Lifestyle Asian transgender beauty queens, their journey and hopes for the future

Asian transgender beauty queens, their journey and hopes for the future

It may be all glitter and glam on stage but many transgender women are still stigmatized in Asia

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The gowns, the perfect makeup, the crown – we all know the allure of a beauty pageant. Beauty competitions for transgenders have been making waves over the years.

The recent Miss International Queen (MIQ) 2019 is one such example that showcases the talent and passion these beautiful transgender women have.

On its 14th year, the Thailand-based international beauty pageant has been highlighting and celebrating transgender women with contestants from all over the world competing for the crown.

This year’s winner was Jazell Barbie Royale from the United States.

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“If you’re transgender, you need to hide. You live in the night, not daytime. If people find out, they may hurt you and beat you. You can lose your job,” shared Yaya, a Chinese transgender beauty queen interviewed by The Bangkok Post.

These women never forget the arduous journey that brought them there. Furthermore, their home countries have different views on transgender women.

In Muslim countries, for example, being a transgender is considered taboo. Religious beliefs dictate only two kinds of genders. Ms Indah Cheryl, a model who represented Indonesia at the competitions, shared that it is difficult to get a job in her country, being a transgender woman. “For transgenders, they can only go for jobs like a make-up artist, not office jobs,” she added.

Ms Angel Lama from Nepal enlightened everyone that being a transgender in her country could even lead to being kicked out of school.

“Many transwomen in our country are forced to do prostitution just because they’re kicked out of their family for being transgender. People aren’t educated about LGBT in our country. They don’t know what LGBT is and so they just kick out people, saying it’s a disease that can’t be let into society,” (sic) she shared.

However, Ms Lama, along with her ambitious sisters, isn’t letting society dictate her goals. She plans to study law in the UK with hopes of becoming an advocate for transgender women in Nepal in the future.

Laos, on the other hand, is more accepting toward transgenders. Ms Kanrayany Phothimath, a college student, model, and a schoolteacher considers herself lucky to be born in Laos and given an opportunity to have a career.

She said that people in her country don’t automatically judge based on gender. “At the same time, I want everyone to be equal and respectful toward one another, [to know] that all can coexist [and not to] judge people based on their appearance,” she added.

One issue aside from acceptance that many transgender women across Asia face is the lack of access to healthcare facilities that cater to their needs. Facilities for consultations, check-ups, hormone treatments, and sex-reassignment surgery are minimal.

Thailand is considered to be the world’s friendliest country for the LGBT community. Many individuals who wish to change genders go to Thailand for their sex-reassignment surgery or hormone treatments.

Meanwhile, Ms Mela Franco Habijan has been kind enough to give The Independent Singapore an exclusive on being a transgender in the Philippines.

Ms Mela is new to the world of transgenders and is living and loving her life as one. She started her transition last July 2017 and has already won third-runner up at the Queen of the Philippines competition.

Ms Mela shared that the Philippines is still quite intolerant of the LGBT community, especially toward transgenders. “Yes, Filipinos recognize our existence but only to a certain extent — because we provide entertainment and we make things beautiful. However, beyond that, if we dream of becoming more, we are often hindered from reaching our dreams,” she said.

Transgenders in the Philippines face many challenges in education and employment such as being prohibited from enrolling in a school if the proper uniform poses a problem or being limited to work only in the BPO, entertainment, fashion, and beauty industry.

“It is frustrating because a lot of us can be good doctors, lawyers, teachers, lawmakers,” shared Ms Mela.

Photo: Facebook screengrab

The beauty queen also mentioned how some children get disowned by their families for being transgender and emphasised the importance of being loved and accepted at home.

Ms Mela considers herself lucky because her parents accepted her decision. She can live her life to the fullest, and was even lucky enough to be part of a TV series.

“Bigots still remain bigots because they feel strongly about their so-called religious beliefs. They might have forgotten that at the core of faith is loving others as they love themselves.”

In terms of the future of transgenders in the Philippines, Ms Mela said she was frustrated at the Senate for not passing a 19-year-old Anti-Discrimination Bill.

“These Senators should be reminded that it is their duty to protect every citizen from any form of discrimination; and that the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) Bill is inclusive and cares for every type of sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression,” she said.

“But regardless of the intolerance, I salute my fellow members of the rainbow community for not giving up on our fight. The road to acceptance may still be far, but we keep on walking until we reach it. More importantly, we just continue to give our best in anything we do because through that we give those who are open-minded a platform to understand who we really are,” she added.

Photo credits to Sir Jonas Yu

Ms Mela is planning to join the next Miss International Queen to widen her reach in advocating for equality and rights for transgenders.

“We are capable individuals who can lead the world, whom people can listen to, whom people can trust; for like our straight brothers and sisters, we are valuable too.”

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