Eurovision Song Contest: Transsexual singer stirs up passions
May 10, 1998
It may be the third time Israel has won the Eurovision Song Contest, but it is the first time the winner is a she who once was a he. The transsexual singer Dana International narrowly beat off stiff competition from Malta to emerge victorious.
Supporters of the former drag star jumped with joy and waved Israeli flags as the final votes were cast, giving victory to Dana. Back home, Israelis took to the streets, cheering and honking horns.
Her nomination in November to represent Israel in the contest caused a stir among some religious Jews. Several powerful Orthodox lawmakers had even considered trying to topple the government over the issue. Shlomo Benizri, a deputy minister and member of the religious Shas party, called her "an abomination." He also said: "Undergoing a sex change is worse than an act of sodomy ... choosing her is sending a message of darkness to the world."
Dana was previously known as Yaron Cohen. She gained fame in Israel as a female impersonator in Tel-Aviv night clubs before her sex change operation in 1993.
After the show, Dana said her victory was a sign of changing times. "This just goes to show the world is open-minded and liberated. We are all equal," she said.
Her jubilant win was defended by the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain. Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain said: "Dana International's sexuality is totally irrelevant to her ability to sing well or perform on behalf of her country, just as anybody else's sexuality should have no bearing on their professional life unless it interferes with their work." What is much more disturbing is hostility directed towards transsexuals, he added. "They experience a major conflict of identity, being one gender physically, but the other gender emotionally. They feel they are living a lie and are trapped in the wrong body," he said.
The rabbi suggested that a more religious response would be firstly to understand the acute unhappiness felt by transsexuals, and secondly to view favorably any surgical remedies that brings them relief.