Why was the police violent with me at Tel Aviv gay pride?

Why was the police violent with me at Tel Aviv gay pride?
The author putting on last touches before heading out for the parade. Would you be rough with someone wearing a headband?

A note added on 6/10/12: I’ve been doing some thinking since this post was first composed, and I’m not sure that I am entirely comfortable with it. In fact, I am more receptive to criticism in the comments than ever before. The critics are right: I did act in a way that was disrespectful to hard working policemen, condemned to stand in the hot sun. They are also right in regarding the story as possibly trivial. It was a specific incident that does not shed light on issues such as pinkwashing. It could have likely happened everywhere, which would mean that my hypothesis on the sanctity of fences in Israel is not founded and that a table at the bar would make a better platform for this story than +972.

Thing is, we Israelis aren’t only Israeli, we’re human, and when human beings are treated with undue roughness, they feel a need to discuss it and ask questions. This post was written out of a state of slight shock. I really was treated rather brutally and certainly more physically by the police than I was ever before, and ended up distraught and depressed for the remainder of the day. The fact that I was in drag doubtlessly contributed to my experience. Drag makes a man vulnerable and it may not be too much to ask that the police treat a man in drag with extra care and gentleness rather than vice versa, especially on gay pride.

And now for the post in question:

Tel Aviv pride tends to be a bit of a nightmare, meteorology-wise.  Summer always chooses to arrive in full force on the day of the parade. The streets picked for its course are viciously shadeless, and hands waving rainbow flags get colored bit by bit with a single hue of the rainbow: sunburn red.

I still march, yearly. I pride myself for being the first Israeli to have come out of the closet as a heterosexual cross-dresser. Last year saw the publication of my book “The Tel Avivian comedy”, in which I explain this tendency and tell of the long road to accepting it. The media took a great interest in the “kinky element”, but this kinkyness is a serious matter for millions of men worldwide who feel ashamed about their transvestism and are troubled by it.

The gay community in Israel is doing very well compared to its Middle Eastern neighbors, enough so that Tel Aviv pride is more of a party than a march for rights, but for the newly outed cross-dresser it’s a moving and charged event. We still have a long way to march before accepting ourselves and being accepted by society as more than a joke, so I shaved off my beard, donned the ol’ wig, and headed for Meir Park, where the parade begins.

I first met up with my friend Dagan, a filmmaker and Tel Aviv’s “Karaoke Kaiser” who is straight, but takes the parade as an opportunity to hang around bare chested and show off his tattoos. We walked around the park, listened to speeches made by politicians, and had our photo taken at the Likud party’s booth with a Likud rainbow flag shirt. It was all very funny.

Then people started marching, the trucks started pulsating with club music, and we rolled out with them. By the time I reached the Gordon beach, where the event ends, I was seriously sun-struck, and dehydrated. Dagan was no longer with me. I was joined instead by Bhat, a friend of a friend, who was as eager as I to dip her feet in the water.  We were sorry to see that a very tall fence was erected along the waterfront, a few meters from the waves themselves, but it was understood. An army of lifeguards wouldn’t be able to deal with a beach party of this magnitude if it spilled into the waves. The fence was a statement: We do not encourage you to go in the water, and if you do so, it is your own responsibility.

People still got into the water. North of the fence was a breach that allowed this, but the way to the breach was lined by police barriers. In effect, they made up a shorter fence perpendicular to the main one. I moved two of the barriers to allow Bhat and I access and was immediately grabbed by a cop.

This startled me. I don’t often get grabbed by anyone. At the end of several demonstrations I was picked up physically by policemen for trying to block roads, but here I did not break the law, only slightly moved two barriers positioned in the sand. On the other side of the barriers were scores of people, who walked around them. The policeman could have simply spoken to me, or ignored me. Instead he pushed me forcefully away.

Stunned, I returned to him and asked for the reason for this behavior. He quickly grabbed me again, with another policeman coming to his aid. I have never been treated so violently by the police. Was it the drag? Is that how they would treat a “coccinelle” (derogatory Hebrew term for transexuals and trasvestite prostitutes)?

Bhat came to my aid. “If you come closer, you’re going to jail like him” one policeman told her.

“I demand that you refer to me in the feminine,” I said, partially in order to cool down the atmosphere. The result was to the contrary. “Come on you now,” said the cop, still holding on to my arm, “we’re going to the station.” To his credit, I will mention that he used the word: “Bo’ee,” “Come on” – in the feminine.

Masculine or feminine, I was not about to get arrested for taking a shortcut to the sea. True, I could have been more respectful to the barriers, but being manhandled was punishment enough. I freed my arm by force, and in the process knocked down one of the barriers, which fell on the foot of a policeman, in the confusion that ensued, Bhat and I simply made off and ran to the water. I found it hard to calm down. I had to understand the reason for the violence.

Finally, over a beer and some chicken wings at Mike’s Place, down the promenade, it occurred to me that it wasn’t the drag. I would have been treated like this whether I were in a dress, a soccer uniform or a tux. What I did was to commit the ultimate Israeli blasphemy: I moved a fence.

Even at a celebration of freedom, where gender lines can be blurred, a fence is sacred. Our national psyche has learned to match every physical barrier with a mental barrier that reinforces it, a phenomenon often referred to as our “ghetto mentality.” I have no anger towards the cops. They were doing their job. They live in the land of the separation wall, a land surrounded by fences on many sides. Guarding fences is what most uniformed men do in this country. Here was another one, and it was to be taken just as seriously at the rest of them.