A Naturally Born Woman: The Miss Universe Canada Controversy

by: Khai Devon

Jenna Talackova is a gorgeous woman. Articles across the web describe her as a “buxom blonde,” and her spirit shines through in every fierce pose and catwalk strut. She competes in beauty pageants, and made it to the finals of Canada’s Miss Universe competition recently.  Her story is inspiring, reflecting a battle against a body that betrayed her from birth. She’s been fighting that body since she was four, getting corrective surgery at nineteen years old. The now 23 year old woman not only looks fabulous in a bikini, but looks fabulous on paper as well.

And, Miss Universe Canada has disqualified Miss Talackova, for being born with a body that did not look like one that would belong to a future beauty queen.  Miss Talackova is transsexual. When she was born, she was inappropriately assigned a male body. At four years old, Jenna announced that she was a girl. At fourteen, she started hormone therapy. At nineteen, she underwent sex reassignment surgery. At twenty-three, she has a female body, a female gender identity, and lives her life as a female.

When Jenna applied, she marked on her application that she was female. By any cues that our society accepts as gender cues, she is correct. However, when an organizer got suspicious (no articles report what made the organizer suspicious) and confronted her, Jenna explained that she was trans. At that point, the Miss Universe organization had a choice to make. They had three options, as I see it.

They could have continued allowing one of their top competitors to compete, and made no more mention. A woman is a woman, regardless of what her body looks like when she’s born. They could have shrugged their shoulders, and moved on—the way I, personally, feel that the response to finding out someone is trans* should go.

They could have generated massive positive publicity, if Miss Talackova had agreed. Her story is compelling, and in a society that is rapidly progressing but not quite at the point where everyone’s opinion is that being trans* is just like having any other identifier—just part of who you are and what your story is, but not something that has to completely define you. They could have blown up the story, gotten massive publicity for their progressive stance on civil rights, and garnered a huge viewing audience.

Or, they could have gone with the third option, which they did. They disqualified Jenna Talackova, citing a rule that states that Miss Universe must be a “naturally born woman.” At this point, all the Miss Universe competition can do is damage control. Because what they fail to understand is, Jenna is a naturally born woman. She was born a woman. Her gender is not what was wrong at birth, her body was. And Miss Universe would never have thought to disqualify another contestant who had had corrective surgery for what is, essentially, a disability she was born with.

Yet, because Miss Talackova was honest when confronted by a “suspicious” event organizer, she chose to be honest. And as a reward for her honesty, she was denied the chance at her dreams of becoming Miss Universe. It is a crying shame that such an injustice was done to one who has fought so hard to get to where she is today. Predictably, there are those who support Miss Universe’s decision. But, in a turn of events that inspires hope for a future where people are truly granted the freedom to be themselves, there is also public outcry and demand for Jenna to be reinstated. There is even a petition on asking Miss Universe Canada to reverse the discriminatory decision.

While it breaks my heart that I’m even writing this story, that it’s even an issue that a woman is being so unfairly persecuted for being born with a body that caused her to be discriminated against, misgendered, and treated wrongly; that I’m not writing an inspiring story of a woman who overcame long odds but am instead writing a story of a corporation that chose to take a step away from inclusion—I’m also hopeful.

It is getting better. It will continue to get better.  If enough of us keep raising our voices loud enough, it will get better quickly.

Khai Devon is a genderqueer lesbian poet with a dreamer’s sensibility and a compulsion to create the world sie wants to live in. Sie writes blogs at http://disturbinglynormal.wordpress.com, and http://duffelbagandadream.wordpress.com, updating whenever the words overflow and sie has internet access. Sie also writes poems like sie’s breathing, and sie’d like it if you emailed hir at khaidevon@gmail.com if you wanted to talk about poetry, activism, or anything sie’s written about here.

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