Two years ago, Micha Yehudi hit rock bottom.
The 25-year-old Israeli soldier was working 18-hour days and couldn’t sleep at night. Instead he watched videos of women going through the processes of transitioning into men.
“I was in a very bad place emotionally and mentally,” Yehudi recalls. “I would watch these videos and watch these people become whole people and become happy in a way that I never imagined.”
Then one day, Yehudi had enough and went to his commanding officer. At first, the request to leave the army surprised his superior. Back then, the young female captain was known as a religiously observant Jew. The officer didn’t expect Yehudi to come out as transgender.
“I had never told anyone before, I barely told myself. I was terrified,” says Yehudi. “I cried during the interview from the moment the reaction came out of his mouth. He said, okay and that was it.”
Within a month and a half – what Yehudi calls light speed for Israel’s military – the army came up with a plan. The captain would retain his commission and the army would help with the transition by supplying medication and time off when needed.
“The protection I felt being in the army at the time. I don’t think I could have been in a safer environment,” Yehudi describes. “I was lucky enough as well because I had so much protection and support from my commanders, my friends and the soldiers under me.”
According to Israel, roughly 60 transgender soldiers serve openly in the country’s military.
In a statement, Israel’s military said “their assignment to different units is based on the soldiers’ abilities and the Israel Defense Forces’ needs, regardless of gender identification or sexual orientation.”
Now feeling like a whole person, Yehudi marched with other transgender Israelis for LGBTQ rights at Jerusalem’s Gay Pride Parade on Thursday. Among the banners and flags was talk about recent developments with Israel’s closest ally, the United States.
It started with a tweet from US President Donald Trump.
“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” Trump said in a series of tweets last month. “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”
The president’s decision reversed a policy initially approved by the Defense Department under President Barack Obama, which was still under final review. The policy would allow transgender individuals to openly serve in the military.
The tweet didn’t come with a plan to implement it nor did it talk about the 1,320 to 6,630 transgender people believed to be serving in the US military.
Eden Arazi, who advocates for an organization, Kirtzno, that supports religious transgender Jews, was appalled by Trump’s decision.
“I say it’s nonsense,” says Arazi, “They are just like other soldiers.”
A Wider Bridge (AWB), which advocates for LGBTQ rights in Israel, also came out against the ban. AWB board member and veteran of the United States Navy Submarine Force, James Moon posted on the organization website.
“There is no objective data to suggest transgender service-members negatively impact unit cohesion and readiness, and denying them the right to serve their country is an affront to the very ideals the military is sworn to defend.”
’I feel whole’
Israel also grapples with equality. Many religious conservatives see the LGBTQ community as an abomination.
Gay couples can’t get married in Israel and only male-female couples can adopt children. Gay couples often go abroad to get married before returning to Israel where their marriage is recognized by the state.
Marriage in Israel can only be carried out through a religious institution. Israeli courts have ordered marriages abroad to be recognized by the state providing a loophole for same sex marriage.
But in the army, Yehudi said he felt appreciated and valued. He recalls the day, after seven years, he decided to leave the military.
“My superiors said no. We can give you money for a degree if you stay,” You’re no different from anyone else,” Yehudi describes. “I said to them that I’m in a place where in the first time in my life I feel whole and I need to do more things with my life.”
As for President Trump, Yehudi urges the US President to get to know some of the active duty and veteran trans soldiers.
“You out and meet your veterans who are trans just like me, people who are serving right now just like me. They’re no different from anyone else, they just love their country like I love mine.”