‘Freedom, creativity and self-expression’: Talking trans beauty pageants with Trixie Maristela

Gil Cadiz

In November of 2015, beauty and brains Trixie Maristela snagged the crown of Miss International Queen, the world’s largest and most prestigious transgender beauty pageant. It was a fitting culminating moment for Trixie who, through the years, has been seasoned by mostly successful stints in numerous local beauty tilts.

In 2011, she was crowned Miss Gay Philippines – Universe. In 2014, she was first runner-up in Eat Bulaga’s Super Sireyna Worldwide. In May 2015, she won the first-ever Miss Gay Manila pageant.

Trixie’s high-profile win as Miss International Queen led to a host of TV guesting and interviews as well as acting in a few drama series. In October 2015, she also published a book entitled “He’s Dating the Transgender” penned by herself and her then partner Art Sta. Ana.

A graduate of BA European Languages at the University of the Philippines – Diliman, Trixie is now based in Queensland, Australia where she’s pursuing a master’s degree in professional accounting at Torrens University.

We the Pvblic had a chat with Trixie about her achievements in the world of pageantry and the subculture of transgender beauty pageants in the Philippines. You’re welcome to eavesdrop on our conversation.

Where did you grow up? How would you describe your childhood?

I grew up in a working middle class family in Guadalupe, Makati City. I am the eldest of four; all my siblings were cis women (assigned female at birth and feel that the words “woman” and “female” accurately describe who they are). Being the eldest, I learned to be independent and a problem solver when both my parents were working at the same time. Even though we grew up with helpers around, my parents taught us how to clean the house and wash the dishes. I was very active as a young kid. I played with boys and girls out in the sun.

How young were you when you realized you like dressing up and looking pretty?

It’s hard to recall the exact age but I’d say it would be around the time when I finished elementary school.

How young were you when you realized you like beauty pageants?

I realized I like joining beauty pageants when I was already a student at UP – around 2005.

In a nutshell, what can you tell us about the history of transgender beauty pageants in the Philippines?

It was in the late 70’s and early 80’s under the Marcos regime when beauty pageants for gays and trans women started in the Philippines. It was the time when non-gender conforming individuals started coming out of the closet and found the courage to express themselves despite the judgement from and fear of a society that has long subscribed to a dichotomous gender system. From then on, gay beauty pageants have become part of many festivities. Ironically, you would see pageants even on the feast days of Catholic saints that Filipinos venerate.

Why do you like joining beauty pageants? What’s your motivation or inspiration?

Beauty pageants give us a platform to showcase not only beauty but also our opinions on issues and topics. It gives us a voice. It is a place where we are seen and heard. It gives us power and a chance to educate people about our stories and realities.

How many beauty pageants have you joined, so far?

A bit too many to count; it can be around 30 to 40 local pageants and one international pageant.

How many times have you won?

I’d say 70% of that.

How do you prepare for a pageant? How do you practice nailing the Q&A?

I go to the gym, eat healthy food, clear my mind of negativities and read about current events. I have a notebook with a list of relevant topics and points of discussion. I do it university-style where I take down notes during discussion and review them before the exam day.

How much money does the winner of a transgender beauty pageant usually take home?

It ranges from P 2,000 (if it’s a local barangay sort of competition) to P 500,000.

Describe how it feels to be on a pageant stage.

It’s different every time. At first, it’s nerve-racking, but it gets better after a couple of times of doing it. I still get nervous sometimes, but I managed to enjoy it especially during the recent pageants I have competed in.

Are transgender beauty pageant contestants required to use a stage name or do they use their real names?

There is no stringent rule when it comes to names. Use whatever you feel represents you best. Some will even stick with their legal names while some would use clan surnames like Maristela, Montecarlo or Madrigal.

What was the reaction of your family when you got into the world of beauty pageants?

At first, it was like no big deal but later, my mom became my number one fan and she would even ask me to bring her along, so she can watch.

Mention a notable transgender beauty queen that you idolize and tell us why.

Carmi David – she won Eat Bulaga’s Super Sireyna in 1997. I won the same pageant in 2004. She is inspirational because she exudes class and grace. I told myself before that I want to be like her.

How different is the format of transgender beauty pageants from that of the ones for women?

Gay/trans beauty pageants are essentially patterned after beauty pageants for women. The difference is that the former can be a bit exaggerated in the sense that the costumes are more flamboyant, and swimsuits and/or gowns are more ostentatious.

What do transgender beauty pageants represent, celebrate and promote?

They celebrate LGBT freedom, creativity and self-expression. It represents and promotes not only the contestants themselves but also those supporting them like the makeup artists, gown designers and pageant mentors.

What’s the concept of beauty in transgender pageants? Is it still based on female beauty or do people look for something else/more?

From my perspective, the concept is still very similar to your stereotypical beauty pageant. Obviously, physical beauty is of utmost importance, but organizers also look for personality and the beauty of the heart.

What would it take to win a transgender beauty pageant crown?

It takes courage, effort and a good heart.

What are the misconceptions about transgender beauty pageants that you’d like to debunk?

That all pageant girls are just pretty and that they stop with that. Many pageant joiners and queens use pageants as a stepping stone to foray into fields that they want in life. Many are achievers as well; may it be in the academe or the corporate world. Our life doesn’t stop with pageants. At this point in my life, I am just very happy looking back on my achievements in pageantry and I am happy to move forward and take with me good memories and possibly impart my knowledge to the new generation.

How would you educate people who mockingly question the relevance or validity of the transgender beauty pageant subculture?

Pageants don’t necessarily have to be relevant on a larger scale unless we can prove that the money comes directly from the citizens. If we look at how it affects the target community – the LGBT, with the boost in confidence and self-esteem of those people involved in it and the happiness it brings to its immediate audience, then maybe we can see the relevance. But, it’s not for everyone just as boxing or basketball is not for me – I wouldn’t question their relevance either.

What else can you tell us about transgender beauty pageants?

Many trans women activists are now lobbying to remove “Miss Gay” from pageant titles if they’re meant for trans women because people tend to lump together gays and transgenders as one and the same gender identity. Trans women would be annoyed if they are called gays because those terms are completely different. The latter refers to sexual orientation while transgender refers to gender identity.

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