on the phone with a gay Syrian guy who is dealing with so much post-trauma effects that he ended up isolating himself in his room. I do not to claim that I am a counselor. However, I am just speaking of what I sensed in his turbulent voice.

He told me “I feel injustice.”

This might be exaggerating for some of you, but I keep hearing these words and when I first said it, I thought I was being dramatic. However, there is a reason behind that.

The difficulty he is dealing with is huge. He doesn’t speak the language. The school he was sent to doesn’t know how to teach English to an Arabic speaker. He is even isolated from Syrian communities living in Canada. He has nowhere to turn.

No friends to talk to. No one to teach him the language and help him to get a job. He needs the compassion and understanding that opened Canada’s doors to him with the promise of a better life. His struggle is not over. It wasn’t enough to get him here. He needs our support now more than ever. His struggle has simply changed into a new struggle. He needs your help to assimilate into your –  no our –  wonderful society. These barriers must be overcome.

I won’t take much more of your time, I only want to leave you with a hope that we all together can help each other and be a healing hand for those who have already lived lives full of pain and heartache.

Wish you a happy Pride week.