A transgender win for Miss Universe

The competition changes the rules -- and makes history

Topics: LGBT,

A transgender win for Miss UniverseJenna Talackova (Credit: AP/Reed Saxon)

If you, like the rest of us, assumed you’d go the rest of your life without ever once thinking, “Good job, there, Donald Trump,” today is the day you may have to think again. Believe it or not, the uniquely coiffed conspiracy theorist and fragrance magnate has done something cool — by letting transgender beauties vie for the crown of Miss Universe.

Late last month, Miss Universe Canada contestant Jenna Talackova was disqualified on the grounds that she was, in its terms, “not a naturally born female.” But last week Trump’s organization said the 23-year-old, who underwent gender reassignment four years ago, would be permitted to return and compete. She is now back on the roster of this year’s Canadian finalists.

And after weeks of working Miss Universe officials, GLAAD declared Tuesday that starting with next year’s pageant, competition will be open to transgender women. In an official statement, GLAAD spokesperson Herndon Graddic said, “At a time when transgender people are still routinely denied equal opportunities in housing, employment and medical care, today’s decision is in line with the growing levels of public support for transgender people across the country.” Miss Universe Organization president Paula Shugart added, “The decision to include transgender women in our beauty competitions is a result of our ongoing discussions with GLAAD and not Jenna’s legal representation, which if anything, delayed the process. We have a long history of supporting equality for all women, and this was something we took very seriously.”



It’s a smart move, and not just because it’s a progressive one. The pageant is, in many ways, as dated and irrelevant as Donald Trump’s hair. Tossing in an element of controversy, Trump no doubt knows, is a good way to get attention. And sure enough,  Twitter was ablaze Tuesday with outraged fans of “natural born” females complaining  that “if these freaks want a pageant let them start there own with animals who are woman and woman who are men and men who are woman [sic]” and “this MAN IS NOT A WOMAN! and its almost guarenteed the ratings will drop because of this guarenteed! [sic, sic, sic]” You hear that, Trump? Your viewers guarentee it. I’m sure you’re losing sleep over alienating the coveted Ranting Poor Speller demographic.

The opportunity to strut around in a bathing suit and tiara may not seem like great gender progress for anybody, but in this case, it truly is. It may prove a head trip for anyone who still watches beauty pageants to ogle the pretty girls and know that some of those pretty girls were born boys, but that’s their problem. What matters more is sending a message of tolerance and acceptance to transgender males and females all around the world, of moving in the direction of changing people’s perceptions of what equality for “all women” really looks like. Come pageant time, Jenna Talackova may not ultimately snag the big sash and tiara. But with her honesty and persistence, she’s helped win something even bigger. She’s won a place for the transgender community at yet another table. It’s a harder-won prize, and a lasting legacy.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 10
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Romance novels need a canon

    "Bet Me" by Jennifer Crusie

    A contemporary romantic comedy set to Elvis Costello and lots of luxurious and sinful sugary treats.   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "Welcome to Temptation" by Jennifer Crusie

    Another of Crusie's romantic comedies, this one in the shadow of an ostentatiously phallic water tower.   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "A Gentleman Undone" by Cecilia Grant

    A Regency romance with beautifully broken people and some seriously steamy sex.   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "Black Silk" by Judith Ivory

    A beautifully written, exquisitely slow-building Regency; the plot is centered on a box with some very curious images, as Edward Gorey might say.   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "For My Lady's Heart" by Laura Kinsale

    A medieval romance, the period piece functions much like a dystopia, with the courageous lady and noble knight struggling to find happiness despite the authoritarian society.   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "Sweet Disorder" by Rose Lerner

    A Regency that uses the limitations on women of the time to good effect; the main character is poor and needs to sell her vote ... or rather her husband's vote. But to sell it, she needs to get a husband first ...   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "Frenemy of the People" by Nora Olsen

    Clarissa is sitting at an awards banquet when she suddenly realizes she likes pictures of Kimye for both Kim and Kanye and she is totally bi. So she texts to all her friends, "I am totally bi!" Drama and romance ensue ... but not quite with who she expects. I got an advanced copy of this YA lesbian romance, and I’d urge folks to reserve a copy; it’s a delight.   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "The Slightest Provocation" by Pam Rosenthal

    A separated couple works to reconcile against a background of political intrigue; sort of "His Gal Friday" as a spy novel set in the Regency.   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "Again" by Kathleen Gilles Seidel

    Set among workers on a period soap opera, it manages to be contemporary and historical both at the same time.   Read the whole essay.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>