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Walter Talackova was born male in Vancouver, Canada in 1989. His parents were middle-class workers who raised him alongside three brothers. At age four, Walter realized he was different from most boys because of his penchant for feminine things. Growing up, his conviction also grew that he was a female in a male body.
At age 14, with support from his parents, he started a long and arduous journey to completely change his gender. The process included an initial ten years of hormone therapy and a painful gender reassignment procedure.
Now, at 23, with a feminine legal name (Jennatal) and a new civil status still warm on her passport, Walter or "Jenna," as she likes to be called, is already making waves in the ultimate arena of feminine beauty and glamour, the Miss Universe Pageant. In its 60-year history, Miss Universe only featured candidates who were natural-born females. Jenna may soon change that.
After a highly publicized chain of events, Jenna was allowed by the Miss Universe Organization (MUO), headed by Donald Trump, to join Miss Canada Universe, a local franchise of the pageant.
The possibility of the Miss Universe pageant unveiling its first transgender contestant sent shock waves in media and in social networking sites.
Lesbians, Gay, Bisexuals, Transsexuals or LGBT groups rejoiced at what they believe is a small victory against transgender discrimination. Others thought it was unnecessary to introduce such a change to a traditional beauty pageant. The Barbara Walters Show, which Talackova chose for an exclusive interview, surveyed her home country and found Canadians ambivalent about the issue.
Halfway across the globe, however, there was no lack of opinion among Filipinos. In a country that produced two Miss Universe winners and hosted the pageant twice, everyone has something to say.
Former Bb. Pilipinas-Universe and 1999 Miss Universe first runner-up Miriam Quiambao made her thoughts known to Trump via Twitter, saying: "In my humble opinion, the decision to include transgenders in the Miss Universe pageant sends the wrong message. This may set a precedent (and) one day most participants in Miss Universe (will be) transgenders."
Veteran pageant journalist Giovanni Yazon laments that having transgenders in Miss Universe will make the competition "trashy, not classy." He added that gay pageant fans are also vehemently against it and have taken their rants to online forums.
But is not the new MUO policy supposed to be in favor of LGBT? Gender rights activist Michael Kho Lim explains: "Remember that gay individuals and transsexuals are not the same. Gay men do not necessarily have the feminine aspirations that transsexuals have. In fact they may actually be striving to make this difference clear. There are different gay stereotypes and obviously you can't expect all to share the same opinion."
PUBLIC RELATIONS MANEUVER
The decision was an unorthodox move for a pageant that never felt the need to defend standards imposed on candidates regarding weight, height, child bearing, and other potential political landmines. And the pageants fans are not crazy about it. So why did the MUO decide for Talackova?
Talackova's lawyer Gloria Allred told the media that despite allowing her client unprecedented entry to the pageant, the MUO decision was "ambiguous and wishy-washy."
Allred made a valid point as one of the conditions given to Talackova reads like an escape clause for MUO. It says that in order for Talackova to participate in Miss Universe, she must "meet standards established by other international competitions."
The stand on transgender recognition worldwide is more or less uniform: majority of countries do not have affirmative transgender recognition laws and having transsexuals in traditional beauty pageants is nowhere among the established competition standards that MUO requires.
The MUO decision could have been made to placate activist groups and prevent negative publicity in months leading to the pageant. Based on the statement, the new MUO policy on transgenders seems noble and path-breaking, but without the mechanism to support it among most local franchises, it is benign and practically useless. If Talackova's popularity snowballs, that might be another story.
Ultimately, Miss Universe is a television production whose existence relies on increasing its viewership. It is understandable that any decision that MUO makes is aimed towards this purpose. Transgender rights, for now, is a publicity generator making Miss Universe hot on discussion lists. Expect the MUO to milk it for all it is worth.
The author was a contestant in the 2005 Bb. Pilipinas pageant, and even after she joined the corporate world, she keeps herself updated with developments in the pageant scene. She writes for the Office for Strategic Communications of De La Salle University and is working on her masters degree in creative writing at the same university.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of HerWord or BusinessWorld.
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I agree with the author's observation. Donald Trump is just concerned about money and all this hoopla is all about increasing buzz for the pageant. Pero medyo sobrang affected yata ang Pinoy crowd kasi mega-react ang Miriam Quiambao at ibang past beauty queens! Chill lang, mga ateh. The world knows naman that you ladies are natural-born women. : )
Posted by Jay on Friday, 04.20.12 @ 17:19pm
after binibining pilipinas, next is the miss earth. i have a friend who is joining. please support her :) https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=389052537783960&set=a.389026691119878.85025.343639122325302&type=1&theater
Posted by Elaine Chua on Friday, 04.20.12 @ 16:53pm
Nice work! ^_-
First off, I may be a bisexual myself but allowing transgenders to join the Miss Universe pageant seems to degrade the natural-born females. Doesn't look like a challenge to me, sorry. Additionally, IMO, the pageant itself should showcase women's natural beauty, so females and even transgenders, who, obviously were touched by cosmetic surgeons, shouldn't have the guts to join. I don't know. Getting transgenders off the topic, I would rather admire women of natural beauty than those who just became pretty because of the emerging hype of miracle doctors.. But that's just me. :)
It seems that the MUO was held up by a group of activists who were having high hopes of joining the pageant, and now that they have succeeded, it just shows that these groups can "control" various organizations by rallying or whatever. Same sex weddings, the privilege of joining a worldwide competition for the most beautiful women in the universe...what's next?
Posted by wehhh on Tuesday, 04.17.12 @ 18:28pm
I don't see any problem in allowing LGBT in join beauty pageants. Let them! I think it will be more fun and it will challenge the natural females to appreciate what they were born with.
Posted by Boot on Tuesday, 04.17.12 @ 15:31pm
It's called Ms. Universe for a reason.
If all gender-types will be allowed, just call the bloody pageant "Universe".
Posted by Chris Evans on Tuesday, 04.17.12 @ 13:46pm
seryoso ka bhoy? ^_^
Posted by ghirl on Tuesday, 04.17.12 @ 13:31pm
Very nice insight. I really think they're just doing it for the publicity.
Posted by Anne on Tuesday, 04.17.12 @ 13:30pm
Hmmm... parang naging circus na.
Posted by Ria on Tuesday, 04.17.12 @ 11:54am
MUO has the right to change its rules however they see fit. But in the end, their viewers will judge if the changes were indeed good changes. This is a risk MUO wants to take. But as a viewer of Ms Universe, I want to see ONLY natural-born women compete. That shouldn't mean discriminating against transsexuals, as what Talackova's lawyer's claims.