There are times I really love British Columbia and this is one of them.
Two weeks ago, the press, blog-sites, and youtube lit up with the news that Jenna Talackova, a 23 year old finalist for the Miss Canada competition, had been kicked out of the pageant. She was kicked out when it was discovered she is a transwoman. Jenna was born male, but self-identified as a girl by age 4, began hormone therapy at age 14, and had gender reassignment surgery at age 19. However, she failed to mention any of this on her application for the contest. Apparently the rules required that contestants be “naturally born female.” The contest organizers claimed Jenna was dishonest on her application and removed her photo and profile from their Miss Canada finalists website. Jenna pointed out that this rule is not listed on the competition website, only in the fine print in some office someplace.
(Gloria Allred and Jenna Talackova)
Jenna also immediately retained the services of American celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred and another Canadian lawyer. They threatened lawsuits, but also (more importantly) organized a press conference in Los Angeles and an online petition to Donald Trump to change the Miss Universe competition rules (over 40,000 signatures so far). In the face of such adverse publicity, Trump and the Miss Canada contest organizers ran for cover and released a statement that Jenna could enter the contest “provided she meets the legal gender recognition requirements of Canada, and the standards established by other international competitions." Since she has already competed in international beauty pageants in 2010, she apparently meets these requirements, though her profile (as of Wednesday) has still not been returned to the Miss Canada site.
But here's the greatest part: in interviews following her previous pageants, Jenna had talked about her trans status, which makes me think that the pageant people who submitted her as a finalist from Vancouver, British Columbia almost certainly knew this too. They probably also knew that introducing her to the Miss Universe arena would create a small explosion, even if they weren't aware of the rules violation. And they did it anyway! (Did I mention that I love B.C.?)
Given all the transphobia out there, I can't imagine she will actually win the Miss Canada title. Also, I usually avoid beauty pageants like the objectifying, anti-feminist plague my mother taught me they were. However, I find something genuinely beautiful about a transwoman competing in a contest that is all about the female image, when that image is what she has fought uphill for all of her life. Perhaps the Mr. and Miss Universe contests could be truly validating and uplifting events, if they only allow transmen and transwomen to compete?