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We’re so often taught not to speak of politics or religion. It’s too antagonistic, too divisive. But for Israel’s burgeoning drag community, it’s also essential. An oasis of acceptance for the LGBTQ community who are otherwise marginalized in the Middle East, Israel — especially Tel Aviv — is known not only for its relative tolerance, but for having pride in its queer citizens.
These freedoms, however, present their own type of paradox. It’s because of their country’s tolerance that Israelis have the ability to speak out against intolerance. Ask any one of the drag queens regularly performing in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem and there’s still more to be done to achieve true equality. While everyone is required to serve in the Israeli military, for example, same-sex marriage is still technically unrecognized by the state. It’s this type of discrepancy that’s dissected on the drag stage by a new crop of Israeli queens.
In makeup and gender-blending ensembles, they push the envelope of performance art, mixing religious symbols and other taboo topics with stilettos, glitter, and Rihanna. Moksha, an observant Jew and Hebrew teacher by day, headlines at an underground drag club in Jerusalem in full tzniut, or modest dress, that abides by Orthodox Jewish standards. We follow an Israeli soldier who’s chosen the drag name of “Diamond” because he, like his beloved country, is multi-faceted and strong like the stone. Avant-garde performer Asis D’Orange, the 2017 winner of the Tel Aviv Drag Star competition, uses his controversial act (think: Marilyn Manson, a bucket of pink paint, body harnesses, and the Israeli flag) to jumpstart a conversation that many are uncomfortable with having — even other queens:“Conflict is a gate to come closer and to understand one another.”
By using their platforms — and platform heels — to open that gate, Israeli drag queens prove that politics and religion can, and should, take centre stage, and build not only a productive dialogue, but also a supportive community. In this episode of Style Out There, we explore how colourful gray areas can be.