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Should transgender woman get to compete in Miss Universe pageant?

April 4, 2012 - Andrea Johnson
Should someone who was born a man but had a sex change operation get to compete in the Miss Universe pageant?

After initially saying no, pageant owner Donald Trump has changed his mind and given permission for 23-year-old Canadian Jenna Talackova to compete in the pageant "provided she meets the legal gender recognition requirements of Canada, and the standards established by other international competitions." Talackova had hired California attorney Gloria Allred to try to make the pageant change its rules.

Talackova was born a man but had a sex change operation four years ago at age 19.

"I am a woman," Talackova was quoted as saying Tuesday in an Associated Press article. "I was devastated, and I felt that excluding me for the reason that they gave was unjust. I have never asked for any special consideration. I only wanted to compete."

According to the article, Talackova and Allred urged Trump to state that Talackova can vie to represent Canada in the Miss Universe contest if Talackova wins the Canadian contest. They also called on him to eliminate the rule.

"I do not want any other woman to suffer the discrimination that I have endured," said Talackova in the article.

Photographs of Talackova show a tall blonde with a heavily made-up face, wearing the evening gown and tiara or swim suit typical of beauty pageant contestants. Most people probably wouldn't think Talackova was born a man at first glance and would just see an attractive young woman. On second glance there are perhaps a few physical hints of Talackova's original gender.

Talackova apparently said "yes" on an application form asking if the contestant was born a woman. One of the pageant organizers got suspicious and questioned Talackova more closely last week. A Canadian pageant official said the lie was why they initially turned Talackova down to compete.

I have mixed feelings about the whole issue. I don't know what Talackova's reasons were for having a sex change operation, but in a lot of other cases the person genuinely feels trapped in the wrong gendered body. There is some research that suggests something might go awry during fetal development and the brain might be a different gender than the body someone is born with. In a case like that, a sex change operation is probably best seen as corrective surgery.

Life is probably difficult for someone who is transgender, probably even more so than for someone who is gay, given the level of discrimination in society against them. It's perhaps still a little more socially acceptable to make negative comments about transgender people than it is about people who are gay.

Talackova certainly doesn't deserve sneers and namecalling; however, I'm not sure the Canadian ought to be in a beauty contest where one of the rules is that someone must be born a woman, either. I have my doubts that Talackova will get far in the contest even with Trump's permission, but I suppose I could be wrong.


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