I knew Zalman Shoshi fairly well. I lived in Israel when it was against the law to be gay and the police preyed on us nightly wherever we met. Shoshi never let it bother her—she was in and out of jail all of the time and always had great stories and we would see with her what was then Kikar Malchi Yisrael now renamed Rabin Square and laugh WITH her for hours. She was “Zlotta” to us—she loved that Yiddish name and loved to be the center of attention. She died last week at age 60 and I tried to find a way to memorialize her but could not find the words. Then I saw this and it said all I wanted to say so I am copying it just as it was printed.
“NO LGBT PERSON SHOULD EVER FEEL LONELY
Author: Amit Alexander Lev
Published: July 18, 2016
Everybody knew “Zalman Shoshi,” but no one wanted to be near him. Amit Alexander Lev eulogizes the man who changed LGBT life in Israel forever, and paid the price of isolation from society.
Almost everyone who grew up in Israel in the 1990s knew the name “Zalman Shoshi.” Zalman Winder, known as Zalman Shoshi, “this transvestite” was a generic name for almost any gay or transgender person, and not for nothing. Zalman, who was born shortly after the founding of the state of Israel, was a household name, but never in a positive way. He represented in our household the other, the different, the grotesque. This man wanted to wear women’s clothes, to be the transvestite who sells his body in Tel Baruch.
Even when I grew up, even before I realized I was gay, his name has represented the forbidden. He represented who we don’t want to be. You do not want to be effeminate and ridiculous like Zalman Shoshi, God forbid you don’t want to find yourself on Tel Baruch beach, pressing against men, dressed and made up as a woman.
But Zalman didn’t have an easy life. If today, in 2016, it’s not easy to be LGBT in Israel, living in the ’50s and’ 60s was probably much worse. If today we can come out easily, it is because Zalman Shoshi, and several others more anonymous than he was, paved the a way with their bodies, literally. The body which he sold in order to finance the renovation of the Aguda house, back in the day, on Nahmani Street in Tel Aviv, for example. The body that suffered humiliation because he dared to be who he wanted to be, despite being told it was forbidden.
Perhaps the word “dare” is too big. Perhaps Zalman didn’t dare – he just had no choice. And perhaps he had a choice, and he chose to be the vertex point so that we can all stand behind it and say we’re okay, we’re normal. Either way, the change that Zalman brought, willingly or not, is impossible to ignore.
I didn’t know him personally, but his life circumstances were plastered in newspapers all the time, and did not reflect a particularly beautiful reality. From a difficult childhood, sexual exploitation, living in prostitution, and isolation – a lot of living in solitude. “It’s not so hard to be a prostitute, it’s not so hard to be a transvestite and it’s not so hard for me to be gay – it’s the loneliness that’s hard. Solitude is the most difficult thing for a man,” he once said in an interview.
Today, in 2016, I want to be naive and say that no one should suffer loneliness, certainly not in light of being LGBT. But I know this is naive, and I know we are not there yet. So all that remains for me is to hope that we have the sense to not miss people, that we can help those who need help and that we should not let anyone drown in life’s circumstances”.