By Eric Ramirez
Jenna Talackova, 23, is an undeniably beautiful woman with long blond hair and a slender figure. Born as a male named “Walter,” she will be Miss Canada Universe’s first transgendered contestant.
As one would regrettably assume, Talackova’s role in the pageant was met with some controversy. She was originally disqualified on the grounds that contestants had to be naturally born females.
Eventually she was reinstated thanks in part to the help of her lawyer, Gloria Allred, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), and several petitions being signed.
Upon being reinstated, the Miss Universe Organization released this statement:
“The Miss Universe Organization will allow Jenna Talackova to compete in the 2012 Miss Universe Canada pageant provided she meets the legal gender recognition requirements of Canada, and the standards established by other international competitions.”
Even at the young age of four, Talackova knew she was in the wrong body.
She started hormone therapy at the age of 14 and, at 19, underwent gender reassignment surgery. The transformation was complete when Canada legally recognized her as a female, her driver’s license, birth certificate and passport indicating her reassignment.
Her story has sparked a lot of discussion and received a great deal of attention. And rightfully so, transgendered people are still one of the most discriminated against minorities, mainly due to the fact that prejudices against them receive little attention.
Because transphobia and homophobia are so closely related, I feel they stem from the same place. Here in America, society is dominated by the gender binary (not unlike heteronormativity, which I discussed in my last column), the classification of both sex and gender into two distinctly masculine and feminine categories. This establishes gender roles and identities that gay and transgender people both defy.
It is sadly and painfully understandable that transphobia, as an issue, receives less attention than homophobia (even though it shouldn’t). Sure, homosexuality is far more common. But the struggles of transgendered people are no different than the struggles of homosexuals. It is simply that, for whatever reason, the steps taken to end homophobia have not translated to transphobia.
But with Jenna Talackova’s story, transgendered issues are finally getting their own voice. On April 6, a news story came out of Sacramento’s local CBS station about a male-to-female (MTF) deacon at an Episcopalian church in Jamestown.
There is also a bill waiting to be passed by the New York State legislature called the “Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act” (GENDA). The bill would grant trans people protections that other New Yorkers already have.
With more transgendered attention in the media, one hopes that this will become a trend.
Whether or not Jenna Talackova wins the Miss Universe Canada pageant on May 19, she has already taken brave steps for the trans community. And if she does win, those steps will be that much larger.Contact Eric Ramirez.