Over the past year, Prof. Avi Hefetz has been performing a state-of-the-art surgery, which aims to makes the Adam’s apple - one of the most prominent and observable male features - less noticeable without leaving a scar.
The last patient to undergo such surgery in Israel is Bloom Lotus, a 20-year-old trans soldier who is currently recovering from the procedure. For Bloom, this is only the first out of a series of surgeries she plans to undergo, including complete sex change surgery.
"As soon as I heard about the option of having a surgery without a scar, I had no doubt I was going to do it," says Lotus.
“The transition from a man to woman is a complex one - not a simple issue. There are lots of little differences in the faces of men and women. Starting with nose surgery, forehead surgery, chin surgery, hairline removal or hair transplants. These are minor but very significant changes.”
Israel’s Sex Change Committee accompanies those who wish to undergo a sex change surgery for a whole year prior to the surgery itself, in order to make sure the applicants are certain about their desired gender identity. Lotus' wait is halfway over.
"In six months, my period with the the Tel HaShomer Sex Change Committee will be over, and then I can schedule the sex change surgery," she says. "Right now though, I'm busy planning different facial surgeries that I want - after counseling and testing of course."
In preparation for the transition, Lotus has already started taking hormones.
"I learn everything through my own flesh. The side effects are often said to be unknown. At first, it had serious effects on my mood and caused depression, and my libido also dropped," she says.
"Physically, too, there are changes. A more feminine body structure, fat dissipation, there is even a difference in the smell of sweat between men and women, and it also makes you grow breasts. All these things happened to me.”
Bloom Lotus was born as a boy named Sahar, to a religious family in Jerusalem, a middle child between three children.
“Sahar felt too masculine, and so I searched for a more feminine flower. Personally, my new name means that I will bloom to be the most beautiful flower I was always intended to be."
According to Lotus, the realization she was meant to be a girl came early - though it did not always make sense at the time.
“It starts with small things that at first you don't always understand, and only looking back do they suddenly make sense," she says.
"For example, I was always jealous of my sister when she was dressing up as a princess for Purim, or when I went with her and our cousins to buy girls' clothes. I also wanted to buy a dress or play with Barbies. "
As a student at a yeshiva, and a son of a national-religious family, Lotus says she had no knowledge of the LGBT world.
“I didn't even know what gay or lesbian was. I wrote diaries for myself and there I imagined myself as a pretty girl with long hair and beautiful clothes. I so wanted to be a girl. I started experimenting with makeup when I left home, told a few friends that I was uncomfortable with my body, and started talking about myself as a female. That's when the bullying and abuse started, too. "
Lotus admits she deeply represses this period, excluding one strong memory.
“One day in the middle of an activity in Bnei Akiva (a religious youth organization), all the children threw stones at me, until some one of the big boys came and stopped them; I can't remember exactly how it ended. When people ask me if I had a bar mitzvah I don't know what to say, even though I did. I'm learning to come to terms with having being a boy in the past."
Lotus' religious parents accompanied her during her first surgery, a rare phenomenon in its own right.
"They always come with me and want to be next to me," she says. "It's just hard for me. Their support is amazing to me.”
Lotus first told her parents at the age of 13, before she even knew what a trans person was.
“I wrote a letter to my parents telling them about all the things that bother me at school. How they make me lay tefillin, how I don't want to be religious and that the kids are looking at porn in class. I also wrote them that I wanted to be a girl."
Bloom says her parents' first move was to deal with their child’s social issues.
“That’s when they got me out of school. There was a time I dropped out of three schools and finally left school altogether. As for my desire to be a girl, maybe they thought it's a phase. They did not know this world and could not give it the attention it needed," she says.
"Any parent who hears something like this from their child should give it attention first. Don't ignore it. Embrace it, explore, learn. Because when adolescence starts and the body begin to develop in the wrong direction, it's a terrible situation."
The fact that Lotus decided to stop being religious was more difficult for her parents then her being transgender.
“By eighth grade, I had already decided that a religious lifestyle was not right for me. My parents had a really hard time with it. At first, I was scared and did it secretly, in small steps."
Lotus came out to her siblings a little later, to mixed responses.
“I have an ultra-Orthodox brother, and when I told him he was in shock. He had no idea. He doesn't have a smartphone so he wasn’t exposed to the clues I was trying to convey. When I told my sister and her partner they were not in shock. Apparently, they had sensed it much earlier.”
Lotus enlisted in the IDF as a trans woman. She lived in residential accommodation for soldiers and began a new life outside of Jerusalem.
“It was then that I heard the word transgender for the first time, and realized that there was such a thing, sex change, and it was possible. At first it really scared me, but I slowly got used to the idea. It’s what created the change for me, followed by the decision to go through with the sex change. I got to the state that I could no longer be different and live in two worlds, it hurt so much."
During her army service, Lotus moved through 25 bases until she was finally released on the basis of mental illness. She says, however, that she wants to return to the IDF after she has completed her surgeries.
“Although I enlisted in the military as a trans, it didn't work out. Especially the whole showers and toilets thing. It didn't work out with the boys, so I was transferred to the girls. I was told it could cause unpleasant situations because some were religious. So they ended up putting me in a room alone with 20 empty beds when all the girls are the next room talking and laughing, and I was alone, it was very difficult. "
It was then that Lotus posted suicidal thoughts on social media.
“After that, the police came to my house - that’s probably how the army caught a whiff of it. I understand the army's concern, but I will return to serve in the IDF. "
To Lotus, the feeling was like being a woman trapped in a man’s body.
“You’re looking in the mirror and see a grown-up man, you hear your voice, see that you have slightly bigger hands. That was suffering for me. To this day when I walk down the street people turn to me as a female, then look again and talk to me like a male, they get confused and it's so painful for me as I realize they still see me a boy.”
Lotus has yet to dress as a woman and wear makeup in public.
"I’m not at that place yet. I have a long way to go until I can be complete. Even seeing myself with makeup hurts me because I want to change my face.”
Despite the openness and normalization process, the trans population is still suffering from discrimination, violence and disrespect in all areas of life.
“Every time I walk out into the street, people are asking me questions,” says Lotus. ”I remember a situation where I was sitting at the beach and someone sat down next to me and tried to hit on me since he thought I was a girl. Then he slowly realized that I was trans and asked me what it meant. When he realized I had male genitalia, he got up and walked away without saying a word.”
Lotus says that the reactions of people online are the worst.
“People allow themselves to write horrible things. Someone once told me to kill myself because I'm trans. There is a reason 40 percent of transgender people attempt suicide and almost 100 percent think of it at least once in their lives. It's very hard to endure."
She says that while there is more openness to trans people, there is still a long way to go.
“People do not want to employ trans people and there are those who only associate them with prostitution. There is a lot of hate and prejudice. I am exposed to a lot of evil and ignorance. There was one religious guy in the army who said to me, 'You know Bloom, after I got to know you, I realized you were a person just like me.' He had a hard time with it at first because he absorbed something else in his home."
Lotus describes the journey to realization as solitary one.
“Call it power, call it lack of choices, as far as I'm concerned there was not, and will be no other option. Transsexualism is a source from which I draw strength. I admire trans people for everything they do, and for the very fact that they exist," she says.
"It is important for me to tell trans people who are in a similar situation and are maybe ashamed to come out that I understand their difficulty. I, too, had a very hard time. I was afraid of what the society would say, but in the end what is most important is being you, as you are 100 percent. "
Thousands of transgender people live in Israel today - according to data 0.6-1% of the entire adult population is trans, while they make up 2% of the population below the age of 25 both in Israel and worldwide.
There is a 15% growth in the number of people who define themselves as transgender and the demand for gender match surgery is rising.