Israel’s first transgender beauty pageant took place this week. The interfaith pageant featured twelve Jewish, Muslim and Christian babes all vying for the title of Miss Trans Israel.
The winners included a Jewish confectioner from an Orthodox Jerusalem family, a Muslim belly-dancer from Tel Aviv and a Christian Arab ballerina from Nazareth.
Taleen Abu Hanna, 21, was thrilled to win the crown. “Our country deserves to come out on top. Our country allowed me, a Christian Arab from Nazareth, to end the war between my soul and my body. So if it made peace for me, our country is only a country of peace,” says the optimistic beauty queen.
While others may contest that statement, Israel has some of the most LGBTQIA-friendly culture and laws. Israel even has openly gay and transgender troops in its conscript military.
“Israeli people like transgenders but they don’t have enough information about transgenders,” pageant judge Efrat Tilma told Reuters.
That said, any space where Orthodoxy is king can be a dangerous place for LGBTQIA folks simply trying to live their lives.
Not all the contestants came from supportive homes and communities. Muslim contestant Carolin Khoury described violent reactions to her trans identity from her family. “The Israeli police helped me to move out of my home, and despite all of the bad situations, I came through, I kept moving toward my dream, and here I am now,” she told Reuters. “This competition will open the door for some people.”
Khoury says that she hopes the beauty pageant will “send a message to the Arab communities in Israel or abroad, to accept the other.”
Hanna will go on to compete for the world title in Barcelona this September.