We first heard about the story of Miss Universe Canada contestant Jenna Talackova on a local radio station. The two radio hosts (both cis men) were discussing the fact that Talackova, a transgender woman, had been disqualified from continuing her participation in the Miss Universe Canada competition based on her being assigned male at birth. The radio hosts were very demeaning as they belittled Talackova, stating that she was not a “real woman”, and that the competition is titled “Miss” Universe, implying that it is for “real females” only. They also made a comparison of Talackova’s situation to car racing, stating that a toy car would not be able to compete in such a race since it is not a real car. The radio hosts ended their criticism with stating that in order for Talackova to prove that she was a “real woman”, she would have to pull up her skirt. Such sexist and transphobic statements are hurtful, demeaning, provoking and disrespectful, but also blatantly discriminatory while they would probably qualify as sexual harassment.
But there is more to this story. Talackova, along with her attorney Gloria Allred, contested the disqualification based on Talackova being assigned male at birth. Organizers stated that Talackova was not disqualified based on the fact that she was assigned male at birth, but rather that she had not mentioned this in her application form. The organizers thereby denied any allegations of discrimination. At the same time, in order to enter into the competition, the only requirements mentioned are that the contestants need to be Canadian citizens between the ages of 18 to 27.
The decision was later reversed after both media attention and public outcry. This is a victory in itself, as Talackova was allowed to compete again (no matter what we might feel about the competition itself). At the same time, Talackova’s story highlights the discrimination many transgender individuals face in their daily lives, and the common notion that transgender women are not “real women”, but rather “men in dresses”. The lack of clarification of requirements for contestants also highlights the notion that many transgender people are not considered part of society in that they are not even considered worth mentioning in the rulebook. The Canadian organization did not state that contestants needed to be assigned female at birth, but so does however the Miss Universe organization. Why is that? This is further discrimination against transgender women as they are systematically excluded from competing even though they are women. How come it matters that a transgender woman competes? It is because people are uncomfortable with transgender women challenging the gender binary? Perhaps people react in hostile ways after discovering that Talackova was assigned male at birth as they find her attractive and their own sexual identity is therefore threatened? It is not uncommon for men to state that they are indeed not gay after finding out that a woman they find attractive is transgender. When doing so they further perpetuate the notion that this woman is still not “fully female” and that there is something wrong with her.
The case of Talackova highlights the fact that transphobia is rampant and systematic and that people fear transgender individuals because they do not neatly fit the stereotypical gender roles and gendered expectations that are so common in society. It is saddening and upsetting that Talackova is not considered a “real woman” based on the fact that she was assigned male at birth.
Elin Weiss has a Master’s degree in Women’s Studies. Hennie Weiss is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Sociology. Their interests include feminism, gender, the sexualisation of women and the portrayal of women in media.
The image Trans feminist fist symbol was made by Helen from images found at Wikipedia (here and here). Both original images are public domain and so is this. If using elsewhere, please ensure correct attribution.