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On stage and in real life, transsexual Israeli actress Eden Yohanan has nothing to hide

  • Posted on juillet 22, 2013 at 10:14

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In portraying TV mockumentary character who has undergone sex reassignment, Yohanan is to some extent playing herself – but without allowing the joke to be played on her.

By Gili Izikovich | Jul. 21, 2013 | 3:26 AM

 

Eden Yohanan. “I would undergo reassignment even if they told me that afterward I’d have two months to live, just to feel for those two months what it is to be a woman.” Photo by Ilya Melnikov

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Yohanan with actor Avi Dangor.Photo by Ohad Romano

Avi the Singer: “I have a few questions. I don’t want to pry, but you, you really …”
Eden: “… had the sex reassignment?”
Avi: “You had the sex reassignment?”
Eden: “Yes. I’ve had the surgery. I am a woman in every way.”
Avi: “There are things you don’t know without getting into, really getting into.”
Eden: “Where do you want to get into?”
Avi: “To know, for the sake of knowing − try and understand me. Is it done? You’re not a man anymore?”
Eden
(laughing): I havent got [one]. No.
Avi: “But do you miss it? Didn’t you get attached to the thing they took from you?”

− A scene from the Hot-TV series “The Life of Avi the Singer”

Eden Yohanan has a mane of honey-colored hair, pretty brown eyes and a smooth complexion dotted with freckles. She also has long legs, a vivacious personality and a tendency to laugh loudly and expose lovely white teeth.

Yohanan plays Avi the Singer’s girlfriend on the mockumentary “The Life of Avi the Singer,” which began airing three weeks ago on Hot’s Comedy Central channel. But like everything else in the 13-part series, which is based on fictitious characters and invented life , the character Eden plays also has a shtick. “I did an audition and didn’t expect to be accepted, but it sounded cool to me,” she says, seated with her legs crossed on the couch in her rented apartment in the busy center of Tel Aviv. “They asked me to be myself, the most natural I can be, given the situation.”

In the audition scene − which appears later in the series ‏− the character of Avi the Singer, who is trying with all his might to make a comeback and regain the public’s awareness, introduces his transsexual girlfriend to his agent. The latter goes completely crazy, and forbids the two either to see each other or be seen together in public.

Has something like that ever happened to you?

Yohanan: “In real life if something like that were to happen to me, I would hurt the person the way that I was hurt. I am so not a sucker. At the audition I answered with insults, I was totally myself.”

Originally from Afula, Eden Yohanan, 24, works as a bartender and dancer at parties. Three years ago she underwent a sex-reassignment process in Thailand. It’s possible that if she weren’t so open and didn’t speak so freely about it, none of the people around her today would even be aware of her former gender. Yohanan has a brother and also a twin sister, with whom she burst into public awareness several months ago, when both took part in the docu-reality show “Plastic Dreams,” on Hot Entertainment, which followed various people as they underwent cosmetic surgery ‏(on the show, Yohanan decided to touch up the work done previously on her breasts‏).

Later came a revealing interview with the two sisters, who used to be brother and sister, and quite a lot of exposure − an invasion of privacy − that Yohanan says she had not been prepared for, but which turned out to be worthwhile. “Approximately midway through the filming of ‘Plastic Dreams,’ they called and invited me to audition for the show. I am fairly well known in the industry, among the television companies.”

Why? How?

“They know me as a pretty ‘tranny,’” she states without a smile. “When I walked into the room the casting director said, ‘Do you know you’re the most talked-about transsexual?’ He explained that when someone is needed for a series or something, my name comes up [and people say]: ‘See her and you’ll be in shock.’ I’ve also auditioned for ‘Big Brother’ and ‘Date in the Dark’ a few times.”

You wanted to become famous?

“I went to give it a try. I don’t know whether I want to become famous, whether I really want to go into this.”

Avi the Singer is the persona actor Avi Dangor invented for a show in which he appeared on-stage, which picked up steam and fans. At its peak, about a year ago, he landed a funny television talk show on Channel 24, which he hosted for a few months. The cancellation of the show, and the “crisis” his character is said to have undergone as a result, serve as the starting point for the plot of the new show.

Then as now, we are talking about a joke about a joke − about situations that mock their participants, particularly the singer himself, a clueless numbskull in white satin suits. But not only.

For her part, Yohanan says she saw Dangor’s talk show on Channel 24 only after she auditioned for “The Life of Avi the Singer.” Then she became concerned: “I saw that it was terribly funny, and then I got worried that they were planning to play a joke on me. I made it clear that if I was meant to come across as a gimmick, I’m not onboard. I am a woman. If I wanted to be a joke, I would go perform in gay clubs and be circus-like.”

Still, you play a tranny character, so you were still going in that direction.

“It’s who I am. When we talked about it on the show, they replied that it would be in good humor, that it would be respectful and show a tranny on-screen in a normal way, and I was glad. The entire experience has been incredible for me.”

According to Dangor, “What stood out about her primarily was that she was very natural, and very laid back and fun. It was pleasant to work with her, because there was no awkwardness. On the contrary, she was open. Like almost everyone we worked with on the series, Eden too was at her best when she improvised. She isn’t an actress in the sense of learning lines and getting into character − maybe because this wasn’t an actual character, but rather someone with a similar life story. The moments in which we acted out a situation, without sticking to a written text, were the best.”

Says Ohad Ashkenazi, chief editor at Comedy Central: “When we started looking for trannies, we got a parade of colorful types, and after Eden was chosen, for a few weeks, we were still afraid some actress was putting us on. She is so very much a woman that we were worried it would detract from the humor of the show. I am full of admiration for how far she agreed to take the joke. Usually in these matters, in sensitive cases and when people essentially play themselves, the actors request that we demarcate boundaries. In conversations with her she did not set any limits. There were no topics that were off-limits. She didn’t even want to know in advance where the situations she was participating in were headed.”

‘No reason to hide’

Eden, is acting your future?

“I suppose so, yes. I know I have good screen presence and it’s enjoyable. I see myself continuing, studying acting. Overall I am intrigued by it.”

Recently, she says, she received an offer to play a major role in a movie. She decided to turn it down − not only because one of the requirements for the part was that she shave her head. “The offers I’m getting are often about the process of transitioning from a man to a woman, but here they wanted to start out with me as a man. I said no.”

Why?

“I did my bit in talking about the transition on ‘Plastic Dreams’ and here too, I play a tranny. Enough. I gave enough and dealt with it enough, now I want to be me, I want to begin anew here as well. I’ve received several offers that did not excite me, a commercial that also talks about the reassignment and I don’t want to do that, I’m fed up. I get that it’s the most interesting thing, I really do understand, but I don’t have any wish to sell it. When it’s an actual acting job, I have no problem. It’s clear to me that I am not an actress and can’t play every role, but if it’s about that, only that, I have no desire to sell that story again.”

What really stands out about you is your courage and openness and willingness to talk about everything. Is that changing now?

“No, I have no problem talking about the process. I am not ashamed. I know I look good and come across well and I feel that as a human being I have no reason to hide.”

So what happened?

“It was very hard for me on ‘Plastic Dreams’ to open up and talk about the past. Up till then I had done stuff, even modeling, without people knowing I was a tranny. Suddenly I revealed something that was not so simple,” she stops her flow of words for a moment. “But that’s me. I am not ashamed of what I am and of who I used to be. I’d just like to move on a bit. It isn’t pleasant to walk around with a sign on me. After the shows they suddenly started to whisper around me: ‘See that one? I saw on a program that she was once such and such.’ That never happened to me beforehand. Yes, it’s the truth, it’s who I am, but it isn’t pleasant or fun.”

Because there’s talk about it or because people know who you are?

“Because it isn’t always easy knowing that I’m being talked about. I don’t always like the fact that people crowd around me and want to have their picture taken with me. I’m flattered, but when I’m with Mom or the family − it’s not the right time. My whole life, this whole process I’ve gone through, my consolation and strength came from looking good, from getting through it all smoothly. My whole life I was like that, boy-girl, until I was a girl. Now that I’m suddenly surrounded, sometimes it’s uncomfortable.”

Yohanan may be open and willing to speak about what she has gone through, probably because her present life is easier and better, but talking with her about her childhood, about a life spent in an unwanted and unloved body, is tougher. On “Plastic Dreams,” she spoke of trying to kill herself at 14, of envying her sister’s ability to wear a dress and play with dolls, and of talking to a childhood girlfriend about how she had always felt that she was one of the girls.

At the time, though, it is easily surmised, all these had to be difficult experiences, even though she had a loving and supportive family by her side. ‏(“Both my mother and my father have 10 siblings each. Everyone is extremely supportive. I still feel embarrassed at times, awkward, but my mother encourages me to wear a dress and be feminine, and her brothers, the ‘primitives’ from Yeruham, treat me like the pretty girl of the family. I never feel alone, luckily”‏).

One direction only

“From the age of zero I knew I was an odd bird. By age 3 or 4, I also knew what was wrong, and at 17, I began the [transitional] process by taking hormones,” she says. “When I was 21, I went through with the reassignment. I wanted to get it over with quickly because there was no point in waiting; I knew what I wanted to do.”

There is the date scene on the new show in which Avi asks you highly personal questions.

“I treated it like a real date, not even as acting. He really made me laugh.”

But with all these questions, I suppose there are lots of people who want to know the same things, but didn’t it feel too personal − pressuring you into a spot you didn’t want to be in?

“I’m used to it. These are questions I’m used to, and on a real date these questions will come out, but will be more delicate. This was different and in my eyes it was cute, with no intent to offend. I did it without any problem and I found it funny.”

Do you tell guys?

“All the time. Anyone I make a date with I tell over the phone, before the date. If I’m interested, I’ll tell the person earlier on, so that in case it bothers him, we don’t get as far as having a date. That has never happened to me by the way − that someone backed out after I told him [about me], but I would rather not take the chance of getting hurt. In the past two-and-a-half years, I have not been with anyone who said no to me because I’m a tranny.”

There is an image that becoming a transsexual means enduring a hard life, going through a grueling psychological process.

“Personally, I didn’t have to make that much of an effort.

There were no lies and concealment, it was always out there and I lived and looked like a woman. But I won’t lie: It isn’t an easy life. To go through this process, even from a physical standpoint − the operations, all those changes − it’s hard. Even once the process has been completed, even after you’ve made up your mind and embarked on the path, one person can come along, with one comment, and cut your confidence down. ‘It’s a man, you can tell,’ ‘It’s silicone,’ ‘It’s a wig.’ Personally, I never went through that; I’ve got some advantages. But I know from girlfriends and from things I’ve seen. It is hard to undergo this process.”

And psychologically?

“Yes, psychologically too. When I did it, it was hard. Every step you take is final, one-directional, and if you don’t have it right here,” she says and lays a hand on her heart, “it is very, very hard. If there is no family support, you might have become a new person but you will remain alone. You were reborn, but you have nothing and it isn’t easy.”

Were you scared?

“No. I had been waiting since the age of 10 for it to happen already; it was making a dream come true. The day I started taking hormones I felt I was finally in control. That I was beginning to win. I said to my mother, to my family, and I’m willing to tell you too, that as an adolescent I knew and said that if this possibility did not exist, if it were impossible to undergo reassignment, I would rather die. I would undergo reassignment even if they told me that afterward I would have two months to live, just to feel for those two months what it was to be a woman, what it’s like to live the way you were meant to live. You can’t explain it, it’s all so huge.”

How did your family react to that?

“My mother was glad. It had been obvious from a very young age that this was coming. It wasn’t always easy or simple, but she too wanted to see me self-fulfilled and happy … In this respect I am glad I underwent reassignment at a young age, because otherwise I would have become stuck, life would have become stuck. I was constantly preoccupied solely with this. And now life begins. After the reassignment I suddenly was myself; others [now] see me as I am and treat me as I am. It is the most powerful sensation I can imagine. My life is good, rosy. I am a happy woman.”

 

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  • Posted on février 7, 2013 at 11:44
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