LISTEN | Miss SA organisation asked to challenge the stigma against trans women entering pageants

22 May 2020 - 16:42 By Andisiwe Michelle May and Modiegi Mashamaite
In the passionate open letter she wrote on Monday, Asonele Phiri appeals to the Miss SA organisation to not only become more inclusive by allowing transgender woman to enter, but also to challenge the social margins that breed exclusivity.
In the passionate open letter she wrote on Monday, Asonele Phiri appeals to the Miss SA organisation to not only become more inclusive by allowing transgender woman to enter, but also to challenge the social margins that breed exclusivity.
Image: Supplied

LISTEN | Miss SA asked to challenge the stigma against trans women entering pageants

“I am not asking you to perform inclusion, I am asking you to challenge exclusion,” Rhodes University student Asonele Phiri said in an open letter to the Miss SA organisation as young women enter to become the newly crowned Miss SA.

Identifying as a transgender woman, Phiri said it is time "for a new beauty paradigm" within beauty pageants in SA and globally.

In the open letter, she touched on the criteria of beauty pageants and how they restrict and police non-operative transsexual women. She referred to how the media showed conditional acceptance of Angela Ponce — the first openly transgender woman to compete in the Miss Universe pageant and be crowned Miss Spain in 2018 — because she was legitimately trans as she passed as a woman.

“As a transgender woman, I was thrilled and excited for such history, but I am not in Spain. I am in SA. Question here is: does one need a surgical transition to be considered?” asked the 22 year old.

CEO of the Miss SA Organisation, Stephanie Weil, said the criteria set for the Miss SA pageant are based on criteria for international pageants, such as Miss Universe allowing  Miss Spain Angela Ponce to become the first transgender woman to compete in 2018.

“In 2019 the Miss SA Organisation proudly presented the most diverse line-up of contestants in the history of the pageant and will continue to do so. Miss SA allows for any male-to-female transgender entrants who have undergone reassignment surgery to participate. They have to be in possession of a South African ID document reflecting their amended sex is now female,” she said.

Miss SA’s first openly queer 2019 finalist, Sibabalwe Gcilitshana, spoke to TimesLIVE about her experience during the contest.

“Being the first in anything is extremely daunting. In my experience, while it was scary simply because there was so much media focus around me, I also felt extremely supported by my LGBTQ+ community, and standing for something bigger made me feel so proud to belong to this community,” she said.

“Because my identity was so different in how I walked life, it also did mean my experience was very different from the other ladies particularly for that reason, but not for anything else beyond that.”

Having gone through the journey, Gcilitshana feels the rebranding of Miss SA has been leaning towards more transformation and inclusivity.

“I also know meaningful change cannot happen overnight. Some of the steps  the Miss SA organisation has taken, such as allowing people like myself who are queer and people who are transgender to be able to apply, is a step towards the right direction," she said.

Like Phiri, Gcilitshana believes  representation on a platform such as Miss SA is important.

“I knew it would be important not only for myself but also for woman, particularly young black queer woman who felt they hadn't seen people who look like themselves. We can unpack this on different levels. It's about race, your gender identity, your sexual orientation, your socio-economic background," she said.

In the passionate open letter she wrote on Monday, Phiri appealed to the Miss SA organisation to not only become more inclusive by allowing transgender woman to enter, but to also challenge the social margins that breed exclusivity. 

“Zozibini said 'cement yourself'. I'm saying cement yourself by understanding that your worth is not linked to your appearance. It is time for us to advocate for change. It is time for us to say beauty standards need to fall,” Phiri said.


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