This article originally appeared on VICE Mexico.
From crowning the prettiest person in school all the way up to grown women battling for the right to host sporting events, looking good is extremely important to Venezuelans. In recent years, the LGBT community have also hopped on this competitive beauty tradition and started organizing their own contests. One of them is called Miss Gay Lady Venezuela, a beauty pageant held in the northwestern port town of Maracaibo.
After reaching out to hear more about the competition, I was invited by organizer Carolina—who prefers to call herself "Conejita Ramírez" (Bunny Ramírez)—to guest judge it. I was so excited by the prospect that I managed to show up at the venue a few hours early.
"You came early, honey. I'm so glad you're here," she told me as I walked in. Within a matter of moments, we got to talking about the fact that she was transgendered and what sort of role that played in her life. "I've undergone surgery from the hips up. I guess I shouldn't give away all of my secrets, but yeah, I consider myself a woman."
It wasn't long before the club began filling up with guys, who, in a few hours, would be glamorous women.
One man told me: "You'll see. You won't recognize me. I'm going to prove just how feminine I can be." He began laughing when I asked him whether or not he would like to live his day-to-day life a woman. "No, papi. I'm a real fag. I don't want to be a woman."
Entering Miss Gay Lady Venezuela is relatively easy—all you really need is the participation fee and a desire to win. As all of the contestants were from the state of Zulia, the different regions they claimed to represent were actually nothing more than letters hung on a sash around their chests.
Just before the show, I was allowed to enter the dressing rooms to talk to the participants—all of whom seemed completely comfortable being naked in front of me. In one of the corners, a woman was helping some of the men cover their bodies with transparent insulation tape. This tape isn't only used to tighten their bellies, so they resemble that of a 15-year-old girl's, but also to help tuck their junk in between their buttocks. It was hard to imagine that there was ever even a penis there when everything was set in place.
My curiosity got the best of me and I had to ask the tape-girl whether or not she had been born a woman.
"No. I was born a man but I'm a woman now," she smiled. "I haven't had surgery; I still have a dick but I don't really use it for much."
Around about midnight, all glammed up and standing atop toweringly tall stilettos, the contestants took the stage and started to perform some sort of choreographed dance routine. The Miss Lady Venezuela theme song came blaring out of the speakers and the entire crowd got involved.
"On a night as beautiful as this / Any of us could win / Being crowned Miss Venezuela / On a night as beautiful as this..."
The runway show lasted for hours. First the swimsuit competition (which, to be fair, was the most interesting thanks to the immense skill involved in hiding everyone's genitalia), then the evening wear, and, finally, that bit where the contestants explain their hopes and dreams to the crowd.
A contestant named Genesis was the first to hop onstage and take the mic. Sporting a garish blue cocktail dress, she misstepped, stumbled, and almost fell over. Luckily, she managed to regain her balance before addressing the crowd.
"I don't want to be a woman. But women are the most important thing in our lives. Especially our mothers. I'm here and dressed like this to honor them, adore them, and tell them they are the best. Women kick ass!" she screamed as the crowd collectively lost their shit.
In the end, a winner was crowned, the ladies became men again, and the entire event rapidly devolved into a dance party—one that was still going when I left at 3 AM.
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