For many beauty pageant fans, the latest official statement by the Miss Universe Organization allowing the transsexual Jenna Talackova to compete at Miss Universe Canada is a publicity stunt. More controversy, more publicity, right? Well, not really. This controversy is so divisive it might end up ruining the reputation of a beauty pageant that has run for more than half a century. Well in fact, Donald Trump, the owner of the pageant initially barred Jenna to compete but has to capitulate after the battle seems to be heading towards the courtroom.
Enter the lawyer Gloria Allred, a lawyer who is always on the spotlight for tackling very controversial cases involving women's rights. In a press conference with Jenna by her side, Gloria threatened to sue Donald Trump for discriminatory rules and gave a fiery statement.
“Jenna entered this competition and gave the pageant her time, her best efforts and her money,” Allred said. “She did not think for one moment that what she might have looked like at birth would be relevant. She did not ask Mr. Trump to prove that he is a naturally-born man, or to see the photos of his birth, to view his anatomy, to prove that he was male. It made no difference to her. Why should it have made a difference to him?”
There is a big flaw in that statement of Allred. First, Miss Universe Organization is a private institution that is governed by its internal rules. If the rules say that only natural-born women are allowed to compete, so be it. Second, Jenna is participating in a pageant of Trump for women. So Jenna has to prove that she is a woman and that the gender of Trump must not be highlighted because it is in no way analogous. After all, Trump is not participating in a competition that requires him to prove that he is a man, is he? But the statement is meant to scare the bejesus out of the Miss Universe Organization. Allred said that she is already forming legal teams in Canada, California and New York. Indeed, Allred can sue the Miss Universe Organization should it bar Jenna from participating. Why? That is because in Canada and in the states of California and New York, individuals can legally change their gender.
In Canada, a transsexual can legally change his gender and applies to all provinces with the exception of Quebec where such process can be tedious and bureaucratic. Jenna has already legally changed her gender and the Dominion of Canada recognized her as legally female.
In California, an individual can legally change his or her gender via a court order while in New York, changing sex on birth certificate requires sex reassignment surgery. However it must be noted that in states of Idaho, Ohio and Tennessee, the change of gender even for individuals who underwent sex reassignment surgery, can't be legally recognized.
The problem of Miss Universe is that it is an international organization. An overwhelming majority of countries that participate in the pageant does not have laws that allows transsexuals to legally change their genders. In Asia for example, only Japan, South Korea, China and surprisingly Pakistan, allows that. Most countries in Asia are quite conservative in this issue. In Malaysia, just mere trans-dressing is a legal offense.
In Philippines and Thailand, home of beautiful transsexuals, there are no laws that men who underwent sex change can be legally accepted as women. In Silverio vs. Republic of the Philippines, a decision penned by Renato Corona, then Associate Justice at the Supreme Court of the Philippines, ruled that individuals can't legally change their gender even if they have underwent sex reassignment surgeries. Aside from citing wide ranging alterations and implications on the society as a whole, Corona wrote further, "In our system of government, it is for the legislature, should it choose to do so, to determine what guidelines should govern the recognition of the effects of sex reassignment. The need for legislative guidelines becomes particularly important in this case where the claims asserted are statute-based." The lack of enabling laws in these countries may dampen the fears of the many that should Jenna be allowed to compete, this would open the floodgates allowing transsexuals to compete in national pageants in Thailand and the Philippines.
Across the world, countries are divided regarding these issues. Should transsexuals be allowed to compete, they can in Spain but not in France, they can join Miss Universe GB but not Miss Universe Ireland, they can compete in the Netherlands but not in Belgium, in Colombia but not in Venezuela. The fact that this rule, if indeed affirmed, can never be applied uniformly worldwide, is something that the Miss Universe Organization should ponder deeply and be aware of its wide ranging implications. It must not be cowed by threats of lawyers and the Organization must be the final arbiter of its own rules.
The official stand of Missosology on this issue is to allow each each participating nation to decide the issue based on the prevailing customs and laws in that particular country. Of course, we do not want to be on the wrong side of the history and we completely support the advancement of LGBT community. But any advancement must be done with prudence and must be debated and pondered on carefully.