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Trans-sexual's Eurovision win has divine appeal

THE triumph of Dana International, trans-sexual Israeli winner of this year's Eurovision Song Contest, sparked emotions of biblical proportions yesterday. The young and open-minded celebrated a new diva, while the singer herself claimed divine inspiration. Back home, disgusted ultra- Orthodox Jews expressed the opposite view.

Rabbi Shlomo Ben-Izri, a leading member of Israel's Shas Party, labelled Ms International "a gimmick", saying that the fielding of a trans-sexual star was "a sign of the bankruptcy of Israeli song". And he added: "God is against this phenomenon. It's a sickness you must cure and not give legitimacy."

The statuesque brunette, Yaron Cohen before a sex-change operation five years ago, begged to differ.

She said her victory proved that "God is with me", and it went to show that "the whole world is open-minded and liberated - we are all equal".

Dana International's win in Birmingham on Saturday night represents a double victory: one for Israel - it is the first time in more than 20 years that the country has won the contest - and another for trans-sexuals: she is the first trans-sexual to take the kitsch crown in the competition's 43 years.

Rabbi Jonathan Romain, of the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain, was quick to defend her. "Dana International's sexuality is totally irrelevant to her ability to sing well or perform on behalf of her country, just as anybody else's sexuality should have no bearing on their professional life unless it interferes with their work," he said.

The singer wore a sparkling dress designed by Jean Paul Gaultier to deliver her performance of "Diva", ("Viva to the diva, Viva Victoria, Cleopatra, Ha-a-a-a"), already a hit in Israel. At a press conference afterwards, she said: "I want to send a message to the Jewish community and say to them: 'Try to accept me, my kind of life and the choice I have made. What I am does not mean I do not believe in God or that I am not really part of the Jewish people."

She added optimistically: "It proves that it does not matter what you are - if you work hard and put in the best performance you can, you will be successful."

The 26-year-old singer believes that for many she represents "freedom, democracy and the right to live how individuals want to live". Israel, she feels, has come a long way in the five years since her sex change - an operation in London which was "just like buying clothes".

Attitudes towards trans-sexuals in Britain are slow to change. Last year, it emerged that Dr Rachel Padman, a fellow at Newnham College, the last all-women's college at Cambridge University, had had a sex change 15 years earlier. Leading fellows were up in arms, including the feminist author Germaine Greer, who was said to have considered resigning over the issue.

Legally speaking, trans-sexuals can change their physical appearance but not their sex, as determined by their chromosomes and set down in their birth certificate. A trans-sexual therefore cannot marry a person of their birth sex, as Caroline Cossey, who had a sex change at 20 and went on to become the top model Tula and appear in a James Bond movie, found out to her cost.

She lost a six-year fight to change her birth certificate from male to female in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Eventually, in 1992, she married in Montreal, where it is legal for a trans-sexual to marry.

April Ashley, 62, is one of Britain's most famous trans-sexuals. She was a successful model in the Sixties before anyone knew her secret, married into the peerage and was accepted as a beautiful and entertaining woman.

But when her secret came out and her marriage ended, she found herself battling against prejudice. She moved to San Diego, California, where she has lived ever since, condemned "to being a freak who lives in exile".

The author Jan Morris, who documented her sex change in her book, Conundrum, published in 1974, has perhaps done more than anyone to win the public round. Formerly James Morris, the hugely respected author of such standard works as Venice and Pax Britannica, he/she suffered years of torment culminating in a surgeon's clinic in Casablanca.

Her sensitively written account of the gradual process of becoming a woman did much to raise the issue of sex changes from ill-informed conjecture and smutty asides to serious debate. She now lives in Wales with her former wife, Elizabeth, a woman she says she would "trust to the grave".

Leading article, page 14