Pageants: the key to understanding ladyboys

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Originally posted 2017-03-14 05:22:08.

On Sunday March 12th we went to watch the ‘Mr Lady’ beauty pageant at Robinson’s Place, Malalos, here in the Philippines. These pageants are a regular and important feature of life here.

During the event, an award was presented for Most Supportive Boyfriend. The winner took both his beloved and the crowd by surprise when he proposed to her on bended knee. The crowd went absolutely wild!

These events are very much family affairs and each of the contestants was supported by a strong turnout of highly partisan cousins, siblings and parents. It’s just good fun and everybody has a great time.

I think this illustrates the special position that ladyboys have in Filipino society. Though often regarded with disdain in the street, they are nevertheless icons of beauty and femininity. While they are young and beautiful — and many are simply stunning — this gives them a social status; and the place where this is shown off is at pageants.

Pageants are detested in the West

Pageants like this are detested, of course, by killjoy Western feminists as well as accommodationist ‘New Gay Men’. Indeed, they have campaigned to stamp out all forms of transsexualism and routinely, one finds scathing criticism posted on feminist and New Gay websites.

Yet, across Asia, these pageants are delighted in by everyone, gay or straight. They are celebrations of homosexuality — defined, not in the terms of the ghastly faux masculinity of the Western New Gay Man, but in their flamboyant, over-the-top embrace of outrageous feminine glamour. They combine elements of theatre and cabaret, in the outrageous costumes, so painstakingly crafted, and in the exaggerated make-up and mannerisms. The camp is so thick you could cut it with a knife. Tossing their hair and lifting the hems of their skirts, archly fluttering their eyelashes at the audience, ladyboys can perform roles here that otherwise would not be tolerated.


All transsexuals in Asia consider themselves to be ‘gays’. By definition, in Asian culture, people born men are ‘straight’ or ‘gay’. Straight men play basketball, drink beer, smoke cigarettes, chase women relentlessly and hang around in all-male groups. Gays — in the Phils called ‘bekis’ — are all the other males; they form part of a social group that is dominated by women. (Don Kulick, writing of Brazil, described this as the ‘not-men’ group; it is as evident in Asia.) But as gays they can never achieve the status that a woman acquires by becoming a mother; nor can they easily achieve status in work or professions, due to residual social prejudice.

Except, that is, in entertainment. In cabaret, in bands, in theatre and elsewhere, gays have a platform and a career path, and more, one in which they can indulge themselves. Pageants are the first rung on this ladder; nearly all famous Asian transsexuals (and indeed, most well-known ‘gay men’) have at some point been beauty queens. Far from demeaning them, pageants empower them. They give their lives focus and direction;  provide money and exposure to talent scouts; and provide a community in which ladyboys can blossom and be who they really are.

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