Being Pretty Does Not Help The Cause: Why A Beauty Pageant Will Do Nothing To Combat Trans Prejudice

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Miss Universe contestants always talk of ending war and world hunger. Not one of them has done anything about it

Transgender pride events are virtually non-existent.

Sure, there are pride events worldwide. But all too often the T in these LGBT events are sidelined in favour of more exposure to sexuality. In fact, with the exception of Sparkle in Manchester, the idea of a trans* pride seems to be confined to small self-help groups and inward facing communities.

So opening up my copy of Time Out magazine on the tube on Tuesday, I was happy to see word of a ‘transgender pride’ event here in London, known as London Diamond Transgender Day. Reading the beginning of an interview with organiser Dee Chanelle filled me with hope, where she said:

Trans people don’t have their own Pride event… And we need one, desperately. We’re invisible at Pride. Either that or we’re lumped in with the drag queens. Nobody raises awareness about us.

The simple thought of a trans-exclusive pride day in London got me excited. I’ve always been a believer of the idea that trans people should be open about who we are, celebrate where we’ve come from, and fight for our future. However, further reading showed that LDTD wasn’t so much a celebration of the trans community, but something else entirely.

During the day, there was no real event to be had. The singular attraction was to be a self-help workshop presented by Press for Change, aimed at domestic issues including adoption, marriage and changing your birth certificate. Whilst I cannot criticise the importance this may have for some individuals, it’s hardly worthy of having a place at a Pride event. Pride is for celebration and protest. We have the rest of the year for self help.

The real ‘draw’ of London Diamond Transgender Day came along in the evening:

The evening boasts The Diamond Collection Concert – a four hour extravaganza at the Greenwood Theatre, hosted by Vicky Lee of the Way Out Club, with entertainment from trans singers and drag performers from the gay cabaret circuit. Chanelle will also sing before taking over as host of the Miss Diamond Queen 2013 beauty pageant.

Tickets for the event started at £20, and went up to £40 if you paid at the door. The cynic in me could be easily critical in thinking that this wasn’t anything to do with transgender pride at all. The entire day revolved around a beauty pageant which charged more than many west end musicals do for entry.

But what if this was a legitimate way of promoting trans* awareness? At least on the outside, this was advertised as being the aim. In her interview with Time Out, Miss Chanelle claims the event was ‘celebrating transgender men and women in today’s society – as lawyers, doctors, nurses and care workers, business owners, performers and entertainers’. I fail to see how a cabaret and beauty pageant are empowering to anyone in the community.

My issue with London Diamond Transgender Day isn’t that they are having a beauty pageant, or charging an extortionate amount. I understand they have their fans, and whilst its certainly not my thing I won’t stand in the way of those who wish to run a competition based on looks. But when you try and present it as a celebration of the community as a whole, and tackle prejudice by looking all pretty, then we have problems.

One stereotype trans people usually face is that of trans women not passing. – typically in the publics mid this manifests as a pot bellied, broad shouldered late transitioner, usually from a masculine career background like the armed forces or manual labour. Not many trans women fit this glove; and even the ones that do don’t deserve the disgust thrust upon them that we all suffer from as a result of others ignorance. So whilst holding a beauty competition so you can stand back and shout ‘Look, not all of us are ugly – some of us are gorgeous’ could be an understandable reaction to fight trans prejudice, it comes from ignorance alone. Our appearance is the least of our worries.

Being passable isn’t even the be-all-and-end-all of trans issues. Those that pass may find it easier living ‘stealth’ (living without nobody knowing about their trans history), but can run great risks upon bring found out. When I saw one of the doctors at Charing Cross gender identity clinic, I was told that he was aware of only two deaths for patients of his after having the operation – the first hung herself after being blackmailed once her history was found out, the other was murdered by her husband after he became aware of her trans past. Passable trans women are also commonly accused of ‘misleading’ impressionable men to have sex with us. These are genuine risks, and looking gorgeous on stage won’t do anything to combat them.

But what’s more worrying is that this was advertised in a magazine. Time Out is given away for free every Tuesday in London. It’s reader base is easily over a million. So seeing an event advertised that celebrates a community by openly embracing stereotypes – in this case, that of a trans woman wanting nothing more to be a shallow beauty queen, the other being drag queens – does more damage to our reputation than good.

It is also bizarre that Miss Chanelle dislikes trans people being ‘lumped in with the drag queens’ (a sentiment I share), and yet the night began with cabaret singers, many of which were drag performers. To advertise an evening as being a celebration if the trans community, then invite drag queens to perform – a group many in the public confuse us with – is damaging to our image. Anyone ignorant to our issues could have went along to the cabaret show and not known the difference between a trans performer and a drag performer. These are two very different things.

I did not go to London Diamond Transgender Day. I refused to pay up to £40 to watch drag queens and pretty trans women parade around on stage delusional that they are somehow combating trans prejudice, when all they were doing was putting on a show for the clientele of the Wayout Club (and by coincidence, that was where the after party was). That is not celebrating the diversity our community has. In fact, with the exception of Press For Change’s self-help workshop, there was nothing for trans men or other gender variant people. If I fell into those groups, I’d be insulted. As I don’t, I can only express disappointment, and disgust that a beauty pageant pretended to celebrate us all, when it was really just a small segment.

In the words of Dee Chanelle; ‘Trans people don’t have their own Pride event. And we need one, desperately’. I couldn’t agree more.

Shame this wasn’t it.

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