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Should Transgender Beauty Pageants Stop Existing?

This transsexual beauty queen thinks we might be better off without them.

by Rebecca Fitzsimons
17 January 2013, 8:00am

Kylan Arianna Wenzel

This week, 26-year old Korean-born Kylan Arianna Wenzel became the first ever transgender contestant to legally compete in a Miss Universe Organisation pageant. She ran for Miss California on Sunday night, and while she didn’t win (robbed, IMO) her participation marked a historical change in world gender politics (or universal gender politics, I guess).

Miss Universe head honcho Donald Trump changed the rules last year after Miss Canada finalist Jenna Talackova was disqualified for not being a “naturally born female”. Talackova immediately took him to court, accused him of discrimination and smashed his tiara into tiny little pieces. Twenty-thousand people signed a petition demanding Trump change the contest rules. Tail tucked between his legs, he complied.

The majority of the LGBT community might be happy to take Kylan's mere participation in the event as a sign that things are moving in the right direction, but Kylan herself has loftier aims. In fact, she feels that as long as transgender-only beauty pageants exist, so will anti-transgender discrimination. I made a couple of calls to get both sides of the argument.

VICE: Hey Kylan. Commiserations for not winning the other night. How important is beauty to you as a transgender woman?
The world is a shallow place. I think it's sometimes a goal for trans women to be beautiful, or trans men to be handsome, because that makes them more likely to be accepted. It's quite sad, actually. I definitely think the transgender community feels this enormous pressure to be "passable" so that they can go undetected and eventually not have to worry or fear how others might react to them.

Okay, so what inspired you to compete in Miss Universe?
I see it as taking a stand. I am a woman, and I, along with many trans women, happened to be born in the wrong body. I am a woman, so I should be allowed to compete in a pageant for women.

Fair enough. So you must be pleased about the new rules?
The new rule change hopefully creates a huge societal shift, and eventually the beginning of the end for transgender beauty pageants. However, nothing happens overnight and as you can see for any civil rights movement, it takes a long time for things to change or be accepted. I think transgender pageants will still be there as long there is still discrimination.

Explain the problem with transgender-only pageants.
Being transgender is being a type of woman. I am a Eurasian woman, and I am a transgender woman. I am a feminine woman. I don't think transgender women are separate from women, unless they choose NOT to undergo sexual reassignment surgery. That's a whole different conversation.

Let’s stick with the pageants. Do you think most trans people feel the same way as you, or are there people who believe the transgender-only competitions are a positive way of celebrating their gender?
There could be transsexuals that feel that way, but I certainly do not. I don't think it's necessarily a celebration to be transsexual. When I competed in Miss California USA, it was a celebration of my journey to get there, to show the world who I am.

Thanks Kylan, you’re insane hot!

Jeremy Stanford – director of the 2006 documentary film Trantasia (or, as it was known over here, Tears, Tiaras and Transsexuals) and an expert on the world of transgender beauty pageants and their queens – has a different way of thinking.

VICE: Hey Jeremy, what’s your take on all this?
Jeremy Stanford: Transgender pageants exist not just because the girls were not able to enter mainstream pageants – the transgender pageants celebrate their community and pride. They often feature more contestants who are regular performers and entertainers, and so are a much different experience than watching a mainstream pageant. It is a different audience and they will always be there.  

What were your experiences of this “different audience” during the filming of Trantasia?
I think all the girls were surprised by the sense of sisterhood they experienced during the pageant itself in Las Vegas. Yes, the girls were competitive and they came to win, but I don't think they expected to experience the feeling of being celebrated as they were and what a powerful, reaffirming emotion that was.

Why is there a trans pageant backlash?
For many transgendered individuals, transitioning is a private and personal matter, and the pageants reinforce negative stereotypes and present the women as hyper-sexualized.  You also get the same negative reaction towards trans pageants as you do towards regular pageants: that they objectify the women.

Thanks Jeremy.

While there's no suggestion that the trans community will start disintegrating any time soon, maybe differences of opinion like this one indicate that its next big battles will be fought between internal factions rather than against a common foe from outside. It seems inevitable that there will be individuals who will want to push on ahead and forget their transitions, and just as many that will want to hold onto them and celebrate them in their own right.

I guess we'll find out fairly soon, as we stride on into a genderless future and notions of what boys and girls are go the same way as Julie Burchill's career.

Follow Rebecca on Twitter: @RebeccaCFitz

Watch VICE hanging out with Brazil's transgender models in Fashion Week Internationale - Rio de Janeiro

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Kylan Arianna Wenzel