The Woman Who Laid Down on Barbed Wires for the Gay Community

“When I came to Tel Aviv as a frightened, feminine boy, Goldstein was the one who looked at me and said: ‘You’ll have a great success in the future, but for now you go back home to your mother.’ With great pain, the time has come to say goodbye to a pioneer woman who lay down on barbed wire for the gay community – and never stop loving.” Celebrity hairstylist Miki Buganim tries to explain to those who didn’t know her who Gila Goldstein was.

“It hurts me, but I don’t give a damn. I’m the queen although I have no crown.” These are the lyrics of a song by Gila Goldstein Z”L, who forever will be remembered as the first transgender woman in Israel. Yesterday, after a painful struggle – she passed away and left behind quite a few subjects who were captured by the grace of their queen. Why do I say subjects? Because it was enough to pass by every night in her neighborhood coffee shop in Tel Aviv, on the corner of King George and Nevi’im, to understand the magnitude of the phenomenon, the influence of this woman and her strength.

Even when she was close to the age of 70, she was still spending her nights at the Tel Aviv cafes, laughing, making noise and mostly making the group of people surrounding her happy. Her group included gays, lesbians, drag queens and transgender veterans, alongside those just starting the process and seeking guidance from the one who raised generations. Yes, Gila was the queen of them all – and she always made sure everyone knew it.

I am writing this column because quite a few people who are not from the community asked me about Gila and what she had done. Also, there were some people from the community who don’t really understand why we should glorify and praise her name. So let me introduce you to Gila Goldstein: a grandiose, colorful and loud woman, kind, special and smart, intelligent and especially one who cared about others.

The Gila I knew was the real Gila, underneath all the layers and barriers surrounding her. The Gila I knew took care of every one who needed it. Even a decade after leaving Tel Baruch [known prostitution location], she still would go back there just to feed the cats-she took care of them for years, even on rainy days. Gila has never given up on anyone who mattered to her, and therefore, we should not give up her legacy and the sincere appreciation for her.

We shouldn’t remember only the nightly screaming or that she worked as a prostitute for a living. We should not violate the death of the woman who contributed so much to the gay community in Israel, who broke and paved, with her own hands and ten fingers, the way for the entire community and especially for the transgender community. Sure, now we can walk proud with heads up on the streets without fear, but in the past, it was she and her friends who received curses, beatings, spitting, and stabbings, only because they were transgender-but kept being visible and never gave up their identity.

Nora Grinberg: “And something more about Gila. Gila was crazy, in the best sense of the word, as might emerge from a Fellini film, or the pages of Rabelais, with her enormous appetite for company and for attention. She was real, even when as she made herself act like a kook. She had spirit, an ability to rise above the trite and the trivial, and a great sense of humor about all that is ridiculous and absurd in the “respectable” world. She knew how to laugh at herself, and under her performances and her shticks hid an extraordinary ability to recognize bullshit and pretense. In a less fucked up world than that which she had to live in, she would have become a great artist. Fate gave her bad cards. She had to fight to survive, and indeed fought hard, not only for physical survival, but also to protect her human dignity. She insisted on living by her truth in a cruel and excluding world that would not see her humanity. This intransigence of hers is the hallmark of heroes, and indeed, Gila Goldstein was a hero.”

When I first arrived in Tel Aviv as a fearful feminine boy, I admit I didn’t understand who she was and what she wanted, but I quickly fell for her magic, I fell in love with her personality. And Gila, behind the madness of appearance and her vulgar screaming – she was a sharp woman, someone who identified fake from miles away, a brilliant woman who knew how to identify the right border of each person standing in front of her, avoiding hurting a soul.

So before sending you to your final rest, I want to tell you, Gila, what is happening right now in our community and across the web. Hundreds of men, women and youth write moving posts and stories about you, share their acquaintances with you, grieve and mourn your passing. But mostly, Gila my love, they mostly cherish your work for our community. You have done what many other people haven’t done, and what a lot of people didn’t even know about. You were all one big heart, and unfortunately, this heart stopped beating. This big heart that contained so much – betrayed you and left us orphans without a queen.

My dear friend, my queen, I’ll say goodbye to you as you would have wanted. No tears and sorrow, but with lots of love, appreciation and joy. And I’ll finish with a quote from your famous song: “All the girls want to be like Gila, you’re the biggest, it’s what they tell you.” Farewell, Queen, rest in peace.