The Miss USA Pageant is an affair that has been discussed, criticized, and parodied since the beginning. From the portrayal of vapid women proving each is the most beautiful to dumb all-American type in films such as Miss Congeniality, the event has a reputation for being anti-feminist and Cisgender-centric.
But here comes Kataluna Enriquez. Miss USA’s first (and thus far, only) transgender contestant.
Born and raised in the Philippines until she was 10, Enriquez has been competing in pageants since 2015 and was the first transgender contestant crowned Miss Nevada.
Her place in the 2021 Miss USA Pageant is a momentous occasion for the LGBTQ+ community, who have praised Enriquez for finally putting herself center stage.
The Rise Of Kataluna Enriquez
Enriquez, who began competing in transgender pageants in 2015, has been vocal about the hurdles she has had to overcome since joining Cisgender competitions the following year.
After being crowned Miss Nevada in June of this year, Enriquez discussed her win on Good Morning America:
“When I was young, I always said, ‘I wish I could see someone like me on that stage,’”
Her transgender identity led her to be active in bringing change to American pageant culture, hoping her presence would “just be able to represent and create a positive change for those who haven’t always had those moments in life.”
Reflecting on her pageantry journey, Enriquez is candid about the discrimination she believes she faced. She took matters into her own hands, starting her own clothing line called Kataluna Kouture to provide herself with dresses and feel empowered on stage. In order to make clothes that not only fit her body type but could be adapted to promote body positivity for affordable prices, Enriquez enrolled in school to study fashion design.
Feeling she was consistently singled out, Enriquez recalls a competition where her documentation was questioned, having to provide legal identification and doctor’s notes in order to prove her identity as a female.
The majority of the criticism pageant culture has faced lies in its lack of inclusion and acceptance. Since the conception of the Miss USA pageant in 1952, audiences have only recently been introduced to non-White contestants and having a non-cisgender queen seemed unfathomable.
What Does Kataluna Hope To Achieve?
Having made it to the spotlight, Enriquez is adamant that she will do all she can to educate the public – particularly in regards to being a trans woman of color.
She hopes to use her online platform, which has adopted the slogan #BEVISIBLE, as a means of sharing her own story and encouraging other members of the LGBTQ+ community to do the same.
When asked about her goals, Enriquez is hopeful that she can be part of a movement that combats hate brought on by vulnerability, telling GMA:
“I’ve learned that people just take advantage of our vulnerable moments and use it to kind of belittle us and dehumanize us but in reality it’s what makes us connect as humans.”
By projecting herself onto the TV and phone screens of millions, Enriquez has been able to make a name for herself. She now wants others to do the same – “My goal this time is to expand my platform for other people and have them share their stories so we can create a world where everyone is aware of things and we can have positive conversations.”
In addition to competing in pageants, Enriquez works as a healthcare admin. She specializes in LGBTQ+ care, using her own experiences to help members of her community.
Neither any Asian nor a transgender woman had won the Miss USA pageant, and Enriquez wanted to be the first to change that. Unfortunately, the cards weren’t exactly in her favor.
What Happened At Miss USA?
Enriquez had high hopes for Miss USA earlier in November. Fresh off her win for Miss Nevada, she felt she had a decent shot at making it to the main stage.
The process began like any other, and a well-seasoned veteran like Enriquez didn’t blink an eye after going through the necessary protocols required. It was the interviews that shook her.
Eliminated before the final 16 were chosen, Enriquez believes the judges were not ready for someone like her to be out in front.
Despite her disappointment, Enriquez was quoted as saying that it was “an honor just to be able to represent my community and be an example for young queer children who now know they don’t need to be limited by society’s standards.”
She often refers to herself as a minority-within-a-minority, with her racial and gender identity both acting as hindrances to the crown.
Regarding the early stages of the competition, Enriquez was baffled by how differently she was treated in comparison to the other competitors. According to her, her interview questions were directed at her transition journey rather than the standard queries about climate change or politics.
Harboring no ill will towards the other ladies, Enriquez expressed her disappointment in the Miss USA committee. The invasive questions she was confronted with within a limited timespan indicate that there is still much to learn.
Her fellow competitors have gone on record saying she deserved to be on the stage as much as they did, saying that nobody saw her as anything but another young woman wanting to achieve a lifelong dream.
Should The Pageant Be Held Accountable?
The elimination of Kataluna Enriquez from the Miss USA pageant certainly makes for some interesting discussions. The fact that her representative corroborated her story about her interview questions lends itself to the argument that the pageant panel was more interested in having a transgender competitor than it was about Enriquez herself.
Acknowledging the end of her Miss USA journey on Instagram, Enriquez writes: “Do not let expectations and socio standards stop you from living your truth and chasing your dreams.”
Whether letting her into the competition at all was an act of performativity is a different story. Thankfully, Kataluna will not let it stop her any time soon.