'Being Unique Is Much More Than Being Pretty': Israeli Transgender Model Dreams Big

26-year-old Dorin Edri's father disowned her when she transitioned, but that changed after she refused to 'hide my femininity for a moment.' She's no Bar Refaeli, she says, but now aims for a Vogue cover

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Israeli transgender model Dorin Ederi, in Tel Aviv, July 2020
Transgender model Dorin Ederi in Tel Aviv, this month. "'I’m not a fantasy. I’m not an experience. I’m not an amusement park. I’m Dorin. I’m a human being who wants to meet someone." Credit: Photo by Meged Gozani, at the Brown TLV Hotel; styling by Israel Rahmani; makeup by Oree Klachman
Itay Stern
Itay Stern
Itay Stern
Itay Stern

There are things that become clear already when you’re a child. For example, at the age of four children learn to start lying and to figure out what their wishes are. Transgender model Dorin Ederi also had wishes as a child, which she shared with her older sister.

“I saw her as an inspiring figure,” she says in a Zoom conversation from her home in Tel Aviv’s trendy Florentin neighborhood. “I always wanted to be her, to do what she did. To wear what she wore. To put on makeup the way she did. At the age of four and a half, I already started wearing a dress of hers. I remember it very clearly: It was a black dress with sunflowers, the height of fashion. I wore it and felt the most me in the world. A four-year-old boy doesn’t know what his gender is and what gay is and what trans is: He simply experiences himself.”

Ederi, with her springy mane of curls and permanent impish smile, is the transgender woman you didn’t know. She was born 26 years ago in Kiryat Shmona, in northern Israel, to a father who worked for Israel Military Industries and a mother who was a housewife – both of them deaf, as are her older brother and sister. She herself is also hard of hearing. She uses a special hearing aid, concealed under the proud Afro she's been sporting for the past four years.

She calls sign language her “mother tongue,” but conducts the regular conversation between breezily and effortlessly. Her given name was Dor. She has no problem talking about it.

“Ask whatever you want,” she says at the start of the interview. “Tough questions. Easy questions. I’m not afraid.”

Ederi, at least on first glance, looks fireproof. That wasn’t always the case. When she was a “freaky” boy (as she puts it) dressed in black, she found it difficult to make it home after school without encountering bullies. Her feminine mannerisms made her an object of ridicule.

“There was a park that led to my home and there were some kids who waited for me at the corner and splashed water on me when I passed by," she recalls.

Edri in a photo shoot for a Reebok campaign. "Over the years I realized I was in the wrong body. I felt imprisoned in a body that wasn’t mine."Credit: Ran Yehezkel

"I would return home all wet, and my mother would ask me what happened, and I would say that we had a water fight, in order not to make a big deal of it. Once I was very ashamed of my parents. Because they were deaf they were often ridiculed, and I didn’t want to burden them with the fact that there are people who thought that they had a son who was a homo. That it wouldn’t get to them by mistake. That the word ‘homo’ wouldn’t be heard in the house.”

When she stood in front of the mirror, Ederi experienced gender dysphoria: “Over the years I realized that I was in the wrong body. I would get up every morning and look at myself in the mirror, and I didn’t like what I saw. I felt imprisoned in a body that wasn’t mine. When I was living in Kiryat Shmona I didn’t think it was possible to do a sex change in Israel. I thought it was something that costs millions and that it was impossible.”

At the age of 17 she moved to Tel Aviv and later volunteered for army service in the Kirya – Defense Ministry headquarters. There the world opened up for her and she also met transgender women for the first time in her life. Over time she started to meet other members of the LGBTQ community. The realization that she wanted to undergo a change gradually became stronger. The person who helped her understand the process she would have to undergo was social activist and actress Bell Agam.

“She came to a café with a loose-leaf notebook,” recalls Ederi. “She was very tactful and asked the right questions, she wanted to get to know me. I told her that I wanted to make a change, she said ‘Walla, welcome.’ I still had a beard at the time. She opened the notebook and explained the whole process to me.”

At 20, after her discharge from the army, Ederi decided to muster courage and to confide in her sister. She wrote a long message, sent it to her on WhatsApp, and then threw the phone on the floor. When she got up the courage to reopen it, a surprise awaited her. “The first thing she wrote to me was that she always knew it and that she accepted it, and that she had realized it from the day that I wore the sunflower dress.”

Later came her mother’s turn: “One day I was having a video conversation with my mother and she saw that I had gotten rid of my beard. She started asking questions. About the beard and about removing the hair on my legs. One day she asked, ‘Do you want to be a woman?’ and I realized that there was an opportunity here. I told her I did, that I wanted to be a woman.

“I saw on her face that she took it very, very hard, but she said ‘I accept it, and whatever you need, I’m here.’ The moment she said that to me, the red light turned green. There was no orange. In that second I knew that I was on the best possible path.”

Ederi, earlier this month in Tel Aviv. Isn’t criticizing her girlfriends who work in prostitution, and totally understands how lucky she is.Credit: Meged Goznani

'My son is dead'

That path, however, wasn’t going to be easy. Ederi’s father remained out of the picture, until one day a friend from work showed him a picture of his daughter on Instagram.

“My father simply tore his shirt and said ‘My son is dead.’ He sat shiva for me [observed the traditional seven-day mourning period]. He didn’t want to hear a word about me. He erased my phone number. He blamed my mother for the fact that I made the change because she always encouraged me to look ahead, to go to Tel Aviv, to develop myself," she recalls. "She knew that in Kiryat Shmona it’s impossible to develop, in terms of employment, and also emotionally and socially.”

Eleven months passed without Ederi and her father speaking or even exchanging a message. The two had been accustomed to talking three times a day, every day. During that period she even tried to commit suicide. An uncle urged her father to see his new daughter. He pulled out a picture of her from Instagram and her father was amazed to discover that he didn’t recognize the person who had been his son. At a family get-together a few days later, there was a sulha (reconciliation).

“I arrived the most me in the world,” Ederi says, describing the encounter at her brother’s house in Rosh Ha’ayin, along with the rest of their nuclear family. “I didn’t hide my femininity for a moment. I had manicured fingernails, I came with a midriff top, tight jeans, cool boots. I didn’t hide for a moment. So he’d understand that I was into it.

“He saw me and immediately hugged me. He stammered a little at first. I told him that he should talk to me any way he wants. I told him that I had found work and he asked how it was going to be. I explained the process to him and said things would only get better. We went out for a Friday meal and I already felt that I really fit in. Slowly but surely my father and I became close, and today we’re better friends than ever. He admired me in a way that is indescribable. One day he came to my home unexpectedly and bought me an electric scooter, and said: ‘This is for the time when we weren’t in contact and I couldn’t pamper you.”

After she came out, Ederi’s Instagram page began to arouse the interest of fashion influencers. She herself took a styling course at the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design and a sewing course at Studio 6B. At first she was photographed for indie productions and later received commercial offers too. She modeled in Castro’s LGBTQ campaign two years ago, participated in a Keds fashion shoot and became the Israeli face of an international campaign launched by cosmetic giant DAB, which focused on new models of beauty.

Ederi. "I say that I’m hard of hearing and people are in shock. If I didn’t have the Afro, they'd see the hearing aid." Credit: Meged Gozani

About a month ago she participated in Reebok’s Pride campaign, part of whose proceeds will be sent to the Israel Gay Youth organization.

“I know I’m not beautiful,” says Ederi, comparing herself to what she sees as the model of beauty being sought today in the Israeli market. “Nor do I want to be beautiful. But I know that I’m unique. People often tell me that I’m amazing, but I know that that’s not true. What I consider beautiful is [Israeli supermodel] Bar Refaeli.

Not a victim

“To me being unique is much more than being pretty. That’s why I didn’t get overly involved with injections and so on. I could also fly to Thailand and do face peeling and injections and be like a painting – but I’m not interested in being a painting. I paint myself the way I want.”

In recent weeks she has been working at the Sweetweet advertising agency, a job she got after many rejections. “Sometimes people rejected me because I’m a transgender woman and sometimes because I’m hard of hearing,” she explains.

But it's evident that Ederi has absolutely no feeling of victimization. Despite the employment challenges, the independence she has won and the good friends she has gathered around her have helped her, for example, to avoid entering the world of prostitution.

Ederi: “I was told that women can earn 60,000 shekels ($17,500) a month, at least that’s how it used to be, and in a second you can have operations and fulfill yourself. But I told myself that I don’t have to do a full sex-change operation in order for someone to look at me as a woman. I get up in the morning, look at myself in the mirror, and see myself as a woman for all intents and purposes. Moreover, I see myself as more of a woman than a woman. Unequivocally. The moment that I have that feeling, that’s it. I don’t need external confirmation.”

actress Laverne Cox, who has appeared on the cover of Time magazine, in a scene from the Netflix documentary "Disclosure." Credit: Ava Benjamin Shorr/AP

She adds that she isn’t criticizing her girlfriends who work in prostitution, and totally understands how lucky she is: “Even when I didn’t work for half a year and was unemployed, my friends took care of me in the craziest way possible. And of course my parents too, who are there for me to this day. After all, it’s impossible to survive in Tel Aviv from a National Insurance grant. It’s a pittance.

"Being surrounded by friends and family is the thing that saved me. I don’t judge the transgender woman who are drawn into it [prostitution], because most of them came from a family that doesn’t accept them and their surroundings aren’t supportive. There isn’t a day when I don’t thank God for my friends. I often tell them that I am who I am thanks to them.”

Earlier this month the law criminalizing the solicitation or patronizing of prostitutes went into effect. The ban was condemned by the transgender community, whose members claim that it will deny many of the women among them any possibility of earning a livelihood.

“I can understand the complaints," Ederi says. "It’s very hard for someone who is deep inside that world to leave it. On the other hand, it’s a law that’s good for the new generation and will encourage them to earn a respectable living in the workplace. There are many workplaces that do accept transgender women, I can say of myself that I've worked a lot in office and government jobs. Everything is possible if you change your attitude. Prostitution is a bad world that causes people to slide into drug abuse and leads to suicide. You have to think twice about the transgender women who come out of the closet, and not expose them to that terrible world.”

Rina Nudelman, a 9-year-old transgender girl. "I admire and embrace her for the things that she’s doing,” says Ederi.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

What do you think of the attack from the right by MK Bezalel Smotrich and journalist Shimon Riklin, who made harsh claims against the community that warmly embraced Rina, a transgender girl. They said that a child can’t make such a crucial decision.

“It’s always easiest just to toss out a statement. I wish I could have taken this step when I was 9 or 15 years old. After all, you feel this thing long before the age of 10. And if she said that that’s what she experienced, then there’s no question here. I admire and embrace her for the things that she’s doing.”

And what’s your opinion of author J.K. Rowling (of “Harry Potter” fame), who's claimed that transgender women aren’t women?

“She will never feel or experience what we transgender women feel. I’m sorry that someone like her, who has tremendous power, expresses her opinion in such a way. The world is big and colorful and everyone can be what they want and how they want.”

Relationship challenges

In spite of the optimistic tone in our conversation, there’s a crack in Ederi's joie de vivre.

“In my situation, the way I am today, it’s hard to find a couple relationship, because people hide me,” she says. “People who don’t know I’m a transgender woman – when they approach me on Instagram or in real life and then I tell them, they suddenly change their manner of speaking. It immediately gets to questions of ‘Where do you live.’ As though they only want to come up to visit me.

“There were people with whom I was able to be in a relationship, but it’s always discreet on their part. I had a relationship with someone for a year. Every day he would come over and after a while I told him I wanted to sit at the beach, to go have a drink, even in the evening. He didn’t go along with it, so I told him 'enough.' I often tell people: I’m not a fantasy. I’m not an experience. I’m not an attraction. I’m not an amusement park. I’m Dorin. I’m a human being who wants to meet someone. I want love. Someone who won’t be ashamed of me.”

Apropos fantasy, the world of fashion is becoming increasingly accepting of transgender women. Lea T starred in a nude Givenchy production in Vogue, Laverne Cox starred on the cover of Time magazine, and in Israel too we have already been exposed to Talleen Abu Hanna and Eden Yohanan. And yet, it seems that Israel's fashion industry doesn’t yet dare to use transgender presenters on a regular basis.

“In Israel they’re looking for the next Bar Refaeli. If you look at the billboards in New York or on the covers of Vogue, you’ll already see full-bodied and transgender women. There’s an actress who plays a leading role in ‘Pose,’ the one who plays the character of Angel [Indya Moore]. The moment I saw her on the screen – I saw a reflection of myself. They often tell me that on the street. And I love that. That I finally resemble someone I consider a genius.”

How did you react when you saw transgender model Valentina Sampaio, in Sports Illustrated?

“I was the happiest person. She really deserves it. She’s so beautiful on the outside and I’m sure on the inside too. It made me realize that the world is taking amazing steps. Of course it also made me really want to be there myself.”

Ederi says that she also has dreams about Vogue covers. According to a fashion production company that sent her to Paris about two years ago, where she modeled the clothes of seven local designers, that dream is not at all unrealistic. Now all she has to do is find an agent.

“Very often those who run the agencies tell me I’m amazing, but they don’t really promote me or do anything. Maybe I’m not beautiful enough for them,” she says, but adds that as far as she’s concerned, the real achievement in encounters with her is the way she makes others see transgender people.

And in addition to all the challenges and obstacles, you’re also hard of hearing.

“The world of deafness is marginal for me. I don’t pay attention to it. Yes it’s a part of me. If I remove the hearing aid I don’t hear a thing – but I don’t attach too much importance to that. My environment is a hearing environment; I live the world of those who hear. Look how we’ve been having a conversation here for almost two hours. I don’t see it as an obstacle. People often think that I have some kind of accent, and then I say that I’m hard of hearing and they’re all really in shock. If I didn’t have the Afro, they would see the hearing aid. But the Afro wins in every sense. I’m not hiding anything.”

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