Transsexuals in Miss Universe Singapore

From ‘Beauty contests’, 28 April 2012, ST Forum

(MR ACE KINDRED CHEONG): ‘Transgender participants should not be allowed to participate in beauty pageants meant for women (‘Miss Universe Singapore: Could the next one be originally male?’; Wednesday). They will have an advantage over biological women as some, if not all, will have undergone cosmetic surgery. Instead, why not have beauty pageants meant solely for transgender participants?

Transsexualism has been discussed rather openly in Singapore since the early 80’s, where attempts have been made to distinguish the terms ‘transvestite’ from ‘transsexual’, as well as define the colloquial ‘ah kuas’, the latter often used interchangeably between a transsexual, an ‘effeminate’ man or  ‘sissy’ or a ‘male prostitute’, yet SBC deemed it ‘appropriate‘ for use in drama serials.’Transgender’ was coined as recently as the 1990’s, as in LGBT, a term that may be preferred when addressing the community as a whole as it seems to take the ‘surgical knife’ undertones off ‘transsexual’, though both are still commonly used in the media today. ‘Ladyboy’ and ‘bapok’, however, have become derogatory, though ‘bapok’ in Malay literally means ‘effeminate’ (like the equally offensive catch-all that is ‘ah kua’), while ‘Tranny’ and ‘shemale’ are reserved for porn genres. When it comes to transsexualism, even quotation marks can be highly offensive, as in ‘woman’, ‘sister’ or ‘queen’ to describe transwomen (men who became women).  The Malaysian press has even hidden the full word behind an acronym, TS.

Even the same act of ‘going under the knife’ has been euphemised over the years. Today it’s called SRS or ‘sex reassignment surgery ‘, when we used to call it a ‘sex change operation’. The Miss Canada Universe who started it all, Jenna Talackova, herself underwent ‘GENDER reassignment surgery’, the term ‘assignment’ making the procedure as innocuous as amending one’s birth certificate. Like most behavioral deviations, transsexualism has also become medicalised;  if you’re born a man and feel like a woman you have a ‘gender identity disorder (GID)’, which implies that ‘feeling like a woman’ when you’re a man is a form of ‘sickness’. The term ‘intersex’ has been proposed as the ‘third gender’ for official purposes, though being ‘intersexed’ could also refer to a sex development disorder in which one was born with ‘ambiguous’ genitalia i.e hermaphrodites, a term used to describe flowers and worms other than human beings.  Hermaphrodites, other than getting embroiled in sporting arena controversies, also have their own problems dealing with transsexual beauty contestants who were born 100% male.

Allowing transsexuals in pageants puts judges in a spot, even if it may well boost up ratings. You don’t want to appear to cast a sympathy vote nor do you want the LGBT community to complain about discrimination if their representative fails to even make the top 15. Cosmetic surgery also may not give that desired edge over female participants (unless the writer was thinking of shocking beauties like Thailand’s Nong Poy below). But perhaps this is more a victory for ‘medical science’ than anything else. Or rather medical science AND make-up. But wait a minute, since when was Miss Universe JUST about LOOKS (or femininity for that matter) anyway? Didn’t ‘masculine’ Tania Lim take the crown in 2010?

For every Nong Poy...

...There's this.

There are already transgender Miss Universe-ish pageants as we speak, such as the Miss International Queen pageant (which allows transvestites as well), not to be confused with Miss Tourism Queen, Miss Global Beauty Queen and Miss QUEEN OF THE WORLD. Still, this is a vast improvement from our stigmatisation of transsexuals in the 80’s, when they were barred from such contests because it was seen as an ’embarrassment’ and  a ‘big joke to organisers’. It would be a while before we see transsexuals or transvestites in high-flying positions such as doctors, lawyers or politicians (though some may be closest cross-dressers…there’s a difference!), but pitting them in competition against natural-born females could be symbolic of this social ‘inclusiveness’ that the PAP has been bragging about, even if the platform is as superficial as a beauty contest, or in the promotion of ‘cabaret’ shows (Does that mean our pageants need to be R18 as well?)

Audiences are suckers for underdogs, and since the Miss Universe franchise here needs saving, a transgender Miss Universe Singapore hopeful could very well be a Beautiful Boxer in the making. But first, we’ll have to lift the bar on transsexuals into certain clubs, and that includes Ladies’ Night, to show that we really mean it. Still, it’s hard not to be hypocritical when advocating equality for transsexuals as a heterosexual man. Some would rather be seen in public with an openly gay man than a transsexual, and I for one have reservations about getting a hot oil massage from either.

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