Israeli model-turned-actress Stav Strashko recently made history as the first transgender performer to ever receive an Ophir Award nomination for her role in the 2018 film Flawless. 

The film is about a transgender teen named Eden who along with two friends seeks to obtain plastic surgery as a way to secure a date for her prom. Eden and her friends sell organs on the black market as part of their plan.

The 26-year-old actress spoke to uInterview exclusively about the similarities between herself and Eden and about the overall experience of being trans in Israel today.

“I do identify with the character on some levels,” said Strashko. “I knew how it was to be bullied sometimes in school and when I was growing up. When I was in high school, I was basically the whole time I was there pretending to be something that I’m not because I had to fit the social [norms], you know, whatever everybody expected from me, which was to be a boy and play soccer and on and on. So I was trying but I was never a very gentle, very skinny boy so I was always a target for bullying. I knew how it is a bit different than Eden, but I did know how it was to keep your identity a secret and not let anybody know even though I was still a boy back then.”

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Strashko added her family was very supportive of her after she announced she wanted to become a girl, although at first her mother was hesitant and said she believed this was merely a “phase” that would eventually disappear. Strashko revealed Eden goes through something similar in Flawless. 

The model and actress then explained what being trans in modern-day Israel is like.

“Well, for me as a kid it was a little hard [because] in my town nobody ever explained to me that there was such a thing [as being transgender],” said Strashko. “So I grew up being very confused and it took me some years to understand that what I’m going through is normal and that it exists. Because at first, I didn’t know what the hell is going on with me and so in terms of acceptance, Tel Aviv is a very accepting place but we are still facing a lot of [struggles].”

Srashko also opened up about the homophobia that still permeates Israel today, including at the highest levels of the country’s government, and said she strives to be as much of a pro-LGBT advocate as possible.

“I’m always there and I’m trying to do my best to be the best spokesperson I can for our community and prevent those kinds of things from happening,” she said. “And if they’re happening [to] just give a fight back and not just sit and be quiet about [it].”

Full interview transcript:

Q: Do you identify with your character in the film?

Stav: “I do identify with the character on some levels, I knew how it was to be bullied sometimes in school and um when I was growing up and when I was in high school I was basically the whole time I was there I was pretending to be something that I’m not because I had to fit the social, you know whatever everybody expected from me. Which was to be a boy and um play soccer and on and on and on. Um, so I was trying but I was never I was a very like gentle, very skinny boy so I was always a target for bullying um and I knew how like it is a bit different than Eden, but I did know how it was to to keep your identity as a secret and not let anybody know even though I was still a boy back then. My family was very supporting so it is uh, you know they did at first my mum tried to convince me that maybe it’s a phase and it will go away which is exactly what happens to Eden in the movie. But since my career started at a very young age I became uh independent very early so for me, my parents trying to explain me that maybe it was a phase and it’s not going away it wasn’t as, it didn’t affect me as much as it affects Eden in the movie cause like I could do whatever I want and Eden is still like in school, she’s still living at her father’s home um yeah so I guess that was the things I had in common with Eden.”

Q: What’s it like being trans in Israel?

Stav: “Well, for me as a kid it was a little hard cause in my town nobody ever explained to me that there was such a thing so I grew up um being very confused and it took me some years to understand that what I’m going through is normal and that it exists cause at first I didn’t know what’s, what the hell is going on with me and so in terms of acceptance Tel Aviv is a very accepting place but uh we still facing a lot of struggle like in Israel so. I read on the news about a girl in south of Israel, basically her mum doesn’t send her to school for like almost half a year now because she’s being bullied uh all the time by the, by some kids in school and the school is threatening her- like the mom that they’re going to send authorities and they basically blaming the gi- the trans girl, the whole thing they blaming it on her their saying like she’s coming to school too provocative and for them provocative is just having like nail polish and growing long hair. Instead of you know, coming to these kids and telling them you can’t be doing the things you do to this girl or you’re gonna be expelled from the school, they blame it on the mum that doesn’t send the girl to school and then we have also soon to be education minister is uhh is openly uh homophobic, you know it is something that is very terrifying to know that person is going to be in charge of the education in Israel is uh openly homophobic and he doesn’t have a problem to talk about it in the media um yeah there’s a lot of issues we’re facing and it’s a scary time but it also you know, it’s a time that we have the voice to speak so I guess that’s one good thing. I’m always there and I’m trying to do my best to to be the best spokesperson I can for our community and like prevent those kinds of things from happening, and if they’re happening you know just give a fight back and not just um sit and be quiet about.”