Since the pageant reversing a longstanding policy in 2012 that participants must be “naturally born” women, Miss Spain’s Angela Ponce is making history as the first transgender contestant in Miss Universe.
Carrying a bold message of inclusion, transgender rights, and a sharp rebuke to US President Donald Trump, the willowy beauty explained her broad appeal. The plain-speaking 27-year-old said, “who hasn’t suffered from prejudice? Who hasn’t had to deal with bully*ng?”
Transgender denotes a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth s*x. They are also called transs*xual if they undergo surgery to transition from one s*x to another.
Outside the walls of Miss Universe, whose finals will be held in Thailand’s capital Bangkok, the transgender community continues to be marginalized and misunderstood, with high rates of suicide.
“I always say: having a v*gina didn’t transform me into a woman. I am a woman, already before birth, because my identity is here,” she said, gesturing to her head.
She also took issue with the classification of trans people by large sections of society based on prejudice and narrow assessments of gender.
Ponce, who works with a foundation in Spain helping children struggling with stigma linked to being trans, is aware of the visibility she brings to the Miss Universe platform.
Her performance has so far drawn praise, from her portrayal of a flamenco dancer during the national costume portion of the competition to her strut down the runway in a shimmery mermaid-like gown in the evening dress category. She is also getting rave reviews for her bikini body.
“Outsiders say what I can and cannot do, what I am and what I am not,” Ponce said.
“No, I’m sorry. To be a woman is your identity. It doesn’t matter if you are white, black if you have a vagina… if you have a p*nis.”
This year’s event, which critics say is a throwback to stereotypes of the pre #MeToo era, has largely preached a message of inclusivity. It boasts an all-women panel of judges made up of business leaders and former Miss Universe titleholders.
“You can empower yourself like I have and turn something negative into your biggest strength,” she said. “Children are born without prejudices and I think that if we talk to them about diversity from a young age… we can create a new generation of human beings who are raised a lot better, more tolerant and respectful.”
Monday’s event will see the contestants from 94 countries in a live televised event hosted by American comic turned TV host Steve Harvey and supermodel Ashley Graham.