01 November 2012

Brazil's Transgender Beauty Pageant

A few days ago, I wrote about the murder of a Brazilian transgender woman who went by the name Madona, and how it is just one example of the endemic violence against trans women--and women generally--in that country.

On the other hand, the country's health-care system provides free gender-reassignment surgery, with this caveat:  Those approved for surgery have to be approved by clinicians who, basically, have the same notions about gender, sexuality and transsexualism that their American counterparts abandoned at least twenty years ago.

And, as I mentioned, only a few legal occupations are open to trans people.  Those jobs pay so poorly (if they pay at all) that many trans people in them double as prostitutes--or sex work becomes part of their unwritten job descriptions.

So, in this environment of paradoxes about gender and sexuality, is it a surprise that Brazil has just hosted its first transgender beauty pageant?

On its face, it seems like a positive step for trans people.  Most of the more "progressive" countries on gender issues have not hosted such an event.  Some would argue that hosting the event could be a sign that at least some segments of Brazilian society are willing to accord respect and dignity to trans people.  Others might see it simply as an expression of a culture in which, perhaps more than in any other, physical beauty is celebrated.

But the contest could also be seen as a sign of segregation.  After all, in May, Jenna Talackova became one of the twelve finalists in the Miss Universe Canada Pageant.  Her victory did not come without a fight: Pageant organizers challenged her right to be in the competition although there was no written rule forbidding her entry.

Now, I've never been to Brazil.  I suspect, though, that if I were going to leave the US, I'd rather live in Canada than in Brazil (or most other places). I'd probably feel even more strongly about that if I were still transitioning, or if I were planning on getting married to another woman.

Having said that, I am glad that Brazil held a transgender beauty pageant.  It's one of the best things they could do at this point in their history.  Of course, if and when things change, the pageant may be unnecessary.  Then again, I think beauty pageants in general are obsolete institutions if, in fact, they ever had any meaning.

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