Meet Turkey’s Caitlyn Jenner — in reverse
Sibel ARNA - Photography: Muhsin AKGÜN Translation: Yasemin GULERI met Rüzgar during my time as a judge on a television show this winter… He was one of the strapping young men that worked with the production company and was exceptionally hard working and cheerful. He would run up with the earpiece, attach the microphones, prepare the streaming, pick you up from your home if necessary, even ask us if we were cold or hungry. I realized that he was the Rüzgar the entire country was talking about two weeks later, once a friend mentioned it. Needless to say I was very surprised.
Neither his appearance nor attitude gave away any sort of hint of his previous identity. He stood in front of me, one hundred percent man. We worked together for almost three months. He never let me down, not even one day. I always respected his professionalism, his work ethic and loved him more as I got to know him better. Rüzgar wants to go back to his acting career of 15 years and he deserves nothing more. Several weeks ago, he won the lawsuit against the doctor that operated on him. He’s now ready for a brand new beginning.
Is the Rüzgar Erkoçlar identity formation complete? How do you feel?
Actually, I always felt like I was complete. The situation never changes from my point of view. I see that that’s not the case from the outside point of view. The expressions on peoples’ faces and the never ending glances give me some sort of idea about that. I see people looking me up and down and I say to myself, “Oh, yeah… I am Rüzgar Erkoçlar.”
Has the second life started off well?
This isn’t a second life. For as long as I can remember, I have felt like this, I have lived this life. The beauty of life, the experiences and what you feel changes but I have always been me.
Are you aware that you are a good-looking man?
The concept of beauty or handsomeness has never been important to me. I think that if I see beauty in someone, then that beauty is the reflection of the beauty of their soul and heart. But I must confess something:[handsome] is the only word I’m hearing lately. Everyone keeps saying, “Wow, you’ve turned out really handsome.”
Yes, that was implied. I worked 15 hours in the bakery. I was pretty happy actually; I was able to earn my own money. Until the press turned up and started harassing me and the other workers…
Later on you started working for a production company. How did you, someone who had spent years in front of the camera, spend your time working behind the camera?
That was also a great and very different experience for me. I was in the kitchen of this business, so to speak. As an actor, I got to see how things worked in the bright lights.
It must have taken some courage to be in charge of the production of “Bu Tarz Benim,” a show where Turkey’s most shameless girls compete.
It really did. Because not only were we dealing with all those girls and their fights but it was a live show! It was very tough and tiring. I am very serious when working.
Did you ever get harassed by the girls at work?
I am very serious and professional when I work. I don’t give anyone the chance to approach me if they have overstepped the boundaries of respect.
Do you miss being in front of the camera?
Of course. Think about it. You spend 15 years putting your heart and soul into what you do; you can’t just cut it off from your life. I think the time to return has come. I have been evaluating a couple of projects I have been offered. I may have a few surprises for you come autumn.
What kind of projects would you like to be a part of? Do you have any limits as to what sort of character you would portray?
First of all I would have to take a liking to the story and the character. I won’t ever act in a role that I didn’t think suited me for money or fame. That’s what I have always done and what I will continue to do.
Well, let’s say that some shady producers offered you the part of a woman. How would you respond?
Well, actually this producer, Kutluğ Ataman, was talking to the press for months about this film where apparently I was supposed to play both a man and a woman. Obviously I turned that offer down.
You are the bravest and most confident person I have ever seen in my life… Where does all this self-confidence and decisiveness come from?
Working from an early age probably has an effect on that, because experience shapes pretty much everything. These are the things that give me strength in my daily life. I am not living my life to earn peoples’ respect. I lead my life depending on what I want and how I feel.
How do you block out the feeling of public pressure or constant staring?
I can’t say that I block out the feeling all together actually. Because I’m tested by such things that I can’t figure out if I’m different or they are. I understand people may want to examine and look me up and down but endless staring can be harassment after a while. They try and take pictures secretly without realizing how hilarious they look. I mean, come on man… I’m not a fool, just ask for permission; have some self-respect! The other reactions, besides overwhelming curiosity, are actually quite pleasant. There are people that come up to me asking for a hug or people that say that they congratulate me on my courage and bravery.
You manage to soften every blow that comes your way and never allow the ball to enter your own goal. You must be feeding off a very good source in terms of love…
If only that were the case, Sibel. The goal net is full of holes; that’s why my goal never seems full. I don’t really show my emotions, not even to myself… Because if heartbreak takes over, all you see in life are negativities. I try to look forward instead at the past. My last relationship ended a year ago.
Do you read a lot of books, watch a lot of movies? How do you feed your soul?
I can definitely say that I am a complete film-addict. Book-wise I read self-development and parapsychology-style books.
What else do you do these days?
My manager, Tuğçe Yavuz, and I try to make time for scripts that come in. I exercise. I’m also about to begin selling t-shirts that I have designed myself. I’m pretty busy with that at the moment.
You have quite a lot of followers on Instagram and are pretty popular with young girls… You like to share your life with others too, actually? Or do you just do that because it’s a part of the whole showbiz package?
At first, I only used Instagram to follow my friends. Then, one of my friends insisted that I share a picture and I received many nice comments. Now, there are hundreds of nice comments beneath all my photos. Ultimately, my pictures were being printed whether I shared photos or not, because they were photographing me without permission. At least now I can post whatever photo I like.
What’s your love life like? Is there a woman that deserves you in your life?
I was in a two-year relationship but that ended about a year ago. I’m not seeing anyone right now.
You filed a lawsuit again the doctor that operated on you, Dr. Hanife Akınoğlu. Could you remind us of the reason behind that?
My doctor, Hanife Akınoğlu, divulged information to the entire public along with Erol Köse. Information that should have remained between a patient and his/her doctor. They used me as a utensil for their self-promotion and publicity. So, I used my legal rights against them. After my operation I had planned on beginning my new life with a fresh start; as a stranger, with my brand new identity. I wasn’t that popular before anyway. But the information that my doctor divulged to Erol Köse and later the interview she gave to a Turkish newspaper (Posta Gazetesi) turned my life upside-down. They took away my right to live my life peacefully. Compare how I look now to how I did back then and put your hand on your heart and tell me; if that doctor hadn’t gone to the press with this information, would you have said, “Ha, that guy used to be that actress”?
Well, what did you go through during the whole court ordeal? Did you experience any difficulties?
Of course. During that time, countless false stories came out about me. I chose to keep silent but everyone else made speeches. I then noticed that my silence wasn’t stopping any of the countless speculations so I preferred to tell the events from my point of view. But the other side presented the said interview to the court, saying I used that interview to gain popularity.
Has the court come to a conclusion on your case? Was the verdict what you expected?
Yes, the lawsuit that has been ongoing for a year and a half has concluded. The Physician’s Guild ordered the doctor to be suspended from practice. Our bid for non-pecuniary damages has partially been met. Our happiness is bittersweet. I say bittersweet because the court failed to acknowledge the harm that had been inflicted upon me. They are of the opinion that I won’t be able to claim any compensation because of insufficient evidence. It was unfair of them to ask me of proof. How was I supposed to work with all the cameras watching me? Can you say that there was no financial damage to me? I want to believe that court will solve this situation. My sense of justice tells me so.