Talleen Abu Hanna said that she was inspired to compete to be Miss Trans Israel by a love for being on the stage.
"I'm a dancer," Abu Hanna said during a recent visit to Chicago. "I dance and I teach dancing. I love the stage; the stage is my life. When I saw that this was the first [such] competition in history, I thought it would be interesting. … I said, 'Okay, this is the chance to do something new with my life.'"
In May 2016, Abu Hanna, a Catholic Arab born and raised in Nazareth, was named the winner of Israel's first transgender beauty pageant. The following September, she placed second in the Miss Trans Star Competition in Barcelona. That first contest, which drew media attention around the world, "was such a big show," she recalled.
Abu Hanna said that she ran mainly "to be able to tell people something [about trans people] outside of social media. I didn't have the tools to speak, and these are tools that I have right now."
She now resides in Tel Aviv, where there is relative acceptance of the LGBT community. "You can go there and be who you are, and where the clothes [of the person] you are. It was hard, but today they accept it more. Today, it is not dangerous [in Tel Aviv]. There had been some danger there before."
Even in Tel Aviv, it is still difficult for trans persons to find employment, but Abu Hanna said there are several non-profits who can offer assistance, adding, "Now, it's really well-developed, and there are organizations that do a lot." Her mother has supported her transition and public work, but not her father; Abu Hanna said that she had not been to her family home in two-and-a-half years. She said she thinks he'll come around.
Vocal supporters of Israel's LGBT community, like Abu Hanna, have frequently been criticized by commentators and advocates who have maintained that the Israeli government extolls its progressive record on LGBT-rights in order to distract from its treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as well as Israeli Palestinians.
She maintained that her work "was not about politics," adding, "This is my real life. Let me tell you something about pinkwashing: I'm not here to 'wash' anything. Yes, there are a lot of problems between Jewish and Palestinians. But that is not my expertise. I believe in peace. … I'm not here for Israel. I'm here to make change for my community. When I come here and tell my story, I make a change for me and my LGBTQ community."