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We asked the LGBTQIA+ community what they thought about the Miss Italy case

The thoughts of 7 trans, queer and non-binary people

We asked the LGBTQIA+ community what they thought about the Miss Italy case The thoughts of 7 trans, queer and non-binary people

In 2018, Angela Ponce became the first transgender woman to compete in Miss Universe. In 2021, Kataluna Enriquez competed as Miss Nevada in the Miss USA pageant. In the Netherlands, Rikkie Valerie Kollé made history as the first transgender Miss Netherlands on 9 July 2023. A week later, Patrizia Mirigliani, the organiser of Miss Italy, declared that the beauty pageant would not admit transgender women. "Lately, beauty pageants have tried to make headlines with strategies that I think are absurd," she said, leaving no doubt that the Italian pageant would only admit "women born as women"

The Italian transgender community was quick to react. Activist Federico Barbarossa decided to apply for the contest, shared his choice on Instagram and encouraged other transgender men to do the same. In just a few days, more than a hundred people followed his example. This sarcastic and non-violent form of protest received applause from various quarters, and several articles were published abroad about Federico's initiative. But not everyone in the community was happy. Some feel that this "self-alienating" protest could confuse the public or that it is not worth focusing energy on an outdated contest like Miss Italy.

We asked several transgender, queer and non-binary people to share their thoughts on Miss Italy and the subsequent protest. Fern Cecamore, one of the participants, says: "Our entry is proof of a misinformed and exclusionary system towards transgender people. Transgender men are occupying a space that doesn't belong to them with their application, not because they want to be Miss Italy, but to point out the absurdity of a transgender man not being able to enter a beauty pageant specifically for women due to absurd bureaucratic and legal justifications."

Alex also shared his personal experience of the pageant, "I personally entered to follow the trend and to annoy those who consider transgender women or gender non-conforming people with predominantly female gender expression unacceptable. I don't have much to do with transfemme reality, but I believe that if we have to fight, we have to do it for everyone, especially when the excuse for discrimination is 'not being feminine enough' or 'having too much plastic surgery", while women who were classified as feminine at birth and had a lot of plastic surgery are still accepted. The whole thing is a big joke by people who harbour too much hatred and prejudice to judge anything, and certainly not the woman who is supposed to represent Italian female beauty. Apart from that, the whole programme is a huge farce that only reinforces toxic beauty standards and I would never support it. However, if a transgender person chooses to participate, she should have the opportunity to do so from the beginning."

Alvar Beltrand, while agreeing that the contest is regressive, urges focus on other issues: "I think the media hype around Patrizia Mirigliani's statements is shabby. There is no point in dwelling on such a controversy considering that it is about protecting the rights of the community I belong to. Transgender women are women who have fought to feel 100% comfortable, to feel like women regardless of what they have between their legs. It's time to move with the times... but let's start with everyday life first, where the lives of our community are at stake."

Santissima Vicky, a drag queen, also points out the problem of systemic exclusion that is not limited to Miss Italy: "As a drag performer, I can't imagine how much a woman suffers when she is excluded from a competition she wants to participate in because she is deemed 'inappropriate' I believe that you feel inadequate when you can't do what you love because of a bigoted and patriarchal society. As an athlete, you can't compete with men or women, and you can't compete in beauty pageants either. But I also think the concept of beauty pageants is misogynistic and should not be supported."

Kay, an activist and a model, addresses the issue on a broader level: "Ongoing discussions reflect the progress of society and the recognition of different identities. It is disheartening to witness the erasure of transgender people and their identities. Transgender women are women and their existence and history cannot be denied; they have always been part of society. Inclusion is not only about acknowledging the existence of different identities, but also celebrating and representing them. It is important to accept people as they are and give them the opportunity to be seen and heard. To promote understanding and acceptance, it is important to initiate conversations

Simona Coltello, founder and artistic director of Pessimart, takes a positive approach and emphasises the caring and supportive aspect of this protest:"It is heartwarming to see the support of the community in times of such discrimination. Feeling part of something is rare, especially in these times, and I'm sure many transgender people felt protected, defended and represented. After all, this is still an old-fashioned programme that undoubtedly lags behind on many issues and is of little interest to young people. This protest is a sign that these things are no longer ignored and accepted."

Finally, Bex, creator and writer of Love Club on Prime Video, harshly criticises Italy: "Italy is not ready to accept or give space to transgender people. Transgender women are not accepted in society, culture or the entertainment industry. They are feared and seen as a threat. The real threat is society's refusal to accept them. The protest comes at just the right time to show how absurd Patrizia Mirigliani's rule is. I hate that transgender women are not allowed to feel beautiful. I hope that this gesture will at least stimulate a debate. We still have a long way to go."

Whether you think the protest is meaningful or not, everyone agrees that beauty pageants, with their binary and superficial logic, are outdated. The question raised here about the public dimension of the trans discourse is crucial. In the Italian media, the traditional press seems unwilling to take responsibility for bringing the issue to the fore. The most important discussions on the subject are either obsessively held in small but important bubbles on social media, or they are cruelly and systematically instrumentalised to serve the most relational sides of politics and the electorate. If an attack on a crumbling but very well-known institution like Miss Italy can be an excuse to bring the issue to the surface, then perhaps it is worth a try, and with everyone's help.