Earlier this year, the United Kingdom held its first ever Miss Transgender Beauty Pageant. Within the specifications of the pageant, each contestant must be a transgender women living full time. Now, my knowledge of beauty pageants may only go as far as occasionally watching the TLC classic “Toddlers and Tiaras”, or knowing that the 2012 Miss Universe is a Boston University alumna. But with both of these credibility-shattering facts aside, I can say with absolute certainty that this trans pageant is a pretty big deal. This beauty pageant stands out in that it promotes itself as trans-oriented, not drag, ironically solidifying the “reality” of the beauty pageant for the contestants, when, in and of itself, pageants are fundamentally contrived.
Miss Transgender Beauty Pageant not only in practice but in name promotes a progressive stance on gender and beauty. By advertising the pageant as Miss Transgender and specifically not a drag competition, the administrators of the pageant emphasize that drag and trans are not one in the same. Drag is to trans as clothing is to skin. Drag is a performance, and drag queens are artists and performers. Conversely, trans is reality. Trans is gender. Trans is truth. In the United States perhaps our most notable trans pageant is the annual Miss Queen USA Pageant. Even in the name of the pageant, trans contestants are cornered into a drag competition. But, and here is where the U.K. got it right, a drag pageant and a trans pageant are not the same. Drag queens are not always identified as trans because, after the closing ceremony, they change out of their dresses and into their boxers. Whereas, trans women are women. Plain and simple. You never see a Miss Universe contest confused for a drag contest, so why is it any different for Miss Trans?
With that in mind, however, there is a separation of beauty pageants and trans beauty pageants, identifying trans women and women as separate genders. The Miss Transgender Beauty Pageant shows the divide between trans and drag while also inadvertently showing the divide in trans women and women. Although I agree that trans women have their own culture, and therefore are entitled to have their own pageant, that does not make their womanhood any less valid. In 2013, the first transgender woman qualified as a contestant for a Miss Universe organization, but the trans communities’ influence in pageants such as Miss USA still remain minimal. And so, the Miss Transgender Beauty Pageant supports the definition of transgender as a reality and not a reprieve from it, but by emphasizing pageantry as reality, we must take pause. The minority of trans women involved in “normal” pageants negates all that trans pageants look to promote.
Like I said before, beauty pageants are, in and of themselves, contrived. And though there is no shame in pageantry there must be a conscious distinction between pageants, people and the influence of gender. So although we should praise the U.K. for their first ever transgender beauty pageant, we should also be wary. Although trans pageants are now a reality, that does not make pageantry any more real. Only when all women are equally included in all beauty pageants, trans no longer being an abnormality in pageant culture, will I believe in the triumph of the tiara.