You Only Leave Once

Many Iranian couples spend thousands of dollars to determine the sex of their child before pregnancy. They try to have a son through various superstitious methods such as prayers and spells, taking herbal medicines, choosing a special diet or even scientific and laboratory methods. This is not surprising in a country where, according to the UN's report in 2021, women are still treated as second-class citizens in Iran, both by law and society. In such cultural conditions a male child with female identity is a disgrace to most families. As a transgender woman, most of them are at risk of being rejected from family and society or getting killed by their fathers if they reveal they female identities. Baran, Haleh and Maki are three transgender women who fled from Iran to Turkey to save their lives. Since Turkish law does not grant refugees the right to stay long term, they have all applied for a UN refugee resettlement program and are now waiting to be resettled to a third country - Canada, US or Australia. The process of resettling for Haleh 28 years old, has taken seven years so far; Maki 22 years old and Baran 32 years old are in their fifth year waiting. For most of the LGBTQ refugees in Turkey, which is hosting the largest number of asylum seekers in the world, the situation is the same. living in limbo and hoping for the day of having a country to build home, which can be tomorrow or many years later. Even though the Turkish law supports Transgender's rights, but the culture in many places in Turkey, especially in the small cities where the government settle the LGBTQ refugees, won't accept them. They have repeatedly experienced physical and psychological abuse in the city where they have been given refuge. They have experienced people spitting on them, being cursed at and bullied in the street and even getting violently expelled from restaurants and bars.

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Baran (Mohsen - given name at birth), 32 years old, is an Iranian transgender woman who fled from Iran to Turkey four years ago. Until a third country - US, Canada or Australia - accept her asylum request, she is allowed to stay in Turkey but she is not allowed to leave the city without a permission.

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Baran wants to become a fashion designer when she settles in a western country. She studied political science in Iran but she couldn’t find any job as a transgender after graduating university.

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Haleh is helping Baran to dress up for a gathering. They are sharing a three bedroom apartment with Baran's boyfriend and another Iranian transgender woman who is in the similar circumstances as them.

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Baran is in a romantic relationship with an Iranian guy since six years ago, His emotional support helps Baran to suffer less from a long-distance relationship with her beloved family.

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Baran is lighting up candles in the memory of her mother who passed away last year. Her mother encouraged her to flee Iran after she got arrested by the police because of wearing female clothes at streets. 

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Baran and Haleh are posing for a picture at the beach.

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Haleh (Kamran - given name at birth), 28 years old, has been waiting in Turkey for seven years to be sent to a third country as a refugee. She fled Iran without the support of her family after being sexually and mentally abused by her boyfriend.

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Haleh is working in a women's beauty saloon. In a city where there aren’t many job’s opportunities, she needed to work hard to find a job.

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They have repeatedly experienced physical and psychological abuse not only in Iran but also in the city where they have been given refuge

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Haleh shows new pictures of herself to her Arab and Turkish LGBTQ friends.

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The most safe place for them is their house, where they are not afraid of being judged and they can happily be themselves.

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Haleh believes people’s behavior is one of the reasons that she did plastic surgeries. She is happy that her appearance matches with her identity now.

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Their house is usually a gathering place for close friends who are mostly Iranian LGBTQ refugees.

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Haleh and Baran are resting on the carpet in the living room. Baran is a humorous person and she can always change the atmosphere of the house with her jokes.

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Maki (Karim - given name at birth), 22 years old, fled Iran when her father tried to kill her because of being a transgender when she was only 17. She is from a conservative Kurdish Iranian family who cannot accept their son's transformation to a woman.

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Baran made soup for Maki one day after her rhinoplasty. They have met each other first time six years ago in a LGBTQ gathering in Iran.

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 Maki takes Baran's dogs for a walk. 

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An Iranian hairdresser who is himself an LGBT refugee, prepares Maki for her birthday party.

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Despite the difficulties that Maki endures on the way to a safe country, she has a great desire to live happily and freely.

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Maki cuts her birthday cake which is made by Baran, with her boyfriend who supports her emotionally and financially.

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Maki poses for a portrait in her bedroom. She never had a chance to go to university but she hopes to study nursing in the future.