FEATURE: Miss International Queen beauty pageant goes mainstream

Miss International Queen 2013 winner Marcelo Ohio of Brazil. Photo: Alexander Hotz

It had been a lavish battle of glitz and glitter, poise and pizzazz. But only two contestants remained. Brazilian Marcelo Ohio and American Shantell D’Marco anxiously held hands and awaited the judges’ final vote. Who would be crowned Miss International Queen 2013?

“And the winner of Miss International Queen 2013 goes to … number 16 from Brazil, Marcelo Ohio!” exclaimed the host. The Brazilian beauty, radiant in a navy-and-black feathered evening gown with cascading sapphire earrings, waied to the cheering crowd and gracefully accepted the coveted diamond crown.

This may sound like your typical beauty pageant, but there existed one small difference: This stunning beauty queen was born with both an X and Y chromosome.

Coconuts TV was granted special backstage access to the pageant, where we interviewed several glamorous contestants. Watch the video below. 

The new Miss International Queen’s arms were soon filled with orchids, a trophy, and so many prize placards from the pageant’s sponsors that she accidentally dropped them. Her winnings included THB300,000, an apartment and free plastic surgery “for anything” at a prestigious Bangkok clinic.

Since 2004, transgender beauties from around the world have flocked to Pattaya each November for the annual Miss International Queen pageant. This year, 25 contestants descended upon the land of ladyboys, hoping to capture the gemstone crown. Hailing from 16 countries – including the United States, Brazil and even Myanmar, they arrived armed with wildly ornate national costumes, glimmering gold cocktail dresses and bedazzled evening gowns. The competition was essentially a sparkle-off to catch the judges’ eyes and votes.

Yet, while this is a beauty pageant, Miss International Queen emphasizes its role as a platform for promoting transgender rights.So what is all this pomp and circumstance really about for the contestants: beauty or sexual diversity?  

Backstage, the contestants were getting ready for the show. It looked like Liberace’s dressing room had exploded. Sequins and rhinestones gleamed from every corner of the room.  Along cramped aisles, statuesque transgenders slipping into elaborate National Costumes and painted their faces with makeup.

Chatting with the contestants and watching them primp, it became clear that some of them just wanted to be crowned most beautiful. But for others, the pageant was about more than just looks. It was about the advancement and acceptance of transgender rights in their homelands.  While Thailand is evidently very open to transgenders, much of the world still isn’t.

Meeting Miss Myanmar, the first transgender to ever compete in the pageant from that newly democratized nation, was particularly moving. Her country just opened up, and it is a huge deal for Myanmar’s LGBT community that she participated in the pageant.

“I want more people in my country to be open-minded to everybody, and I want equality for everybody,” said the fledging Myanmar contestant, Tanya Maung. “I don’t want people to judge us based on our gender. So that’s why I came here. And I’m very proud of myself.”

Then there was adorably spirited Miss Spain, Carolina Medina, who was all about the beauty. “Of course this is about beauty for me. I feel me great. This is an amazing and spectacular contest, and I like to be here.”

Meanwhile, Satsuki Nishihara of Japan had other motivations to win. “If I win, I get to go home,” she said with a coy smile. “My boss told me not to come back if I don’t make the top 10.” (Luckily, she did.)

Regardless of their reasons for being there, all the ladies were quite lovely. Despite each contestant’s determination to win, there was a warm camaraderie backstage. In some, there was also a sense of pride that they would be gracing the famed Miss Tiffany Stage before a welcoming crowd for a chance at the crown. 

Once the pageant began, one thing became evident. This was going to be a tough competition. The transgenders were quite stunning in their gowns and costumes, and most could probably fool an unwitting spectator. 

The evening featured National Costume, Evening Gown, and Cocktail Dress competitions, followed by a question round for the final three contestants.  Interspersed into the spectacle was a series of vivid and entertaining dance performances.

The standout moment occurred during the cocktail portion of the pageant. Dressed in sequined gold, the contestants emerged from behind a giant, spinning pinwheel as glitter-slathered dancers in bondage outfits wrapped their legs around each other for a risqué routine to Rihanna’s “Diamonds.” “It doesn’t get much gayer than that,” remarked an audience member, with a wry smile.

Most disappointing was the question round. With such potential to be a forum for provocative commentary on transgender rights, the questions were rather bland, prototypical beauty pageant fare. If you could change the world in one way, what would it be? What are your strengths that make you qualified as Miss International Queen? (In response to which Miss USA unhumbly extolled her own humbleness.)

The only interesting question went to Thailand’s Nethnapada “Nong Neck “ Kanrayanon: What would you like to tell the world about the diversity of sexuality?  But her answer was disappointingly vague and inarticulate.  

“Transgenders are nice, kind, have great knowledge,” replied Nong Neck. “I am a good person and willing to help society and make the world a better place.” 

For a pageant that’s draw seems, at least in part, to be its quirky, fringe nature, Miss International Queen felt like a surprisingly commercialized, mainstream production.  The live, televised competition was heavily sponsored by entities like Amazing Thailand, Sofitel Bangkok and Central World. And it seemed like every international media outlet was there to cover the spectacle. 

What’s perhaps most interesting is to reflect on what that means for the transgender community. Does this widespread flurry of interest indicate greater acceptance for transgenders, or is this pageant just a curiosity that’s garnering international attention? Could we ever see the day when transgenders and “genetic” females compete in the same beauty pageant? Perhaps there’s hope.

In the meantime, it’s heartening to know that these ladies have a place where they can show off their beauty and take a stand for transgender rights. Before bestowing Brazil’s Marcelo Ohio with this year’s crown, Miss International Queen 2012 winner Kevin Balot seemed to speak for all the contestants, wistfully proclaiming: “I was a simple girl who had a simple dream, to become a beauty queen.”

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