By Leela Ginelle, PQ Monthly
“(Transgender women) should have their own pageant, I think, and maybe they can realize in this pageant, Miss Universe, or the other pageants [were] made for women. They are… they have the opportunity, but I think that they have to compete with the same… the same team. Right?” (Miss Universe, Gabriela Isler.)
Isler made the statement above, and others that echo it, in an interview with the Huffington Post this week. It drew condemnation from LGBTQ quarters, who were quick to point out that Isler’s views contradict those of the Donald Trump-owned Miss Universe Organization, which in 2012 began allowing transwomen to compete.
In Isler’s words, we see the mental segregation of women into two hierarchical categories: real and trans. Real women become Miss Universe, as she has, and transwomen have their own contest where she doesn’t have to see them.
In this construction, womanhood goes to those born with ovaries, while transwomen, sadly, are doomed at birth to strive for an existence they can never acquire.
It’s a rejection that echoes the ur-rejections most transpeople experience throughout their childhoods as they assert their identities again and again to parents and school employees, only to be told they’re wrong, because birth anatomy is somehow more determinant in the matter than their own self-knowledge.
This is ridiculous, of course. The medical and psychiatric communities in our country and elsewhere have stated unanimously that gender identity develops separately from anatomy and sexuality, but transmisogyny, with its toxic, storied history persists culturally, and continues to produce moments like this.
One might ask how Isler came to be asked this question. Yes, transgender emergence is a current phenomenon, and yes, it was only last year that the Miss Universe competition amended its rules to allow a transwoman contestant from Canada to compete, but it seems clear from Isler’s answer that her interviewer essentially invited her to decide whether transgender women were actually women, and thus deserving to compete alongside cisgender women, a transmisogynist act in itself.
“I have nothing against transgender ‘females’ but this is taking it too far, They should not be considered women no matter how many plastic surgeries they have. Your [sic] either a male or a female.” (The Daily Beast’s “Was the Next VS Model Born a Man?“)
This commenter’s views are pretty clear. They were plucked from a site called Hollywood Life by the Daily Beast to provide “balance” in an article about transwoman model Carmen Carrera.
Carrera has been the subject of an online petition campaign that seeks to make her the next Victoria’s Secret model. This has brought her scrutiny in the form of articles such as this one.
The phrase “born a man” seems to appear in any article about transgender women. It’s one more symbol of cisgender society’s policing of transgender identity. I’m a transgender woman, and a complete and whole woman. I was not “born a man.” My driver’s license, passport, and birth certificate all say “female.”
Were I the subject of a profile in any mainstream publication however, the phrase would appear like clockwork, I’m sure, because even to liberal, sympathetic cisgender journalists and their readers, transwomen need to be categorized as second class–deserving of pity, and possibly even dignity, but not of equal status as women.
This Daily Beast article is a hybrid–part profile, and part think piece on the place of transwomen in the modeling world. The quote above is included to demonstrate the glass ceiling for transwomen.
They are allowed to get work, apparently, but not be viewed as actual women. The article’s subhead seeks to emphasize this point, not that no transwomen model has appeared in “something as mainstream” at the VS catalog, “for whom much of the audience is straight men.”
Why the author, a ciswoman, chose an anonymous comment from an obscure site to illustrate that straight men want to see ciswomen and only ciswomen in their Victoria’s Secret catalogue is a little unclear. The inclusion of hateful rants like these is typical in these sorts of articles, though.
They function like the question posed to Miss Universe: to give space to those who would deny transwomen their equality as women, and, in these cases, sexually desirable women, while allowing the article’s authors to keep their hands clean.
Can you imagine anyone asserting a woman’s unfitness to be seen as whole, authentic and sexually desirable based on her race, religion or disability status on a mainstream site like the Daily Beast? I can’t. Transwomen, however, have a special place in our culture, below all other women.
This treatment is based on prejudice – hateful, ignorant ideas deserving of a trash heap. The commenter above’s words are half-true: no amount of surgeries make a transwoman a woman, just as no amount make a ciswoman a woman. A person’s gender identity makes them whatever gender they are, and no one’s gender identity is subject to another person’s approval.
This point is still news to some people, unfortunately, but thanks to the infamy of people like Isler, and the courage of ones like Carrera, it won’t be there for long.