Local activist, journalist and Pride emcee Lorelei Erisis won the Miss Trans Northampton 2009 pageant at the Center for the Arts this past weekend. The eight contestants represented, to my eyes, an interesting variety of ways for someone born biologically male to perform femininity.
Those with a more petite build, like second runner-up Lily Rin, convincingly resembled young glamorous women, with high voices to match. Meanwhile, Lorelei and first runner-up Leslie-Anne Rios were tall and striking figures with deeper, rougher voices and a commanding stage presence. Their self-presentation occupied some third space between the conventions of male and female appearance. Leslie-Anne, for instance, looked sassy in an evening gown and sang a heartfelt song of her own composition about finding peace within–female?–but flexed her biceps with a wink at the end–male? Lorelei’s talent-show entry was a performance piece about her transition, starting out in a man’s suit and ending up in a bra and panties.
Transgender, I’m discovering, is about more than “dressing up”. The transgender rights bill remains stalled in the Massachusetts legislature, perhaps because a man’s “right” to wear a dress to work somehow still appears more frivolous than the right to marry the man he loves. On the other hand, would people feel more comfortable if they really understood what trans was about–not the right to perform existing gender roles so much as the acknowledgment of their inadequacy?
A transwoman who doesn’t convincingly pass for female makes us cis-women cringe, sometimes, because she’s what we’re afraid of seeing in the mirror: someone too tall, or too awkward, or too loud, or too strong to fit the feminine ideal. Beauty standards are a test that some of us fail. Some of us slept right through the damn thing.
I had my own “trans” moment last month when a guy at my gym kept greeting me as “It’s Pat!” He’s a big scruffy street musician, good-natured in a sort of spacey way, and he assured me he meant no harm in comparing me to the unattractive and gender-ambiguous Saturday Night Live character: “Pat is funny!” he said. I guess a weight-lifting girl translates into intersex in his mind. Still, it took all my genderqueer political consciousness not to feel mortified that I did, indeed, slightly resemble Pat, who is too graceless to be female and too soft to be male. (My gym buddy, by the way, has now learned my real name but misremembers it as “Glenda“…shades of Ed Wood!)
But let’s go to the videotape… Here are some highlights of Saturday’s competition. Thank you, Miss Trans Northampton, for challenging us to see that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.
Lorelei Erisis performs “my entire life and transition in under five minutes”:
Leslie-Anne Rios performs her song “Teach Me Peace”:
Tammy Twotone lip-syncs and dances to “Something’s Gotta Give”:
The evening gown competition: