25 April 2012

Our "Unfair Advantage" In Beauty Pageants

On to another beauty pageant controversy...

Today, courtesy of Kelli Anne Busey (author of the Planet Transgender blog), I learned that organizers of the Miss Universe Singapore pageant might allow transgender contestants to enter. 

On its face, that sounds enlightened.  However, as the wonderful Ms. Busey points out, the Jakarta Post article about the issue still reflects some widely-held misconceptions:  "It is an event designed to celebrate the country's most beautiful women.  But next year's Miss Universe Singagpore could be won by somebody born a man..." 

Now, perhaps the writers and editors of the Jakarta Post can be forgiven for not understanding that male-to-female transsexuals (I include myself, of course.) were not born as men, or even boys. Yes, we have XY chromosomes (Most of us do, anyway.) and most of us have male genitalia and other body parts.  However, our psyches and spirits were no more male than Jennifer Lopez's body.  Many of us knew we were not the gender to which we were assigned at birth as soon as we had any awareness of gender.  Even those who weren't had, I believe, at least the innate propensity to femaleness.  If you want to use Freudian psychoanalytic terms, you could say--as Julia Serrano says, that our subconscious gender is female.

The reason why it took so long for so many of us to express such a realization, let alone to begin our transitions, is that the vocuabulary to articulate our reality wasn't available to us.  Much of it didn't even exist when I was growing up, and what was available to us was, for the most part, diminutive, if not simply insulting, to trans people and to women generally.  And, even if we could express our realities with such limited language, not many people could have understood our condition as anything other than a mental illness (at best) or, worse, a criminal pathology.

So we, the male-to-female transgenders of this world, were born just as female as any past or current Miss Universe contestant.  Some cis people accuse trans women of having "unfair" advantages because we don't have to worry about cellulite or some of the other conditions that plage some cis women, and because we've "gone under the knife."  Well, guess what?  Cis contestants--some, anyway--have also had surgery.  If not, they've probably had other treatments that are no more natural than the refinement of petroleum into gasoline.

The only advantage we have over cis women is that we have had to question the way we were defined at birth, and to claim our selves as women.  I'm not saying that makes us better people, but it is a kind of advantage.  How that gives someone an unfair advantage in a Miss Universe contest, I don't know.