Eastern Michigan University is one of the most LGBT-accepting schools in the country. A simple walk around campus is a testament to our university’s socially liberal streak. Yet even as most Eagles glow with pride at Eastern’s accepting nature, they do so with little consideration given to the last letter of the famous acronym.
The transgender community is one of the least-recognized and
most-marginalized groups in the world.
It now finds itself at the center of media attention with the headline-grabbing Jenna Talackova. I do believe – controversy aside – she should seek better ways to advocate for the transgender community.
An April 6 ABC News article detailed that Talackova is a transgender beauty queen. She was originally born a man, but underwent sex reassignment surgery after a life of feeling like she was born “in the wrong body.”
Talackova is a woman by all standards in the eyes of the Canadian government: her driver’s license, birth certificate and passport all testify as such.
Initially, however, Talackova was disqualified from the Miss Universe Canada pageant because she was not a “natural born female.” She would later be reinstated, and the rules of the pageant were supposedly brought into a modern context. She will now have her shot to represent Canada at the Miss Universe Pageant if she chooses to participate.
Let us first point out the obvious: the Miss Universe Pageant was, at the very least, being discriminatory by initially disqualifying Talackova from the pageant.
I sincerely doubt anyone who even glances at a photo of the controversial contestant without this previous knowledge would ever suspect she was born with male genitalia. She should, of course, be able to compete if she wishes to.
At the very least, I am also very happy Jenna Talackova is bringing attention to such a marginalized and ostracized group.
She undoubtedly serves as a springboard for conversations about the transgender community and where they fit in the context of a society that imposes structures and policies hostile to their liberty.
One cannot help but take note of the interesting position in which Talackova now finds herself – and the community she identifies with.
The Daily Mail of April 6 noted that in an interview with Barbara Walters, she asserted her responsibility in the community: “I feel like the universe, the creator just put me in this position as an advocate. And now it’s like this, and I’ll take that position. If it’s helping anybody else, my story and my actions, then I feel great about it.”
Unfortunately, she is supporting transgender activism… at a beauty pageant. I genuinely question the wisdom of her supporting a structure that very explicitly upholds gender norms that are hostile to her own position.
Granted, she might well be “changing the system from inside.” Nonetheless, the pageant is predicated on the idea that women are, yes, talented, but also objects to strut around with next to no clothes on.
The Miss Universe website describes the participants of the pageant: “These women are savvy, goal-oriented and aware.
The delegates who become part of the Miss Universe Organization display those characteristics in their everyday lives, both as individuals, who compete with hope of advancing their careers, personal and humanitarian goals, and as women who seek to improve the lives of others.”
The description is excellent. Using just that description, one could see why Talackova would want to participate in the pageant.
The reality is the competition objectifies women, upholds the norms she seeks to challenge and marginalizes her attempt to achieve full sexual and gender equity.
EMU is a wonderful school for equality and liberty. Yet as advocates of the LGBT community, we need to reconsider how we advocate so as not to undermine the message we seek to forward.