In the spring, a year after transitioning from male to female, Talleen Abu Hanna became Israel’s first transgender beauty queen, winning the Miss Trans Israel pageant. As she prepares for Miss Trans Star International, in Barcelona, Spain, on Sept. 17, Miss Abu Hanna shares her unique story with the New York Times, and hopes to become a ‘seed of hope’ for transgender people in Arab countries.
When Talleen Abu Hanna was a boy in Nazareth, an Arab city in Israel, he gave up karate and took up ballet. As a teenager, he stole his mother’s makeup and his sister’s dresses. He and his buddies would change in gas stations outside town, then party at nearby gay clubs.
“They would see boys going in, and we would put on our eye shadow, our wigs and skirts and dresses, and walk out and say, ‘Hiiii,’ ” Ms. Abu Hanna, 21, said in a recent interview, drawing out the last word.
In her teenage days, she said, she favored a look she described as Arab kitsch — heavy eyeliner, blush and foundation, topped with a cheap wig. After returning home, she had to remember to bite off her fake nails and replace her sparkly iPhone covers with plain leather ones.
But it was at one of those parties, when she was 15 or so, that Ms. Abu Hanna met a woman who told her that she used to be a man. Laughing, Ms. Abu Hanna asked her friends what “that lady” was smoking. Her friends, laughing as well, explained gender reassignment surgery to her.
The explanation came as a revelation to Ms. Abu Hanna, who had always assumed she would live her life as a very effeminate gay man. “I said: OMG, really? Seriously?” she said. “There are people who are like me? And then the idea came in my head, and I held on to it like a rope that would save me.”
In the spring, a year after transitioning from male to female, Ms. Abu Hanna became Israel’s first transgender beauty queen, winning the Miss Trans Israel pageant, a Swarovski-studded crown that barely made it over her hair-sprayed updo, and something she values more: visibility, for herself and for a cause she believes in.
“She was so beautiful, impressive,” said Israela Lev, a transgender activist who organized the pageant and initially spotted Ms. Abu Hanna at a sushi restaurant in a mall.