With her long legs, piercing green eyes, high cheekbones, plump pink lips and lustrous black hair, Talleen Abu Hanna has all the looks of a model. Actually, Abu Hanna is a beauty queen. Last week the 21-year-old beat out 11 finalists to win Miss Trans Israel, Israel’s first transgender beauty pageant. Aside from its holy sites and holy wars, Israel is also known for being one of the world’s most gay-friendly countries. The 18th annual Tel Aviv Pride Parade is expected to draw nearly 200,000 participants, of which an estimated 35,000 will fly in from abroad, according to the Tel Aviv municipality.
Tel Aviv’s is among the biggest pride parades in the world, and certainly the largest in the Middle East, where being gay isn’t typically celebrated. For those who wish to showcase the relative freedom and tolerance enjoyed by Israel’s LGBT community, Talleen Abu Hanna is an ideal model. Born and raised in Nazareth, the childhood home of Jesus Christ, Abu Hanna is a Catholic Israeli Arab. 6 million Arab citizens, she calls herself Palestinian as well. But ask her where she’d rather live, and her response is swift. Not as a gay man, and definitely not as a transgender woman. She recalls how in Thailand, where she completed her gender transition surgery just one year ago, she met many transgender women from Arab countries. Back home, they told her, they had to disguise themselves as men. Homosexuality is considered a crime in many countries. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen are just a few whose penalties for homosexuality include death and lashings.
Abu Hanna, ticking off each of her long fingernails the rights she’s been given as a transgender Israeli woman: people refer to her with female pronouns, her Israeli ID card says that she is female and she can enter retirement at a younger age. After all, it is impossible for same-sex couples to marry in Israel, as marriage is overseen by religious courts. Same-sex couples are also barred from Israel’s surrogacy process, which leaves many couples no choice but to pay exorbitant amounts of money for foreign surrogates. There are also many social challenges facing transgender women, says Yuval Egertt, director of the Tel Aviv municipality’s LGBT center. Just last year, an ultra-Orthodox Jew attacked participants in Jerusalem’s Gay Pride Parade with a butcher knife, killing a 16-year-old girl. He had just been released from prison, where he was serving time for stabbing marchers at the same parade in 2005. While Abu Hanna’s mother, sisters and friends all accept her — she’s been female since she was 5, she jokes, explaining that she was a ballerina and often dressed as a girl — her father hasn’t spoken to her since she underwent sex reassignment surgery.
Other women in the competition had it much worse. According to the pageant’s producer, Shenhav Levi, both of the Muslim finalists were beaten and exiled by their families. Caroline Khouri, a 24-year-old from the Arab-Israeli village of Tamra, fled her home after her male relatives threatened to kill her for transitioning from man to woman. Her father, uncles and cousins chased her to Tel Aviv, where they tied her up inside an apartment, beat her, cut her hair, and starved her for three days. Israeli police rescued Khouri and imprisoned her attackers. She now has no connection to her family, says Levi. Abu Hanna works at a clothing store owned by a transgender designer, but according to Egertt, many trans women face discrimination in housing and employment, leading many in the trans community to resort to prostitution. Talleen Abu Hanna insists she is merely describing the reality she knows, and isn’t trying to sugarcoat anything. Of course there are problems here, and I’m still Palestinian, but what I’ve gotten here I couldn’t get anywhere else.
TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice. Radu Albot on Sunday lifts his first ATP Tour trophy in Delray Beach after defeating Daniel Evans in the final. Radu Albot was on the verge of defeat on Sunday in his first ATP Tour final. But the Moldovan saved three championship points against Daniel Evans to triumph at the Delray Beach Open by VITACOST. At the beginning of the year, the 29-year-old aimed to break into the Top 50 of the ATP Rankings, and on Monday he will climb to a career-high No. Albot also made Moldovan history, becoming the first player from his country to lift an ATP Tour title. How does it feel to be holding your first ATP Tour trophy? You work so much, you work your whole life, your whole career and at the end you win a tournament.