Lauren Hertz and Daniel Brosh still aren’t sure who kissed the other first. It was on their first date, but that was eight years ago. They danced in a bar, Lauren says, “and I drank, and we danced, then he suddenly came and kissed me.”
Daniel: “Wrong. She kissed me. I was just dancing near her. She’s the one who made the move and kissed.” Lauren, 49, is a transgender woman. Her partner Daniel, who is 20 years younger, is a transgender man. They live in south Tel Aviv and are in the midst of the surrogacy process, which is happening abroad. They’re expecting twins.
I’d heard a lot about love stories, but this one intrigued me and drew me in. I never thought that two transgender people could fall in love and build a family. Even I, as a part of this community, was surprised. I’m on my way to see them, and I have so many questions. Meanwhile, I entertain the thought that maybe, out of fear, we’re missing out on love stories like theirs.
Your story raises lots of questions about transgender love. You both underwent a sex change at some point in life and embarked on your journey, and along the way you met and became a couple. How did you meet?
Daniel: “I saw her when I was still a 16-year-old girl, when I would wander around Meir Park. This was 13 years ago. They sometimes had activities at the [Tel Aviv LGBTQ] Center next to Meir Park. So I would see her there walking with this upright dancer’s posture – Lauren used to be a dancer – with poofy hair and two dogs. She would stroll along just like a duchess, with her hand outstretched in front of her. I was really thrilled by her. A year or two later, I also found her Facebook profile. I added her as a Facebook friend but there wasn’t any interaction.”
Daniel came out as a lesbian at age 12, and as transgender at age 19, during his army service
All this was before you transitioned?
“Yes, it was when I was a girl. I had the hots for her, but I thought, ‘Fine, there’s no chance. I’m a girl and there’s no way she’s a lesbian.’ I was still really trying not to be trans. I mean, at 16 I knew that I had some kind of gender problem, and up until then I was a tomboy, and then suddenly I made this switch, I reversed course, like I was trying to run in the opposite direction. I started wearing make-up, wearing heels, wearing dresses and so on. I badly wanted to be a feminine woman, so that God forbid, even by accident, I wouldn’t slip up and become trans. I was terrified of it, until at some point it comes knocking at your door.”
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Daniel came out as a lesbian at age 12, and as transgender at age 19, during his army service. “About a year after I came out as trans, I went out to a club and I saw Lauren there,” he says. “I knew from Facebook that her name was Lauren Hertz, but I’d never spoken to her. So like a little kid I just went over to her and gazed up from my 1.58 meters (5’2”) at her 1.81 meters (5’9”) and said, like some kind of creep, ‘Are you Lauren Hertz?’ And it’s not like she was on television or anything like that.” He told her that she was pretty, she thanked him “and then I ran out of there,” Daniel continues. “But later on, that same night, I sent her a message on Facebook, and two days later, we went out on our first date.”
Did you realize that he was hitting on you?
Lauren: “Not at all. That was the last thing I would have thought. I understood that he was trans.”
Daniel: “I was still at a very androgynous stage. I didn’t have an identity.”
Lauren: “When anyone from the community wants to talk to me, I answer right away and am glad to talk.”
They went out to a café, and then went dancing. Lauren admits that until then, she never thought she’d date a trans man. “I didn’t think about it in a positive or negative way. I just didn’t think about it. I wasn’t in the system.”
Daniel: “For her, it was like a straight guy not considering a trans girl as an option.”
They slept in the same bed that first night, but nothing happened between them. “He was drunk,” Lauren explains. “I was afraid he would drive home.”
Daniel: “I didn’t drink.”
Lauren: “Yeah, right. But that’s it. We slept, nothing happened. I was also terrified, because when we were sitting in the café, he told me, ‘I did the first surgery and I have two more stages to go.’ And I thought, ‘Wait, what’s there?’ That’s what was going through my head.”
Which is very nosy.
Lauren: “I didn’t have the guts to ask, because I don’t like when people do it to me, so why should I do it to him? So I didn’t ask, but it made me nervous. And then I began to understand what a straight guy who hits on me, who goes out with me, goes through. Whenever a guy would tell me, ‘Whoa, that confuses me,’ I didn’t have patience for it. And then I suddenly understood: Wait a minute – That’s what happens to them? But we got over it pretty quickly. At some point we started talking about it and then it was easier, of course.”
Daniel: “But there were a lot of communication breakdowns.”
We’re women with a difference, in my opinion. First of all, I grew up in a certain way, I was exposed to all kinds of things men are exposed to
How was that first night for you? What was going through your head?
Daniel: “I was enthusiastic. I was like this excited little boy. I think I was less alarmed than she was. I don’t usually respond with shock to unfamiliar situations.”
You were basically thinking, “I snagged the hottest babe in town.”
Daniel: “Yes, that too. As a lesbian, I was in a relationship with a trans woman.”
What were the first problems that came up in your relationship with Lauren?
Daniel: “She had never been with a guy who didn’t have male genitalia. And I didn’t yet have male genitalia at the time that we met; the surgery was only about six months later, and there were complications, and it was a long time before I was able to use my penis. And I think that when a couple begins a relationship, and is supposed to be having all kinds of sexual activity every day – which is usually what happens at the start of a relationship – that was something we had to overcome. Because it developed gradually, rather than being super passionate right at the start. There was a lot of insecurity and misunderstanding. Also, I was 21 when we got into this relationship.”
Lauren: “There was desire, and there was a gap in realizing this desire.”
Daniel: “And there were lots of arguments, too. And there were breakups in the middle.”
Lauren: “A lot of them.”
What does a new transgender couple argue about?
Lauren: “Wow, what didn’t we argue about? Everything from washing the dishes in the sink, the banal fights that every couple has, to insecurity complexes of because of our bodies. When I had my surgery, it was like my whole world shook. You know you’re going to go through something difficult, but you don’t understand how hard it really is until you go through it. Whether it’s the preparations for the area that’s being operated on, or the question of what it says about me, how attractive am I now. You have to get to know your body all over again. And it’s stressful. You’re used to being with something a certain way for 40 years and suddenly it’s not there anymore. It’s like there’s something else. You long for this surgery to happen, you want it, but it’s different. You don’t know how to handle it, and it’s stressful.”
Daniel: “Each person in a relationship like this is an individual, and had their personal things that aren’t always easy to overcome. Each person also has their own desires and fantasies about what’s going to happen to them in life, and sometimes you feel like, enough, you can’t connect the two.”
What made you overcome the setbacks? Who groveled to whom?
Daniel: “I think Lauren had a lot of patience in the relationship. She had the patience to maybe wait until I matured and understood.”
Lauren: “On one hand, I really loved him, but on the other, he could also be very annoying. I mean, like, to the point where you want kill him.”
Daniel: “You were really annoying, too.”
Lauren: “Yeah, probably.”
Daniel: “To this day, by the way.”
It feels like I’m at couples therapy.
Lauren: “But I understood that there are things he has to go through as a young guy discovering the world, things that I’d already been through, that were behind me.”
There’s a 20-year age difference between you.
Lauren: “Yes. He gets all excited about going out to a club and I’m like, ‘Leave me alone, I don’t have the energy right now.’ And he wants us to do it together. Things like that. Now, I understand his passion and his desire and I won’t limit him, but I also can’t keep up with that. That’s a banal example, but there are other more substantial things, like where I’m at in life. I’m not in the same place. I need my stability.”
Daniel, take me back to the first day you realized that you’d fallen in love with her.
Daniel: “Before the first date, I was already in love with her.”
So you showed up in love.
“I showed up in love, with butterflies in my stomach, for our first date. And I’ve never stopped loving her.”
Who was the first person you told about your relationship?
Lauren: “I told everyone right away.”
Lauren: “In my family, they said, ‘What? How old is he?’ He looked like a kid.”
Daniel: “Because I looked like I was 13 years old at the start.”
And everyone was accepting?
Lauren: “No, it depends. My family was accepting, by they were just surprised by his age.”
Daniel: “Only on her side. My family wasn’t surprised by the age difference.”
And your friends?
Lauren: “There were some who raised their eyebrows, as if to say, ‘But why?’”
Like, “You went through this whole change and in the end you’re going out with a trans guy?”
Lauren: “The worst reactions were from the trans guys.”
Daniel: “No, I think trans guys are less judgmental. Trans women are a much more judgmental community.”
Trans women are more judgmental than trans men?
So you’ve been together for eight years now?
Daniel: “Yes, we met in December 2012.”
And how long after that was your first breakup?
Lauren: “Not long at all. After about a month or two.”
It was a broken-hearted type of breakup?
If the environment is very difficult and unaccepting, I don’t know whether my best advice to that boy would be ‘come out now’ or ‘wait a little’
Daniel: “No, these were like two-day breakups.”
Lauren: “He would have a mood swing, not speak to me for two days and then come back. And I could deal with it.”
Daniel: “She would say very harsh things, and I wasn’t used to that, but I gradually got used to it. What else could I do?”
One of the biggest challenges for you has to do with your decisions to have children together. Which one of you was the first to talk about children?
Lauren: “I was.”
Daniel: “Yes, when Lauren transitioned she thought that was it, that she would never have children. And I really wanted a family of my own, to make a switch in life. Three years ago, I started fertility treatments with the thought that I would have a child myself. Because I don’t have a womb, I had a procedure where they harvested my eggs.”
After further treatment with injections, the eggs that were harvested from Daniel’s body were frozen. “And then, when Lauren and I got back together, we started talking about having a child together.”
Lauren: “I think we also got back together because of that. We were interviewed together for some program, and then he realized how much I actually wanted children. I’d always said, ‘I don’t want them,’ because I didn’t want to deal with it, but there I was asked the question, and I suddenly answered with how I really felt. And somehow that’s what ended up connecting us again.”
What stage are things at now?
Daniel: “We were recently told that two embryos were successfully implanted in the surrogate abroad and we’re expecting twins! But before all of that, the fertility treatments we did were covered by the national health insurance. I was considered a female, even though I’m listed as a male today in my ID. I contacted the Health Ministry after Maccabi, my health maintenance organization, said they didn’t know how to deal with it. The ministry said, ‘We’ll consider you a female with fertility problems,’ because I have no womb but I have ovaries. So it’s all covered. We finish that whole process, and Lauren and I are preparing for surrogacy. We call and send an email to the Health Ministry’s surrogacy committee, and we get a reply: ‘We are unwilling to consider your application. Have a nice day.’”
Daniel: “I pick up the phone – I have a recording of it, too – and I say to the woman, ‘What’s this supposed to mean? You’ve got a man and a woman, a straight couple on the face of it, and it’s been done before. Why won’t you consider our application?’ And she says, ‘Because it says in our regulations that the eggs must come from the woman.’ When they wrote the regulations back in the 1980s, no one thought of writing that the eggs must belong to one member of the couple, because at that time no one thought we’d ever get to a situation like this. But she says, if you have the Interior Ministry change your gender back to female, then we can consider your application.’”
And you didn’t agree?
Daniel: “Didn’t agree? It’s not something I can do. In order to have the Interior Ministry change my gender, I have to go to doctors and tell them I want to go back to being a woman, to pretend, to dress in women’s clothing, to obtain confirmation that I’m in the process of returning to be a woman, and then go get that stamped by the Health Ministry, and then go to the Interior Ministry, change my gender back to female, and then if I want to change back to male, there’s no guarantee they’d let me.”
Lauren: “The worst thing in this whole story is that right now, at Ichilov Hospital, there is a special clinic for fertility preservation for trans men. But then when people want to use their eggs, the Health Ministry says, ‘No, now you have to look out for yourselves.’”
Daniel: “I also said to her, ‘How can you give me treatments that are included in the health basket and then not consider our application? So what does she say to me? – ‘If you think the right hand knows what the left hand is doing, you’re mistaken.’”
(The Health Ministry issued a response: “The case is known to us and is under examination. For reasons of privacy, we cannot comment further.”)
Since adoption is also not an option for a trans couple, they turned to surrogacy. This is an expensive undertaking that costs hundreds of thousands of shekels, so they started a crowdfunding campaign, hoping to raise enough to fulfill their desire to be parents.
How long have you been in this process now?
Lauren: “It got a bit delayed because of the coronavirus. More than six months.”
Are you excited? Scared?
Lauren: “Everything at once.”
Daniel: “Yes, excited, because we know it’s going to completely change our lives in every direction.”
What sort of reactions are you getting about having kids?
Lauren: “A lot of people are very excited for us.”
Daniel: “Very supportive.”
A child with two transgender parents – that’s something that hasn’t happened before.
Daniel: “Not in Israel.”
Are you thinking about the day after the children get here?
Lauren: “I’m looking forward to the day after.”
Are you thinking about what will happen when your children are old enough to ask questions?
Daniel: “I know kids who have one trans parent, and these kids are growing up to be very smart and very understanding, because everything is explained to them from a young age. It’s not like the children of straight people, where things are hidden from them so as not to offend them, God forbid.”
Lauren: “I think that kids today are a lot smarter. The information is so accessible.”
Daniel: “We really want to stay in Tel Aviv so the children will grow up in a more tolerant and accepting environment.”
She had never been with a guy who didn’t have male genitalia. And I didn’t yet have male genitalia at the time that we met
A never-ending process
Daniel was born in Haifa, “but my parents were in the middle of a posting to Cairo,” he says. “My father worked for the Foreign Ministry. So by the time I was 22 days old, I was already back in Cairo, until age 3, and then again from age 5 to 9. From 12 to 16 I was in Toronto, and since then I’ve been in Israel. It characterizes my childhood, the moves, and I didn’t have extended family around. It was me and my sister, and mom and dad.”
When did you feel that something about you was different? Or that something about your body wasn’t what you really wanted it to be?
Daniel: “For me it happened late, at age 16. I discovered my sexual attraction to women at age 12.”
And you thought you were a lesbian.
Daniel: “Yes, and that’s what I was familiar with. At 16, I think I saw a few trans guys, and I really didn’t relate. But it was constantly on my mind. And when I came back to Israel from Toronto, I met a transgender girl, and she told me a little about what she had been through – she was just beginning the process. And I felt this identification with what she was describing. And then I was very angry at myself for even daring to think something like that. The whole time I was trying to convince myself that that’s not me. I tried to not be that. In the end, I came out of the closet.
“But within the family I grew up in, I understood that it was very unusual to be gay or a lesbian. They didn’t talk about being transgender at all. But I do remember that when I was little and they showed [the trans pop singer] Dana International on television, the first thing my parents said about her was, ‘That’s a man.’ And I’m looking at her and I see a woman. That was the superficial understanding of it. It goes without saying that my parents are in a different place now.
“I told a trans woman I met at 16, ‘I’m trans too, but I will never do anything about it.’ That was the first time it was so stark. But over the next four years I was accompanied by feelings of ‘Why? What did you base this realization on?’ Until I was in the middle of my army service, almost 20, and I felt that I was really backed into a corner, that I could already do more.”
At 20 you were still a female soldier?
Daniel: “Yes. Three months before my 20th birthday I came out of the closet as trans and made it clear to those around me that I was going to go through several processes. That same month I began to take hormones.”
Daniel says he was met with a great deal of understanding and lifesaving help from the mental health officer he turned to. “The first months of the hormonal process are very hard. You become suicidal, sad, angry. You’re a 20-year-old who is experiencing the mega-hormonal reversal of a 12-year-old.”
Who was the first person you told about your decision?
Daniel: “The mental health officer. But immediately after her, my parents.”
How did your parents take it?
Daniel: “I wrote some sort of poem and I went and just read it to my mom and dad. And I began to cry. My mom says that it didn’t come as a surprise, because it turns out that during those four years that I struggled with myself, I asked her: ‘Mom, what would you do if I have a sex change operation?’
“My dad told me: ‘A man wouldn’t cry if he recited that poem.’ All the time he gave me examples of things that I do and how they’re really not masculine. It took my father a very long time to understand that this process was solid. And he became the most supporting dad in the world. My mom went through a very long process to accept it, even though she really wanted to accept it from the beginning.”
And how did your friends respond?
Daniel: “I lost a few friends. I think it was hard for them to deal with it.”
Were those friends women?
Daniel: “No. I think actually more friends from the [LGBTQ] community. I think that a lot of times maybe people from the community, it disturbs them, what it says about them as gays or lesbians when they maybe come close to trans people. It disturbs their [concept of] gender.”
Would you recommend to young people reading this article to come out early to their family? Should they first get a sense of the lay of the land, or put themselves first and come out at any price?
Lauren: “I think that living in peace with ourselves is the most important thing. If the environment is very difficult and unaccepting, I don’t know whether my best advice to that boy would be ‘come out now’ or ‘wait a little.’ It’s hard to decide when it comes to someone else. I came out at a very young age and it had its price.”
Trauma and activism
I want to begin a sentence and you’ll complete it.
To be a transgender woman in Israel is –
Lauren: “Amazing. Really, with all the difficulty. We are very independent women. We are really something else. With all due respect, we’re not 100 percent biologically female, and there’s something we bring with us, our ability to look at things differently.”
Are you connected to being transgender? Because there are a lot of trans women who – and I respect this of course – are women in every way, like any biological woman, and there’s no difference. Do you think so too? Or you think that we’re women with a difference?
Lauren: “We’re women with a difference, in my opinion. First of all, I grew up in a certain way, I was exposed to all kinds of things men are exposed to, never women. So that influences you, your ability to look at things. A trans woman has the woman and the trans within her. The transition has an influence, it turned us into who we are today. It begins with our biology, that we can’t really give birth to children by ourselves.”
Is our country good to trans women?
Lauren: “Partly. There’s a lot to be done to improve. In terms of legislation. I’ve attended all kinds of meetings at the Knesset and I’ve been shocked.”
Lauren, who works as a cosmetician, is also a social activist and is among the founders of the LGBTQ Center in Tel Aviv, which provides guidance and assistance to transgender women in social, medical and other areas.
You got married in Las Vegas in September. Who proposed to whom?
Lauren: “Daniel proposed to me.”
When did you propose?
Daniel: “Did we fly for your operation or mine?”
Ah, another operation.
Daniel: “We went…”
Lauren: “From operation to operation.”
Daniel: “We landed in San Francisco and it was Christmas, one minute before the coronavirus. So I took her to the hotel, there was an amazing Christmas display, and near the huge tree, I knelt down.”
Lauren: “He played a trick on me because he knows that I love this holiday, and so he told me, ‘There’s an amazing display, come on.’ And near the big Christmas tree he starts telling me all kinds of terribly romantic things.”
Daniel: “Then she says to me: ‘What, are you proposing?’”
Lauren: “I ruined the whole proposal.”
On the contrary, look how you both remember it.
Lauren: “And then everybody, all those Americans, they were so sweet –”
Daniel: “Everybody applauded –”
Lauren: “They clapped. And I went as red as a tomato.”
If I come to interview you again in five years, where will I find you? Or where will you want to be?
Lauren: “In our apartment.”
Daniel: “Amen. Amen.”
Lauren: “With twins. Or come to my business. I’ll be busy making a living for them, for all those children.”