Trans woman disqualified from Miss Universe Canada

Jenna TalackovaI am not exactly a fan of beauty pageants or Donald Trump, who owns Miss Universe. But I’m also not a fan of discrimination.

Jenna Talackova was a finalist for Miss Universe Canada until she was disqualified Friday because she is transgender. Talackova’s trans status wasn’t a secret – she competed in Miss International Queen, a trans beauty pageant in Thailand. But her gender history became a topic of blog chatter last week, which led to her disqualification:

National director of Miss Universe Canada Denis Davila told the Toronto Star that while they consider Talackova to be a “real girl,” Miss Universe rules stipulate that contestants must be a “naturally born female.”

Huh? I don’t see how a requirement someone be assigned female at birth could not be about undermining Talackova’s female-ness. The fact is, trans women are women. If there’s a contest for women, we should be allowed to participate.

As I argued when Rima Fakih won Miss USA, representation matters. Seeing a trans woman included in a pageant, one of the most normative displays of gender policing, would certainly have an impact in terms of including trans women in the broader group “women.” We can both have a problem with a sexist, objectifying beauty pageant and with the fact that a trans woman is being excluded.

I have to say I am enjoying the fact that a trans woman made it this far through a contest to see who has the most ideal female body. This certainly flies in the face of a lot of assumptions about trans women, like that you can identify us by sight and that we’re all “ugly.” Talackova is doing a great job of matching the normative ideal of feminine beauty (as much as I’m not a fan of this ideal or how it’s valued).

Here’s where you can contact Miss Universe Canada to let them know how you feel about discrimination.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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  • cruisethevistas

    I think the Miss Universe context is incredibly misogynistic; I don’t think any feminist would want to support it.

    • anyadnight

      I agree on the misogyny, but it would be cool and subversive if they decided to be inclusive towards all women instead of reenforcing transphobia and cis-privilege. I think it’s good to subvert some of those old fashioned misogynistic structures as well as SMASH oppressive misogynistic structures with the righteous feminist hammer of gender-trouble!
      …I think I was channeling feminist hulk there for a sec.

    • Angel H.

      Nobody said to support the pageant. We’re saying that Jenna should be supported in her fight against transphobia. Also, it’s really not a cisgender woman’s place to tell a trans woman “ur doing it wrong” when she’s dealing with discrimination.

  • Andrew

    But Carrie Prejean was NOT disqualified for her homophobia…

  • Ragnar

    Great piece, Jos.

    I sent the following email. Anyone, feel free to copy-and-paste this as the template for your own message. PLEASE SEND OUT SOMETHING – ANYTHING – TO THEM SO THAT THEY THINK TWICE IN THE CASE THIS HAPPENS AGAIN!

    To whom this may concern,

    I am writing to express my dissatisfaction with the disqualification of the trans female finalist, Jenna Talackova.

    I am dissatisfied for many reasons. I am dissatisfied because her disqualification stems from a history that excludes trans people from participating in society, from viewing them as people who can be beautiful and inspiring, and from allowing them to take part in the gendered activities that help them transition in tough times. I am dissatisfied because as a gay-identifying male who struggles with gender identity, who has often been excluded, I feel that she deserved to continue in the competition. We should be judging her on her merit, not on her status as a trans woman. If she believes that she is a woman, we should treat her not as a second class citizen or woman, but as a woman who is beautiful, courageous and confident, and who has every right to stand by those other women and try her best.

    Jenna is a beautiful woman, who was born a woman in spirit, irregardless of whatever her body might have indicated. She is just as natural a woman as I am a man. She is just as natural and human as any other human being on this planet.

    As a scholar of trans studies, I am not surprised by your decision. As someone who has seen exclusion, violence and discrimination of trans people first-hand, as well as that of other people who are not gender-conforming and heterosexual, I am far from surprised. However, that does not mean that I will not send you an email – one of hopefully many from others – to express my dissatisfaction with your decision. I am at least happy that you respected her gender identity. However, by saying she does not conform to ‘natural’ femininity, you propagate the notion that trans women can believe that they are real women, but at the end of the day, they aren’t. And that is something I find troubling.

    Although you cannot reinstate her participation, I hope that you take into account my message when another trans woman, or a woman of any minority background for that matter, enters the competition, that you think twice of any decisions you make, and I hope that they will not be subject to such discriminatory practice.

    Besides that, I hope the competition goes well.


    Einar Ragnar Jónsson
    Brown University

  • anyadnight

    Cause they know they can’t win against her!

  • toongrrl

    Message to Miss Universe Canada–XEugv0

  • Jennifer

    I’m not a fan of beauty pageants (for some reason I felt the need to preface my comment with this.)

    That said – she is a woman – and as far as I’m concerned she was born a woman! She may have been a woman with a penis for a while, but she’s still a woman! Most male-to-female transsexual individuals I know, knew from a young age that they were not a boy, despite having a penis. The parts do not make the person.
    I don’t know the exact wording of the rules for entrants, so I have no idea really if she did break some rule by entering, but if she did break some rule, then the rule should be overturned, as it’s discriminatory anyway!
    A trans woman should be allowed to enter a beauty pageant alongside cis women.

    • Smiley


      The rule seems to be that a participant has to be a “naturally born female.”

      Ring a bell?

      Will you be also campaigning to allow a naturalized American to run for President? Or are pagentry rules more important? (Only asking!)