Monthly Archives: April 2012

Bye Bye Gender Binary?


Krista Kleiner, aka Miss  Bb. Pilipinas-International 2010, aka  Krissa Mae, recently came  out as opposed to transgendered participants in the Miss Universe pageant.

 Kleiner stressed that people should not forget what the Miss Universe pageant is about:  expressing the “real essence of a woman.”

 “The essence of a woman is something that’s always asked in the pageant. By adding  this element (transgenders), it will totally change the whole concept of a beauty  pageant for women,” she said.


Ironic considering that Ms. Kleiner, herself, has been the victim of prejudicial thinking: actually has a related story about it entitled “Krissa Mae robbed of Binibining Pilipinas Universe title” and the article says that BPCI chairman Stella Marquez Araneta allegedly switched the original titles of Raj as International and Kleiner as Universe because Kleiner is born in the US and she looks like Miss Puerto Rico more than Miss Philippines.


The point is, barring women such as Jenna Talackova from participating in the Miss Universe pageant is just as prejudicial as saying Ms. Kleiner is disqualified from representing the Philippines because of her US birthright and mixed ethnicity.  To use Ms. Kleiner’s own argument against her it is like saying  she is incapable of understanding or projecting “the  essence of a Filipina“. How, foolish and steeped in ignorance, such perceptions are.

Moreover, Ms. Kleiner goes on to state:

“For me, I think there should be a separate pageant for the transgenders. “They can do a ‘Miss Gay Universe.’ That would be great.

Well, that’s enlightening, to be sure. Ms. Kleiner can be forgiven if she blurs definitions and interpretations of transgender expression. For her part, Jenna Talackova has made it clear that she sees herself as a female. However, within the transgender community, itself, there are wide variations on the theme and on some level we (the transgender community) have ourselves to blame for Ms. Kleiner’s confusing the issue.

Gender Queers, Gender Fucks, Androgynes, Gender Fluids, Ambigendereds, Multigendereds, and Pangendereds are just some of the terms used to describe a percentage of the trans-community. Even the notion of a “trans-community” is subject to scrutiny and debate, insomuch as it represents such a broad (pardon the pun) spectrum (pardon the visual cliché) of people and interests.

Jenna Talackova does not seek to be “other” or to represent “the third, fourth, or fifth sex”. Rather, her self-identification lies comfortably on the feminine side within the traditional gender binary.  She effortlessly emanates a feminine persona and essence, and at the risk of citing an over-used word her inclusion in the Miss Universe Pageant furthers the societal value of tolerance.

As to exploding the gender binary—my own instincts are to move cautiously and with sensitivity. Admittedly, our society continues to evolve, but running roughshod over the  security and sensitivities of a public outside of a trans-perspective is at best hypocritical and at worst, dictatorial.

Recently, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal in Canada made the provision that:

“A man doesn’t need to have his penis removed to legally become a woman…”


Fair enough, given that the process of transitioning from one sex to the other is never an easy proposition. However, there are obvious social implications of such a move.

On that note, a personal anecdote may prove enlightening. While employed at Royal Jubilee Hospital as a housekeeper, a complaint/concern was raised concerning my use of the women’s washroom prior to my having surgery.  One day, a Union rep. came up to where I was working and escorted me to our manager’s office. Management also brought in a Human Resources rep. to oversee the proceedings. They wanted to move cautiously and with sensitivity recognizing the obvious human rights implications involved.

However, once I understood the source of the complaint I immediately conceded the point. I agreed to avoid the women’s locker room and female only washrooms until such a time as my surgery had taken place. I understood that some women could take issue with my use of the facilities and that there could be some justifiable concern with my presence in “female only” designated areas.

In contrast to my attitude, a trans-friend of mine saw the Institution’s response as an infringement on my basic human rights. She encouraged me to fight the system and push for my “right of access”. But in all honesty, I felt no sense of moral outrage. I thought the request was reasonable. My only stipulation being that I wanted full access to the “female only” areas following my surgery; a privilege I was granted.

Really, I was guided by one overriding concern, namely, that I would never wish to make a woman uncomfortable by virtue of my presence. Notwithstanding, any prejudicial issues she may hold regarding transsexuals, in general.

The National Post article quoted Mercedes Allen as saying:

…the decision is bound to spark some division within the trans community, particularly among those who have already undergone reassignment surgery. They have trouble sometimes understanding how a person could transition and not require [surgery],” she said.

There is a sense of “why would you even want to be in that situation?” she added.

‘They have trouble sometimes understanding how a person could transition and not require [surgery]‘

She added: “Personally, I don’t think the ability to correct documents should be the reason to have surgery.

Ms. Allen is correct in seeing the ruling as divisive. It’s not an easy issue to reconcile, but again, I simply urge sensitivity and for my transgendered peers to recognize that the wider world out there is frequently ignorant and often uninterested in the nuances surrounding definitions and interpretations of gender. I believe there exists some moral responsibility on our part to both educate and exercise discretion when dealing with a largely uninformed public.


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Where’s the Beauty in Beauty Pageants? A Response to Suzi Parker’s “Jenna Talackova: Forget Miss Universe, stand up for women”

Suzi Parker, a columnist for the Washington Post recently asked: “why would any woman – transgender or otherwise – want a pageant queen life?” Well, despite all the hard work and dedication it takes to compete in a pageant— (I know because I saw Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality) the “pageant queen life” is short-lived. However, the exposure and post-pageant benefits can be lucrative to say the least. Robin Meade, Phyllis George, Kathie Lee Gifford, and wouldjabelieveit, Oprah Winfrey, have all spent time under tiaras and sashes! As have innumerable other women both famous and otherwise.

In a culture that rightly or wrongly puts a premium on the young and beautiful, beauty pageants represent an opportunity for young attractive women to promote themselves and advance their careers. Should physical attractiveness be the sole variable in evaluating a woman’s worth? Should a woman’s worth be evaluated on physical appeal at all ? Obviously not. Moreover, the oft heard argument that beauty pageants objectify women and pander to paternalistic interests loses some of its punch when the male equivalent of pageants is taken into consideration, namely, body-building exhibitions.

The same emphasis on physical definition and attractiveness is present in men’s body building but it’s framed within a male context. Admittedly, both spectacles reinforce the status quo with regards to the gender binary but that in itself is not to suggest that women are objectified any more than their male counterparts.

It’s hypocritical, to criticize beauty queens and the pageants that make them so when we live in a culture that adored Princess Diana taking note of her wardrobe and hairstyle on any given occasion. It’s the same kind of superficial scrutiny her daughter-in-law, Kate Middleton is subjected to today. Let’s face it, most of us are aware that Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and Bradley Cooper have been heralded as People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” at various times. The standard is the same for men and women alike. The public is drawn to and fascinated by the beautiful among us.

Physical beauty like any other desired trait is valued perhaps because only a percentage of the population possess it in significant measure. Athletes are hailed and applauded for their physical prowess. The idea of superstar or supermodel is simply a reflection of their gifts standing beyond the reach of their peers.

It does not necessarily follow that to exalt physical attractiveness on the one hand is to denigrate homeliness or plainness on the other. Mother Theresa, Margaret Thatcher, Jane Goodall, Eleanor Roosevelt and countless other women are revered, esteemed, and admired for their contributions apart from any considerations regarding their physical attractiveness or perceived lack thereof.

But to return to Ms. Parker:

It would be refreshing if she told the world that being a woman isn’t just about curves in the right places, glossy lipstick and perfectly coiffed hair. Womanhood – and the discrimination that comes with God-given assets or medically created ones – is so much more than sparkly pageant gowns.”

But I would argue that advocating the position above is not Ms. Talackova’s responsibility. Rather, the task falls to her sisters, trans and otherwise—those of us lacking her very natural beauty.  You can trust me when I say, Jenna Talackova’s beauty is far beyond the means of medical science to emulate or we’d be inundated with many more potential beauty queens.

Realistically, if a woman as attractive as Ms. Talackova were to tell the world her physical beauty is not important—would we believe her?

I think not.

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Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice…

or so the children’s nursery rhyme begins in response to the query “what are little girls made of?” Of course we can now say that there are approximately 23,000 + genes present in little girls and 23 chromosome pairs one of which carries the female sex marker XX! So, there you have it, question answered. But hold on, say I. Miss Universe hopeful, Jenna Talackova recently challenged that definition of “female” when she ran up against the Trump owned Miss Universe Pageant’s Canadian affiliate.

Initially denied entry based on the pageant’s proscribed rules stating candidates must be “naturally born women”  Talackova sought redress through legal channels obtaining representation from no less a personage than, Gloria Allred. Support has been mixed  however, despite the fact that even conservative pundit, Bill O’Reilly defended Talackova on his Fox News program.

I have read some of the criticisms directed towards Ms. Talackova and they have prompted me to Blog on her behalf and on the behalf of those sympathetic towards transgendered rights.  Rhetoric aside, the central issue is one of inclusion versus exclusion. I think it should be argued that purely biological definitions of one’s sexual status are far too limiting and under representative due to the complexity of human experience. Simply put, the notion of transsexual and the realities of advanced surgical procedures have made accepted notions of sex and gender moribund.

The point is, Talackova “passes” so well that unless she let you in on it no one could possibly know she does not possess an XX chromosome configuration. Her worst critics unless told otherwise would naturally ascribe female status to her. It suggests therefore that a socially constructed definition of sex and gender is apropos.

She has altered her physicality to the furthest extent possible in order to mirror accepted notions of female identity. She now possesses both primary and secondary female sex characteristics. You can um… “Google” those to see what those generally might be.

So what are some of the criticisms I’ve seen posted:

Real women have cellulite!

Ms. Talackova is 23 years-old. I hate to say it but as the years go by she too will have her fair share.

She’s Taller than a “natural born woman”

Ms. Talackova is 6′ 1″.  For an interesting read check out: suffice to say tennis star, Maria Sharapova (another pretty blond lady with an exotic Eastern European last name) is at least an inch taller!

God Doesn’t Make Mistakes!

Apart from the obvious assumption inherent in the statement that there is a God (I consider myself a believer, for what it’s worth) there are plenty of arguments for less than perfect variations in the human model… conjoined twins, cleft palates, various genetic disorders including  Klinefelter’s syndrome where individuals are born with an XXY chromosome configuration etc… etc…

Can She Get Pregnant?

No, but neither can many XX females.

Does she Menstruate?

No, but neither do many XX females.

Only XX Chromosome people should be seen as female

The fact is, we have only known about the XY XX chromosome dichotomy since 1905. Therefore any identification of sexual identity prior to 1905 precludes any discussion of sex chromosomes.  Nonetheless, the gender binary still existed but it wasn’t based on genetic variation.  It could not have been.

No, I believe its incumbent upon society to acknowledge and abide by a socially defined definition of male and female. Just as in an earlier time when all sorts of rationales were devised to limit and infringe upon basic human rights for racial minorities so also social change must promote advances in human rights for sexual minorities.

Same-sex marriage, gay rights, transgender rights. Whether you agree with them or not, they are becomingly increasingly accepted and rightfully so. To oppose them will likely have you standing on the wrong side of history.

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