Let her compete, already

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Jenna Talackova is a result of gender essentialism and we’re all responsible for it

Can't Think Straight
Jonathan Petrychyn
A&C Editor

You know, sometimes people really just don’t get it.

Jenna Talackova was disqualified on March 23 from the Miss Universe Canada pageant because, according to Beauties of Canada, the Donald Trump-owned organization that runs the pageant, “She did not meet the requirements to compete despite having stated otherwise on her entry form.”

What they’re trying to say is that Talackova was disqualified because she wasn’t “naturally born” a woman, whatever that means. Talackova was born with a penis, which, according the ever powerful medical establishment – which, we have to remember, is always right because they have Darwin and Freud on their side – makes her a man, despite Talackova’s assertions to the contrary.

Talackova has stated that she knew from the age of four that she was a woman. That’s just the way things are. She may have had a penis, but she knew that she was a woman.

Now I’m not going to pretend like I know how this works. I haven’t had a singular experience similar to Talackova’s, and so I have no idea what it’s like to be born a woman but have a penis, or to be born a man but have a vagina. I really have no idea.

And in all fairness, most of the establishment that stand’s behind the decision to disqualify Talackova have literally no idea what it’s like to be in her situation. But this shouldn’t excuse their, quite frankly, hasty and discriminatory actions.

Nor should it excuse the actions of the people in this very city for speaking hatefully about Talackova.

CC, Lorie, and Buzz of Z99, in their infinite wisdom, posted an image of Talcakova to Z99’s Facebook page with the caption, “Canadian model Jenna Talackova has been banned from competing for Miss Universe Canada … because it turns out she was BORN A MAN. She had gender reassignment surgery when she was 19, and is legally female. But the pageant rules state you have to be a ‘naturally born female’ … so she’s out. Agree or disagree?”

I don’t think I need to describe the floodgates of ignorance that they opened.

Though there was a fair amount of intelligent arguments against her disqualification, it’s those arguments for her disqualification that are the most interesting. Most of the arguments in favour of her disqualification basically amount to, “Well, rules are rules so we shouldn’t be bitching and he should have read the rules,”

That use of the male pronoun “he” is telling, though, and really points to the deeply entrenched misunderstanding of gender and gender identity.

Most of the problem here is that we’re still operating on what basically amounts to essentialist notions of gender that state there is a unified “essence” underneath all men and another “essence” unifying all women and these make all men alike and all women alike and there’s no other way to look at it. In other words, all men are X and all women are Y and you either fit into one of those two categories, or you’re an abomination.

To be sure, it doesn’t always manifest itself so violently, but it’s here all around us, from the clothes we wear, to the colours we like, to the very bathroom we use. We’re bound up in a world marked by essential notions sexual difference, and we don’t even know it.

Look at the clothes you’re wearing. No seriously, stop reading this and look at the clothes you’re wearing. And now consider why you’re wearing those clothes, in those colours, and those styles. In part, it may because it makes you look good, but ask any straight guy on campus if he’d wear a dress to school, and he’d probably punch you in the face or laugh you out of the room.

He laughs because he thinks that dresses are women’s garb, and that because he’s a man, it would absurd for him to take on that position. The problem here isn’t that this imaginary guy thinks women are lesser, but the very fact that he thinks a dress is somehow inherently an object that only women can wear at all.

The point is, we’re all guilty, in one way or another, for Talackova’s disqualification. Sure, we don’t have any immediate direct hand in it but, because we all participate in a society predicated on sexual difference that doesn’t allow for any deviation from it, doesn’t allow anyone to move from either side of the equation, exist in between the two poles, or to not exist in relation to them at all; we’re all responsible for disqualification. Because we don’t let this imaginary guy wear a dress, we won’t let Talackova compete. She’s not a “natural woman,” a pure woman, a woman who only exists as woman, so that’s that. This is a problem, and it definitely shouldn’t be.

And how do we solve it? Well, for one, you let Talackova compete and you support her as she fights the Miss Universe pageant and you respect her choice to identify as a woman. We can tackle the problem of getting men in dresses another day.

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