Unfortunately, Gloria Diaz Is Stuck in 1969

If pageants are about empowering women, then transwomen, mothers, and pregnant women have as much a right to be Miss Universe as any.

Everybody thinks that inclusivity is great until, of course, we have to do the including. In the face of uncomfortable (at-times so very foreign) modern realities, we tend to cling to our old-world biases for comfort. Most people from a bygone time do. One of these seems to be the venerable Gloria Diaz, and the rest of the Filipinos who share the same sentiments about the Miss Universe pageant.

Ever the icon, Diaz is understandably someone we listen to because of her social cache. She's the Philippines' first-ever Miss Universe, after all. But heroines, unfortunately, disappoint, too, especially the ones who haven't been keeping up with the will of the times. Nearly 50 years after her win, Diaz is guilty of spewing talking points straight out of 1969.

"Edi dapat, 'Universe' na lang, huwag nang 'Miss.' Kasi, hindi na 'Miss' yon, 'di ba? Dapat 'Universe,'" she told PUSH, objecting to the inclusion of transwomen, mothers, and married women in the pageant. "[M]y personal opinion—which is not to be taken in the negative way—dapat may sarili silang contest. May Mrs. Universe, may Lesbian Universe, may Transgender Universe."

Diaz added: "There is room for so much. Oo, mga category na ganoon, ganyan. Tapos, kasi even sa Mrs. Universe, andaming magaganda diyan na nanganak na. Okay lang 'yun."

It's an honest attempt at civility, it seems, but it just feels coded in a way. It's a declaration that's trying to say something else without actually saying it.

The liberal tone is there, and the argument is framed as such. "I respect so and so and/or minority group... but..." There's always a but, as if saying, "I understand you. I just don't want you to have the same rights as me." There's always a but to say that, "We hear you but we are not willing to do the work to help you out." There's always a but to tell people that "We don't want you to take this personally" before saying something very, deeply personal. And then they hit you with the "It's only my opinion" to conclude the point, to excuse themselves and say "oopsie" when criticism is valid. 


In 2012, the Miss Universe Organization allowed transwomen to compete in pageants. Meanwhile, beginning in 2023, mothers and married women will be permitted to enter the contest.



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The thing is, Diaz isn't just any person. She's one of the people. What she thinks and how she acts matters to us because she's viewed as a national symbol. Interestingly, we can see here that she's such a national symbol that she's inadvertently echoed Filipinos' general unease toward transpeople, the LGBTQIA+ community, and single mothers, among others. During a time when we're trying to create more spaces within cis-gendered institutions to be seen and heard, this reeks of some out-of-touch-ness we just can't ignore.

It's with stone-age perspectives that we remember how far we still have to go to accept minority groups on a wider scale. We ultimately reduce them to dangerous stereotypes and annoying right-wing brother-Eddie Villanueva talking points.

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There's no reason for them to make up their contests. Transwomen are, in fact, women, even if conservatives and second-wave feminists, like a JK-Rowling-trans-exclusionary-radical-feminist type, will disagree. The community's expression shouldn't be limited to the way they dress, behave, or speak. Mothers, lesbians, and married women, on the other hand, don't give up their "womanhood" just because they choose to have babies or husbands or even wives themselves. These do not make them lesser women just because of lives they've led outside the norm. A lot of Filipinos just find it difficult to grasp the evolving definitions of womanhood and gender identity.

Self-image is important. Perception, too. Miss Universe has learned to open its doors to the different ideas of womanhood we have today. In 2012, the Miss Universe Organization allowed transwomen to compete in pageants. Miss Spain Angela Ponce even made history in 2018 as the first openly transwoman to compete in Miss Universe. Meanwhile, beginning in 2023, mothers and married women will be permitted to enter the contest. In front of the global public, these contestants have the opportunity to showcase these evolving definitions right before our very eyes. And they will be beautiful to see.

So why can't we accept it? Miss Earth candidates like Jerimi Nuqui and Daena Yapparcon, for instance, once said that they don't want transwomen competing alongside cisgender women in beauty pageants. Some pageant fans say the same thing. Perhaps there's just a visceral element we can't get past here, where we recoil in disgust at things we don't want to understand. Another counter-argument, oftentimes, is responding with, "That's wokeism!" We dismiss it as white noise and fairly so. Most of the time, it can be.


Sure, "wokeness," as a concept, does have its fair share of perils, how we limit the conversation to only identity politics instead of striving for institutional upheaval. It starts the dialogue, yes, but wokeness isn't getting us anywhere with just our petty hashtag tokens and yasses for support. Another way of looking at inclusion is moving past its so-called material meaning and finding approaches to decolonize and desexify pageantry as a whole, but that's another gargantuan conversation (the abolition of pageants? We aren't ready to talk about that yet, I suppose) that we can't tackle in one sitting.

Sometimes, I also think to myself that these things are not just about equality, but more about equity. By the textbook, equality means having the same resources or opportunities as someone else. Equity, on the other hand, recognizes the different circumstances that such individuals go through and that are different from the whole.

The former is about giving people the right to enter the same arena. In the latter, it's about providing them with the necessary resources and opportunities to level the playing field and actualize themselves to the fullest. This is so we arrive at a perceived "equal" outcome. The people who we've historically excluded deserve both. Representation matters but so does action. 

History will absolve these contestants in due time. I can't imagine what transwomen, mothers, wives, and other groups have to deal with in life. Nor should I speak for their struggles. But if we want to stand with them and for them, we have to give them their space to exist freely without fear of violence or retribution. They deserve as much visibility and empowerment as any woman. The point is rather simple: they're women, too, goddamnit. 

Miss Universe advocates for a future forged by women. And here we are, facing the future. If pageant contestants aren't free, then the pageant system certainly isn't. If former Miss Universes continue to speak of a culture of exclusion, then they're best left in their glory days. And if Filipinos can't wrap their heads around these evolving definitions of womanhood, then they're best left romanticizing an outdated fucked-up ideal we ought to destroy.

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Brando Suarez
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