Dueling Beauty Pageants Put Income Gap on View

When middle class and academic people became the face of the Transgender As Umbrella paradigm it was as though they were ashamed of being associated with the street queens and transsexuals who existed as lumpen proles working in clubs and doing sex work.

It is as though a whole lower class trans-culture that often coincides with a trans-culture inhabited by people of color does not exist.

I am speaking of course of the culture of balls and pageants which have a history in several major US cities that date back to the 19th century.

Many of us first appeared in public at one of these events.  Others of us were either mentored by people who took part in these pageants or were friends with them.

In California the Imperial Court System has helped fund gay and lesbian organizations and charities since well before Stonewall.

In 1968 when I was gathering my courage to come out, a movie, “The Queen” showed me that there were people who actually had the guts to live as they needed to live.

The movie “Paris is Burning”, a full generation later showed the roll various pageants play in the lives of trans-people of color.  People who truly fit Thurgood Marshall’s description”despised and dispossessed”.

I know the feminist critiques of  “Beauty Pageants” and when applied to the dominant culture I see the accuracy.

But class has a way of deconstructing and repurposing that which is discarded or outmoded in the dominant culture. When repurposed by the despised and dispossessed such events act as an affirmation.

I have a little secret.  In 1974 I was photographing and documenting the transsexual/queen culture of Hollywood, including photographing shows and pageants.  While I was talking with some sisters they learned I had never been in one.  I was two years post-SRS at the time and had I not known the people staging the event I would have been ineligible.  It wasn’t a serious pageant but more of a costume one.

So I took part as a participant/observer.  One thing I observed about this small pageant was that effort counted.  I also saw at least as much love between most of the participants as competition.  Also while the top contestants got trophies everyone got a plaque.

The following article from The New York Times, reminded me of this difference:   http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/01/world/americas/01colombia.html?_r=1&ref=world

By SIMON ROMERO
Published: November 30, 2010

CARTAGENA, Colombia — The Champagne flowed. Cigar smoke floated in the thick air of the tropical night. Women in miniskirts and men in pressed guayaberas danced at Jet-Set magazine’s fete in this city’s Naval Museum, as the candidates for Miss Colombia sashayed about, flashing perfect smiles and impossibly high cheekbones.

Another party unfolded the same night last month outside Cartagena’s stone ramparts. In a slum called Boston, Ivonne Palencia, an elegant 19-year-old, tiptoed in the mud outside her family’s hovel. Amid the din of firecrackers and reggaetón music, neighbors toasted her victory as Miss Independence, the queen of this city’s slums, with beer.

“We have our queen,” said a glowing Patricia Álvarez, 44, a social worker in Boston who led a collection drive to support Ms. Palencia’s candidacy. “They have theirs.”

Despite making strides in stabilizing the economy in the last decade, Colombia has South America’s most unequal distribution of wealth, except for small Paraguay, according to the Center for Economic Development Studies in Bogotá. And each November this port city puts that inequality on open display, when it hosts two beauty pageants at the same time. The rival contests offer views not only of the country’s yawning income gap but of issues of race and class in a country that has, by some measures, the Spanish-speaking world’s largest black population.

Continue reading at:   http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/01/world/americas/01colombia.html?_r=1&ref=world

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