PAGEANT DRAMA: Miss USA Welcomes Transgender Contestants, Miss Pennsylvania Freaks Out

And Donald Trump is offended that THIS IS THE FIRST SCANDAL EVER TO ROCK HIS MISS UNIVERSE PAGEANT CORPORATION. Well, except for all the others.
Publish date:
June 8, 2012
sexism, Beauty Pageants, lady business, transgender

So have you all been following this beauty pageant drama?

Me neither. The truth is I have many pleasant memories of watching Miss America pageants as a young’un with my now-deceased grandmother. It was an annual event, and one we both looked forward to. I’d scoop fudge-swirl ice milk (not ice cream -- ice MILK) into a cone cup and sack out on the orange-and-yellow deep shag carpeting of my grandma’s house in the sedate retirement community of Leisureville (Boynton Beach branch). She would sit behind me in her small lady-sized recliner, where she spent most of her time, smoking cigarettes and drinking an unknown pale liquour and we’d snark.

I really learned snark from my grandmother before I learned it from anyone else. Neither of my parents are particularly adept at it, going straight to embittered rage in most cases, but my grandmother knew the delicate art of wryly commenting on a pageant contestant’s choice of talent to showcase, or her brutally unfortunate evening gown, or her answer to the inevitable world peace question in a way that wasn’t vicious, but wasn’t complimentary either. What it was, was funny.

But I stopped watching pageants at some point -- my grandmother and I both got older and the tradition fell to the wayside. Eventually, upon entering my Supreme Judgement phase in my late teens and early 20s, I was actively deriding pageants as antifeminist freak shows.

So I haven’t paid attention to the whole pageant thing in a long time. Until very recently.

Jenna Talackova, looking gorgeous.

Have you heard about Jenna Talackova? Talackova competed in the Miss Canada pageant this year, and although she didn’t win, she did place in the top 12, and was voted Miss Congeniality. This happened after Talackova was initially disqualified from the pageant, and the outcry over that decision led to a change in the Miss Universe Organization’s official rules for participation.

See, Jenna Talackova is transgender.

In case this story wasn’t heartwarming enough, the person in charge of the Miss Universe pageant org, which runs all these absurd pageant shenangians worldwide, and who decided to change the rules so Talakova could compete? Is Donald Trump. And I was so comfortable with loathing Trump! Now I have to rethink!

But the drama doesn’t end there. The Miss USA pageant selected its winner last weekend, crowning Miss Rhode Island the queen of American prettiness. It seems she got big points for her response during the always hilarious “question round” of the pageant to a query about the hypothetical fairness of a trans woman hypothetically winning the Miss USA title:

“I do think that that would be fair, but I can understand that people would be a little apprehensive to take that road because there is a tradition of natural-born women, but today where there are so many surgeries and so many people out there who have a need to change for a happier life, I do accept that because I believe it’s a free country.”

I have a couple issues with the stupidity of the question itself. First, it’s sort of gross to ask a contestant a question directly relating to another contestant, even in another country. They may as well have said “Miss New Jersey’s thighs are totally huge, do you think she should be escorted from the building?”

Second, how the hell is it even a question of “fairness”? Are we assuming that anyone born with a Y chromosome is naturally more adept at EVERYTHING in life, including BEING A WOMAN, such that they would have some kind of unreasonable advantage over the other competing ladies? WHAT?

My ladyness is unthreatened by Talackova, although I do envy her ability to wear white so beautifully.

With regard to her answer: eeeehhhhhh, “natural born women”? “So many surgeries”? Points for making an effort at not being totally offensive, but girls, we’ve still got some ‘splaining to do.

Still, IT GOES ON: This week, Miss Pennsylvania gave up her state crown in “protest,” saying the pageant was rigged. (In other news, I bet her runner-up is SUPER happy right now.)

Donald Trump, never one to let a good scandal go quietly into that good night (seriously, I long for the day he wakes up some morning with President Obama’s birth certificate tattooed ON HIS FACE), subsequently went on “Good Morning America” to basically call Miss Pennsylvania ugly and ALSO to say she’s a liar, because he has an email in which she explains that the real reason she’s failing to fulfill her state-queenly duties is because she’s angry about the transgender rule-changing business.

Oh, and he’s going to sue her. For tarnishing the heretofore unblemished name of beauty pageants. I feel like maybe Trump needs to watch some movies. Who else loves “Drop Dead Gorgeous”?

Oh, anyway, the email, allegedly sent by Miss Pennsylvania herself:

"I refuse to be part of a pageant system that has so far and so completely removed itself from its foundational principles as to allow and support natural born males to compete in it," the email, dated June 4, said. "This goes against ever moral fiber of my being. I believe in integrity, high moral character, and fair play, none of which are part of this system any longer.

"I hereby return the title of Miss Pennsylvania USA 2012."

Gross. The suggestion that trans inclusion is somehow immoral and lacking “integrity” is just hateful and wrong, and I’m glad the good people of Pennsylvania don’t need to be repped by this woman any longer.

I mean, I’m not even sure that pageants are necessarily the first mainstream forum where I’d like to see trans women take a positive stand. They are by their nature superficial and absurd, and while pageant culture is absolutely the ultimate -- save out-and-out drag -- in gender-as-performance, I still find them kind of demeaning and dumb, myself.

That said, these contestants are essentially competing to see who can be the best culturally-specific feminine ideal -- the Best Lady, if you will -- and that’s certainly not a feat tied to any particular set of chromosomes, so in a way it is deliciously subversive that this huge pageant organization is acknowledging that, however subtly.

But still: They’re beauty pageants. What good do they really do? Many queens do go on to great philanthropy, for sure, but do you need a crown for that? Can’t we all be helping out, queens and uglies alike?

We all know I missed my calling as a spokesmodel. (SORRY NO PHOTOSHOP GUYS, I AM STILL OUT OF TOWN!)

Obviously, I have not made my own mind up about this yet. And I guess the point is that women, no matter their sex at birth, should have the opportunity to decide if this is something they want to participate in.

Don’t worry about Jenna Talackova, who ultimately failed to get her coveted Miss Canada title. She’s going to be fine. Evidently the Canadian answer to Lifetime has already tapped Talackova for a reality show, although sadly there are no plans for it to air stateside as of yet. She also hopes to model for “Victoria’s Secret” and “Sports Illustrated” someday, both of which I’d totally love to see.

And who knows, if beauty pageants drop the overly sincere adherance to stodgy tradition and let more trans ladies compete, I may even start watching them again, and maybe develop an appreciation for their value as cultural touchstones for women worldwide.

Ah, who am I kidding, I’ll just make fun of the evening dresses. It’s what my grandma would have wanted, after all.