After completing his military service as a combat soldier, Roy Menachem Ohana, 22, from the small northern Israeli town of Yokneam, realized it was time to say goodbye to Shirel, the girl was. Now he tells the moving story of his life, from kindergarten until today, sharing stories on his first crush and about his family’s reactions to the change: “I was privileged to be reborn, to get to know myself and moved myself every day.”
If you ask me, Roy, I’d tell you that in retrospect I’ve always known that I was in the wrong body. If you ask Shirel, she’d tell you that everything comes just on time. For twenty two years I lived as Shirel. It was an extremely powerful life experience. From an early age there was something wrong there. My mother, until the age of two, dressed me with dresses and ribbons, “by the book,” and I’m taking this opportunity to also apologize to her that every dress ended up in the trash. It turned out that for climbing trees and playing soccer you shouldn’t wear a dress.
I can’t put my finger on something specific and say that I realized it even then, because this wouldn’t be true, but it was just there as long as I can remember. Since kindergarten I was playing with the boys where it just felt so natural to me. It was me. Playing with things like dolls or makeup just felt strange and incomprehensible. At that age there was no ability for an explanation or making people in my environment understand that something felt incomplete, but luckily my environment was at peace with who and what I was. At about 5 years old my mother took me to buy clothes, but this time she surprisingly tried something different – she took me to the boys’ side of the store. I lost my mind out of happiness. All the suits were just perfect on me, a lot of parts were connected to this puzzle called my life. That smile that spread on my face with the suit: I think it said it all.
I’ve never felt committed to the social norms that society dictates to all of us. In fact, all my life I’ve been busy breaking glass ceilings. Whether it was soccer, where i fought for my place in the boys’ group, or later when I joined the army and served in combat. Luckily, my family also didn’t fall into these social conventions. They gave me a place to be who I was. Even if it was just thought that the ‘Tomboy’ period would pass, is didn’t pass, only intensified.
Then came the age of 15, and all of a sudden I had a boyfriend. He remained my best friend to this day. I can say that in fact I have never been in the closet, just that I guess this understanding was too much for me, and I don’t regret any stage in my life. Some would say I repressed. I just think I’ve experienced. There were no shortcuts in this train called my life. Later everything was very clear. Like I said, Shirel went through the stages one by one. When I fell in love with a woman for the first time I finally understood the meaning of love. It felt so right, even though the romance did not work out. This feeling felt like I had arrived in a safe place, so that was my first coming out of the closet.
Anyone who knows me will testify that Shirel was a strong female character, a feminist who was in control. I don’t think anyone was really surprised. In fact, one person even dared to reveal the ‘straight Shirel’ and what lay ahead. His name is Erez. I mean, his name was Erez, but even today, five years after his death, he’s so alive in me that I’m still unable to refer to him in the past tense. Erez was my teacher and my soccer coach and also very quickly became a father figure to me. He was the only one who dared to look inside me, really, and say everything he saw and what was to come. So thank you, my dear mentor.
Back to coming out: a lot of eyebrows were raised. Suddenly the rumor spread at school, in the small town of Yokneam. My best female friend was even warned that I wouldn’t hit on her, but fortunately I was smart enough to surround myself with people who saw more deeply. I was not interested in what people were saying around me. Suddenly, from an introverted and shy girl I became who I am. It was no longer expected that I follow what society dictates. I dictate the pace and my own way of life.
End of part one. Continue to part 2