January 28, 2020

Israeli Nurse and LGBTQ Advocate is a Bride Like No Other

Maya Orabi’s voice raises an octave as she describes the wedding gowns she will wear for her upcoming nuptials. “The first is a very modest dress for under the chuppah,” she says. “The second is much more sexy. I like dressing sexy.”

That Orabi and her dress designer boyfriend, Kobi Ezra, are getting married in a traditional Jewish ceremony is remarkable because, as Orabi explains in a single breath, “I’m an Arab Muslim transgender who’s marrying a Jewish straight guy.”

Two years ago, Orabi came out as a woman. Six months later, she began hormone therapy and a few months after that underwent breast augmentation surgery. Three months ago, she went under the knife again for lower-body gender reassignment surgery, a process that confined her to bed rest. Next month, she’s getting married. The packed timeline doesn’t faze her. “I do things fast,” she says.

Orabi and Ezra met when she modeled one of his dresses. At the time, he had no idea she was transgender. When he eventually introduced her to his parents, traditional Jews of Iraqi origin, they were shocked. “They didn’t really know what transgender meant,” Orabi said. However, they soon grew to love her and have since become surrogate parents in lieu of her own, from whom Orabi is estranged.

Born into a conservative Muslim household in the northern Israeli town of Acre, Orabi was given the name Tamer. She refers to Tamer in abstract terms and always in the third person. “I’m not in denial about that persona but it’s not real. Maya was inside Tamer all along,” she says, recalling buying the dress from the henna wedding ceremony of one of her sisters. “She never knew this but I tried on that dress. It was beautiful. I want it for my own bachelorette party.”

“They think they lost their only brother but they don’t understand that they’ve earned a sister. Maybe one day they will.”

Orabi’s usually buoyant tone grows wistful when she speaks of her three sisters. “They think they lost their only brother but they don’t understand that they’ve earned a sister. Maybe one day they will.”

Orabi’s father told her that if she wanted to go to college, it would have to be in the deeply conservative Palestinian town of Jenin. Orabi was tenacious about pursuing her degree, knowing it was her ticket to freedom. Coming out was the first thing she did after she graduated as a registered nurse four years later.

Israel’s first transgender nurse, Orabi began working in Ichilov hospital’s neurosurgery department. She also volunteered with the Israeli LGBTQ+ youth organization, in particular helping Arab youths struggling with their sexual identity. She simultaneously pursued modeling as a side hustle. Her dream is to be as successful as Canadian model Winnie Harlow, who also has vitiligo — skin characterized by pigmentless patches. “I love this illness,” Orabi says. “It reminds me of all the hardships I’ve been through and where I am today. It is hope.”

Post-surgery and in the run-up to her wedding, Orabi has put the volunteering and modeling on hold and taken a less stressful job with a private nursing company. But she knows she’ll be back. “It gives me lots of happiness to be involved in lots of things. This is my personality,” she says. “And if I succeed in preventing one [transgender] girl from turning to prostitution, then I’ll have done my best work.”