Talleen Abu Hanna joined israel360 and JewishBoston to record a podcast. She told us of her childhood, her awakening upon moving to Tel Aviv and, of course, how to take a good selfie. Highlights from our conversation are below. Hear the podcast on israel360.org.

israel360: You won the first Miss Trans Israel Pageant in 2016. Tell us about that experience.

Talleen: It was so fun for me; it was such a triumph for me and I don’t think in all my life to be a beauty queen because in Israel this was the first competition in the history of the country. And when I remember myself, I think…all the time I say, “OK, I go to that normal pageant queen in Israel but I can’t because I’m transgender.” And when I see something like this I say, “Oh wow, I have to go, not for win, only for fun, to live this moment because I love stage.” I’m a dancer and I all the time be on the stage and when I do my transition I stop to do something like this to be on the stage or dance or something. And this is a competition; it gave me the chance to be back on the stage and this is what I feel that I have to be all the time because I love stage. And it was so, so exciting and I think that I helped push back against the transphobia. I want to show the people that we are transgender women, that we are beautiful, we are smart, and we can be with everyone and can be equal.

Talleen Abu Hanna
(Courtesy Talleen Abu Hanna)

israel360: Being LGBTQ in the Middle East can be a scary prospect. What was it like for you going from your home in Nazareth to Tel Aviv?

Talleen: Israel is a country that lets you be who you are, to give you the chance to be yourself and choose what you want to be. You can wear whatever you want and be who you are. And in the [rest of] Middle East it’s so conservative. You have to be like everyone and in Tel Aviv really give me to be myself and give me the voice to tell my story and to be who I am. And it’s really, really helped me to live and to breathe and to be what I need to be and to understand that I’m not sick or something, that I’m a human like everyone and it’s OK to be trans, it’s OK to be gay. It’s not a big thing and you can live your life and what I say, be who you are.

israel360: You realized at an early age that you were born in the wrong body. How did your family, friends and community respond?

Talleen: I remember myself from very young that I was born a baby girl. I say that all the time. I really, I remember myself. I born like a normal baby girl and for my family it was a baby boy but it was so funny and fun to see that little boy so feminine like this. I would dance all the time and I would take my sister’s dresses and it was so cute. And my family, my mom, or my uncle, take my photo picture and say, “Oh, you’re cute!” It was…firstly, it’s so fun but when I got to age 14, here everything could change. Because when you get 14, you have to be more boyish. You have to act like a man. And here, my family, everything here, it changed because my father started to tell me, “Act like a man. Be a man.” Or my sister, my uncle and the students in my school started to yell at me and say hateful things. And it was so hard for me because I don’t understand really what I did wrong. All my life I was normal, but now everyone changed the way they thought about me and I didn’t understand. It was so, so, so hard for me because I no have answer for them.

My sister, my uncle, and the students in my school started to yell at me and say hateful things. And it was so hard for me because I don’t understand really what I did wrong.

israel360: You’ve talked about room for improvement in terms of LGTBQ rights in Israel. What changes need to be made?

Talleen: I love all of the progress because it gives us more hope, but I would like to have a chance to get married.

israel360: You’re in a place now where you get to travel the world talking about your story. What are you looking to do in the future?

Talleen: I have to get a good job. I want to have a family. I hope to have children with my boyfriend and to be in a big family. My dream now is to have a child, a boy child, and to give him my father’s name.

Hear the entire conversation (and read the transcript) at israel360.