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She lives the Strumica Carnival every day of the year – forced to disguise herself as a man, even though she identifies as a woman

Tugche is a 26-year-old transgender woman who resides in Strumica. At the age of 14, she became conscious of her gender identity, which conflicted with the sex assigned to her in her official records. Specifically, she was born with male biological traits, but she identifies as female.

Even in elementary school, Tugche encountered difficulties and non-acceptance from her environment due to her gender identity. Her appearance, voice, and mannerisms did not conform to the stereotypical expectations of her classmates, who were raised in a heteronormative culture.

Tugche is currently attending a technical high school to study fashion design on a part-time basis. She chose to do so due to the hostile environment at her previous school, as well as her family situation and the challenges of living in her area. In addition to being a transgender woman, she is also a Turkish Muslim, which further adds to the difficulties she faces in functioning within the intolerant local community.

Once she told her parents that she was a transgender woman and wanted to live in accordance with her gender identity, she was subjected to familial violence until she turned 18.

She tried to find happiness outside of the country. She and her then-partner moved to Belgium, where they applied for asylum as a same-sex couple. However, over time, they began to experience problems in their relationship; the violence from her partner had demoralized her so much that she had attempted suicide several times. After ending the relationship with her abusive partner and his departure from her life, the feeling of loneliness in a foreign country where she remained alone, without people to support her in times of need, compelled her to make the decision to return back.

Photo: Tuğçe Memiş/Facebook

In Strumica and the surrounding area, members of the LGBTI+ community are subjected to insults, mockery, and even violence. To survive there, she says, she had to become invisible and conform to gender stereotypes by dressing and behaving like a man.

She is eagerly awaiting the adoption of the new Law on Civil Registry, which includes provisions for establishing a legal procedure for gender recognition based on self-determination, as well as streamlining the process of changing personal information such as name, surname, gender marker, and unique citizen identity number in identification documents. This will allow her to access and complete the process herself.

She believes that the Pride Parade in Skopje is extremely necessary to increase visibility and mobilize the LGBTI+ community. Last year’s Skopje Pride for Tugche will be a ‘day to remember’ as she felt ‘so proud, so powerful’.

“Love yourself, and don’t burden yourself with what others think of you. The path to happiness – although paved with challenges – starts with self-acceptance,” Tugche advises other members of the transgender community. “Speaking for myself – it may sound selfish on my part – but I love myself the most and I am proud of who I am,” she adds.

To her fellow citizens, she sends a message that they should treat members of the LGBTQ+ community with a sense of common humanity, as all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, and everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security.

Despite her love for her homeland, she sees herself living outside the country in the future as a transgender woman who lives authentically and openly, working as part of the fashion industry.