“I hate my voice,” said Israeli TV personality Assi Azar, laughing as people urged him to use the microphone.
He sat on the edge of the stage of Hoff Theater, calling everyone to cram the rows of seats right in front of him, barely filling up the first three rows.
Talking about his struggles in coming into terms with his sexuality during his youth and his time in the Israeli army, Azar’s charm and humor made it seem like one was sitting down with an old friend and catching up with him over coffee.
Funny bits of him discussing this first experience in a gay sex shop in New York City and searching for nude photos of Brad Pitt on Google gave a balance to the discussion, which also touched on the topic of Palestine and the attacks on the LGBTQ community in Israel by religious radicals.
The 36-year-old is often referred to by the media as the “Israeli Ryan Seacrest”-which he jokingly said he hates, because Seacrest makes $50 million and Azar will never make the same amount, even though they have the same job. He was blunt, telling the truth of his experiences, such as how he was convinced that he was going to marry a woman and be in the closet forever.
He came out when he was 24, as just as he was starting out in the entertainment business. Azar knew he was gay since his early childhood.
He asked the crowd if they played with Barbies when they were little and all the girls raised their hands. Azar waved them off and asked if any men had played with the dolls and only one admitted it, saying they were fun.
Media played an important part in the discussion. Azar described the first time he saw gay representation in the media: while watching the 1990’s TV show, 90210.
His desire to travel to the U.S. and find a boyfriend bloomed.
Although his film Mom and Dad: I Have Something to Tell You was not shown, Azar said the reason he made it was because of the 2009 Tel Aviv gay centre shooting. About 15 people were injured and two died, most of whom were minors.
The catastrophe urged Azar to produce his own documentary, wanting people not to feel alone.
“It’s really easy to be gay in Israel, but there’s problems with religious radicals,” said the Israeli Big Brother host, which he repeated multiple times throughout the night.
A Q&A followed afterwards, and, at first, the small audience was nervous to ask questions.
One question specifically asked about the presence of lesbians, transgender and bisexual community in Israel, to which Azar answered lesbians don’t have enough presence and the transgender movement is strong.
In regard to how people believe living in Israel is petrifying, Azar stressed “my life is normal.”
During the conversation, he urged for Palestinian and Israeli groups and organizations work together and collaborate to create unity.
One of the differences between the LGBTQ community in the U.S. and in Israel is the mention of pronouns.
“I was in one of the events here, and the student wanted to do, like, a circle of introduction and said each person should say his name, his age and how does he wants to be referred [pronouns],” said Azar after the event.
“I said wow, this is too crazy, this is too much, like being too politically correct. Just relax, just be you.”
Despite the fact that there was a small crowd, Azar’s story clearly touched students. Many of them approached him afterwards, taking selfies, asking questions or for more profound explanations on certain topics he touched upon.
“I’ve been touring for the last four years and, of course I think it’s important because I want to expose a lot of people here to a lot of things in Israel that you won’t necessarily hear. One event that was like three years ago and only five people came, I said, wow what a waste of time,” said Azar.
“Then two days after, the girl who organized the event told me that a person in the room came out of the closet so I was, like, in heaven for a week from that; I was so happy.”
Featured Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of The Times of Israel photographer Yonatan Sindel.
Karla Casique is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.