Modern beauty queens: Standing up to adversity

Just a quick note to say how truly fascinating the ‘Lady boy Beauty Queens’ documentary on TV Pick was on Tuesday night (24 September 2013). The programme charted the experiences of transgender women born as men who took part in a beauty pageant in Thailand.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder © MisBeee Writes

Of the 23 contestants in the ‘Miss International Queen’ that were featured, I found it humbling that each of them were participating to make a point to the world that they were no longer going to be silenced.

It was striking that in most cases, the women representing their respective countries did not live there but still felt it essential to fly the flag for their countries of birth.

Examples included a Cuban living in California, US, a Chilean living in Sweden and maybe most memorable, Nigerian-born Sahara who lives in London.

Against all odds, she managed to come second to the Thai winner in the competition. Sahara was one of three Black trans women competing in the event (the other two were from the US), who shared her experiences of being victimised in Nigeria for being camp.

As a bright young student, she had been thrown in prison where she was beaten for days before escaping and gaining asylum in the UK. Her parents have disowned her….Sahara poignantly referred to her mom as saying that she does not want to see her ‘looking like that’.

Sahara still bears the scars from her physical abuse today and was concerned that these marks on her legs would affect her chances in the competition. Other than that, Sahara has been lucky and apart from a boob job, she has not had to have any costly surgeries to feminise her body, she said. (I guess

the other important surgery will follow in due course).

But far from the scars affecting her chances, I believe that her experiences helped to propel her into second place. Instead of spinning out the typical yarn that you find in such pageants where contestants hope for a world without war…..Sahara told the audience that being a contestant was testament that she had survived the adversities in her life and that dreams can come true.

According to the documentary, a person can be sentenced for 14 years for being gay or trans in Nigeria and in some states can even face execution by stoning.

She wasn’t the only winner for me, Mocha von Treese’s story made my heart wrench. She was one of the US contestants who was named Miss Congeniality in the competition. Unlike Sahara, it is evident that Mocha has had a lot of work done. There’s a cheek lift, lip augmentation, boob job, ribs taken out, the obvious rhinoplasty – not to mention the regular laser hair removal sessions.

During the documentary, she revealed to us what she used to look like as a man – images she had kept hidden for years. It was a tearful reunion in which she said she didn’t recognise the man she saw in front of her. For me, the resemblance was clear and the eyes most striking.

What she vocalised was that of a sad man who had endured years of suffering growing up in Chicago. And for Mocha and thousands of trans women like her that struggle continues.

Mocha points out, now as a Black, trans and full-figured woman to boot, she is at the bottom of the pile.

But that hasn’t dented her spirit. She happily admits that ballet is the only connection that she has with her former male past and it was wonderful to see this full-figured woman pirouetting with the grace of a seasoned ballet dancer as part of her pageant performance.

She was awarded the Miss Congeniality title because of her positive attitude and made a point of telling us that it was important for her to show the world that Black women are not all about attitude and drama. She was liked by the other contestants and this positive take she has on life highlights that she is far more grounded and happy living as a woman than as a man.

The documentary is one of a series of episodes exploring the challenges faced by transsexuals in society.

Kirsty Osei-Bempong

For more blogs on gender and sexuality, check out Dakan: the ultimate love story

and Ghanaian gay rights activist explores intersectionality and empire

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