Miss Universe Needs to Come into the 21st Century

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

Jenna Talackova was born with male body parts, but was in reality born a woman.  As a child she knew that even though she had male body parts and was being raised as a boy that she was in fact a girl.  By the time she was four she fully recognized the truth of who she really was.  She started hormone treatments in her early teens and had sex reassignment surgery at the age of 19.  But because of those male body parts–that she no longer even has–she was just disqualified from the Canadian Miss Universe pageant.

I am a pacifist and would not want to join the military, but as a gay man I believe that I should have the right to join the army even if I don’t have the desire.  If I were a woman, even a very pretty one, I don’t believe I would want to compete in a beauty pageant as I don’t like the way they objectify women.  While the winners can do a lot of good for some worthwhile causes and while there are questions that test intelligence the reality is that the pageant is not about good works or intelligence–it is about rewarding beauty for beauty’s sake.  But I would not want to be discriminated against and told that I couldn’t compete if I wanted to do so.  I would fight for my right to compete even if I didn’t have the desire to compete.

According to Wikipedia the Miss Universe pageant lineage goes back to another contest in 1926.  The Miss Universe website dates their own start in 1952.  A partnership between NBC and Donald Trump has run the pageant since June 20, 2002.  Gay News Networks reports that in 2003 a rule was added to disqualify transgender persons from entering the contest, stating that contestants have to be “naturally born female”.  Nine years later the Canadian pageant used that rule to disqualify one of the 65 finalists in this year’s Miss Canada contest.

Jenna Talackova was born with male body parts, but knew she was female as early as four years old and has lived most of her life as female.  It is not a choice.  It is who she is.  So when she was asked a question on the form about whether she was a naturally born female she answered “yes”.  The pageant believes she lied when answering this question.  Others believe she was perfectly honest because that is who she always was in her mind, her heart, and soul.  The genitals were meaningless to her own identity.

The question should not be whether Talackova is a female, but why the genitalia she was born with should matter to the pageant organizers.  Even if you accept that she was born male and the sex reassignment surgery made her female then you still have to accept that she is female.  This is the same kind of issue that Renee Richards faced in the tennis world back in the 1970’s.  Did the tennis organizations really believe that she changed from male to female solely to pursue a tennis championship?  That the possibility of a championship was really that important to her?  Does Donald Trump think that someone born with male body parts would go through a surgery to change their gender solely to win a beauty contest?  If so, he’s crazier than I thought.

The reality is that Talackova has been female all along.  The sex reassignment surgery simply helped put her in the right body where she could more comfortably be herself.  She also happens to be stunningly beautiful enough to compete successfully as a beauty queen.

The Miss Universe pageant needs to look at and understand itself in the kind of way that this one contestant did so many years ago.  They need to ask if someone’s gender at birth matters to who that person really is and then ask in all earnestness what difference that makes to the pageant.  Is it simply prejudice that brought about this rule?  I believe it is and I believe they need to examine that and rescind the rule.  If it is about being natural and exhibiting natural beauty, do they disqualify contestants for breast implants, plastic surgery, makeup, and other enhancements?  What Talackova did was for medical and psychological reasons, not for making herself more beautiful.  The pageant does also discriminate against married individuals and disallows pregnant contestants.  Perhaps they need to recognize they’re in the 21st century now and take another hard look at who can qualify and why.

Change.org has started a petition to try to get Miss Talackova reinstated.  In about a day they have already collected about 30,000 signatures.  Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have already written letters to the pageant officials in Canada asking them to reconsider.  At least one of them pointed out that the province of Ontario has laws prohibiting discrimination against transgender individuals.  Perhaps if the pageant officals themselves can’t decide to overturn the decision the province will step in and do it for them.

To sign the petition go to http://www.change.org/petitions/miss-universe-canada-donald-trump-reverse-the-unfair-disqualification-of-jenna-talackova

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About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Both are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he has been an actor, writer, and director since 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events.
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