Ayla grew up as a second generation Turkish German in Berlin. In the interview she shares her story about growing up in a Muslim family, running away from home as a teenager, becoming a mother and converting to Catholicism while falling in love with a woman.
Last year I went to the underground music show and I had a chance to meet a striking beauty, with the amazing voice and talent. Her name is Ayla (a pseudonym to protect her identity) and she is 31 years old, second generation Turkish German. Her story fascinated me as her life including religion and sexuality changes every few years.
This morning I called her to meet me at the café in Kreuzberg and she agreed but only if we meet at the ‘smoking café’ because it is too cold to sit outside. I agreed. I came few minutes earlier than planned and Ayla came running few minutes late for our meeting.
With the big stunning smile she apologised right away for running late as she had to drop off her teenage son to his singing lessons. After two hand rolled cigarettes and few sips of coffee she is ready to share her life story.
Lea Noa: Take us back to the time when you lived with your parents. Why did you decide to run away?
Ayla: Well, that part of my life is still the most painful one… It’s a never ending emotional rollercoaster. When I ran away from my home, I thought, “ok, I am leaving now and I will leave it all behind”, but it is not like that. They have never met my son and I kind of want them to. They have abandoned me the minute I have walked out the door 16 years ago. But I still hope that they will meet someday. I like to think positive.
My parent’s story is a typical one, they moved to Germany when they were teenagers in hope for a better life, but when they came to Berlin, they only stayed within the Turkish community. They never really integrated nor did they ever plan to do it. I remember when I was 16 years old and I was doing last minute preparations for my cousin’s wedding, sitting in the beauty salon with my cousins and aunts watching urban Berlin life on the streets through the window glass thinking to myself: “Is this really what my life will look like? Will I have to spend it only with my family and other traditional Turkish people in Berlin? I want to be outside on the street discovering life for myself!”
Soon after my cousin’s wedding my parents arranged a wedding date for me with one of my cousins. It was a done deal from their side and there was nothing else that I could have done but run away. I don’t blame them today. I try to understand their point of view and I think that they are still beautiful people but who are stuck with religion and tradition that has to be passed down the next generations.
Where did you go after you have left the house?
I stayed with my friend from school for a few weeks, then I moved to the Safe House because I was scared that my parents or cousins will find me and ‘drag’ me back home. I was also worried about my friend if they will come knocking on her door and make her tell them where I am. Many sleepless nights and stressed out days.
I had no appetite and I became too skinny during that period. But they didn’t look for me. They simply abandoned me from their life. Deep down I wanted them to find me and to apologise to me… I would have these unrealistic daydreams that we would hug each other and cry and have a two way conversation with my parents being understanding. But that never happened.
Safe house became my new home. I guess it was an ok place for few months. Everybody was very nice to me. They even provided a therapist so that was good at the time because I really needed somebody to talk to, especially a professional person to guide me. That helped me enormously.
What happened next?
Well, because I wanted to experience ‘life’ I started going out to the parties a lot, drinking, doing drugs. Like every teenager, I loved every single minute of it. Then at the party I met a beautiful man. Oh, he was the most beautiful person I have ever met in my life. He was 20 years older than me, wiser, world traveler and he knew about the world a lot more than I did. So I was taken by his intelligence and the fact that he was an atheist. It really was something that attracted me to him.
I was raised as God fearing Muslim and with so many rules. I was lucky to meet a fearless man who was enjoying life to the fullest without thinking about sins but love.
Soon after I moved in with him, we got married and we had a beautiful baby boy.
But our honeymoon phase started to struggle. Does everything that I’ve learned so far in my life goes down the garbage? I had inner conflicts.
Of course, we would still talk about religions and traditions but we both decided to raise our kid like an atheist, but with the knowledge of other religions. We want to give him the freedom to decide on his own if he wants to someday practice, um, any religion that appeals to him or not. I strongly believe that everybody should do that!
Every religion is passed down from their parents to their kids. We are all born into a religion. Everybody should have a right to decide for their own self. That’s what we are doing with our son. We are not married any more but we get along great. We share our son’s time and it is working out for all of us.
Why did you get divorced?
Because I fell in love with a woman. My ex-husband, as I’ve said earlier, is a beautiful and a very open minded person. With him I learned that we all should be as open as our hearts desire and that is what happened to me.
It was not a good turnout for him, since he is still single and was very much heartbroken but to be honest… for me it was liberating. I have never felt that kind of happiness and freedom of heart!
Have you ever had homosexual tendencies before meeting your first girlfriend?
Yes, for sure I did. When I was in grade school, I’ve had a biggest crush on my friend Nelly. I couldn't wait to see her and play with her. She was definitely my first crush. But as I was getting older, I realised that homosexuality is definitely not allowed in my religion and my community. So I have repressed the feelings that I had towards girls. I had no choice, it was a sin.
I loved my husband but when I met my girlfriend at the singing lessons, there was no denying the feelings. The sparks were there since we looked at each other (pauses and lights up another cigarette). Because of her I even converted to Catholicism.
Was it important to her that you convert to Catholicism?
I was crazy in love with her at the time and that love made me fall in love with Christianity as well.
She was a complete opposite of me. Born and raised in a small village of Bavaria. Blond, blue eyed, a nice Catholic girl.
I loved her beyond the words and I was ready to do anything for her. I mean we’re talking about spending our lives together and for me at the time it made sense to make her happy.
I am sure I know a lot more about Catholicism than your average ‘only on Christmas church goers’. I loved learning and it was a special time for me. Everybody welcomed me with their open hearts. I still keep in touch with some of the people from the church.
How did you manage a conflict between two complex identities - a non-traditional sexual preference and religious identity?
There was no conflict in the beginning. At home, we couldn’t take hands off of each other. We even did it in a church. Luckily nobody saw us (laughs). None of our friends from the Church knew about us. I mean they probably figured it out but we didn’t talk about it. But we did start spending all of our free time involved in church activities and that’s when relationship took a deep religious turn. It took over our relationship. All the talks about sexual immorality or sexual sins and how to make ourselves feel ok without feeling the shame. It was too much for her soul.
She couldn't deal with it anymore. We had to break up.
What did you do after you left your girlfriend?
Well, first thing I did is I went to Goa, India for a Trance festival party with my friend (laughs and lights up yet another cigarette). I was there for only 10 days, but those 10 days changed my life.
I felt the power of spiritual presence. It was a true spiritual awakening. When I got back to Berlin, I realised that I needed time for myself, without the influence of my parents, ex-husband, ex-girlfriend, anybody. I was spending all of my free time with my son and my music.
What have you learned from the world’s biggest religions and homosexuality from your own personal experience?
All religions and spiritual traditions are the same. They are all about: One Love! That’s how I see it.
But homosexuality is still not accepted and that is pretty frustrating. That is why I am on discovery of my own spiritual path.