Ms. Spain’s inclusion in Miss Universe sparks online debate

Angela Ponce of Spain competes during the 2018 Miss Universe Pageant in Bangkok on December 17. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP)

It is that particular time for pageants once again, and the crown jewel of them all, that of the Miss Universe competition, takes place this Monday, December 17th — and as per usual, the whole world is tuned to the highly anticipated extravaganza, which this year takes place in Bangkok, Thailand.

The competition, of course, is an event widely covered and anticipated by worldwide media. Currently the most popular pageant to air on screens, the pageant has annually hosted a showcase of international  women in a competition on beauty, skill, and talent, and is watched by millions of audiences — the 2017 show alone garnered 5.21 million viewers, according to Variety.

Indeed, the pageant is no stranger to controversy, having gone through a slew of mishaps through the years, some of the most memorable in very recent memory:

Steve Harvey is back to host this year’s #MissUniverse pageant. The comedian went viral in 2015 after he mistakenly announced Miss Colombia as the winner instead of Miss Philippines @PiaWurtzbach pic.twitter.com/sUWVw2myUI— CNN Philippines (@cnnphilippines) 16 December 2018

And indeed, this year is no exception, as social media was again abuzz with controversy surrounding the inclusion of a transgender woman in Spain’s contestant, 27-year-old Angela Ponce — currently a first for the pageant, which until 2012 only allowed natural-born women to compete.

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Ms. Spain Angela Ponce in her final walk. Photo by LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA.

The inclusion of Ms. Ponce in the renowned competition comes in the wake of a high-profile international debate on LGBTQ+ rights, particularly in female-centric competitions — and in one as renowned as Miss Universe, Angela Ponce’s very presence is a symbolic, history-making act. And as with all history-making acts, controversy was bound to follow, as netizens took to social media to express differing opinions on her inclusion.

A relative majority of netizens supported the historic act, citing Angela’s presence as a victory in and of itself, despite finishing just before the Top 25.

“If I can give that gift to the world, I don’t need to be Ms. Universe.” – Angela Ponce

DAMN GURL!!!! You just won the hearts and respect of millions. We love you, Ms. Spain! ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜#MissUniverse2018— Justin Dizon ⚡️ (@jjcdizon) 17 December 2018

NOT SORRY. But I believe Ms. Spain deserves where she’s right now. She can join Miss Universe. So stop disputing that she can’t just because she’s not born a woman. She is a woman. She identifies as one. She is one and went through the struggles to become one. PERIOD!— John Nicko Coyoca ❤ (@johnicoyoca) 16 December 2018

Based on SOGIE definitions Ms. Spain is:

SEX: MALE (born w/ penis)

GENDER IDENTITY: woman / transwoman (identifies as woman)

Til Miss Universe Org specifically states it will only allow FEMALES (born with vagina) in its pageant, all transwomen can join MU. Wag na mag-away 😊— Dr. Winlove Mojica (@theskinsensei) 16 December 2018

It’s so ironic how these “gays” whine so hard for not being “accepted” and “respected” for who they are (being effeminate to make it specific) whilst cannot support a transwoman Ms. Universe representative who also wanted to be appreciated and respected for her gender expression.— Vincenz (@peanutBITTER_) 15 December 2018

Others however, viewed the move as an unnecessary one, stating that the inclusion of transgender contestants pushed boundaries a little too far.

hmm i have no hate against lgbt community. All respect and love for us but a trans participant in Miss Universe is maybe too much to swallow. Respect boundaries at the end of the day as we ALL try to respect each other’s rights… as much as WE can.— imai (@notjerah13) 16 December 2018

And with all this, however, the very debate of Miss Ponce’s walking the Miss Universe runway is merely representative of the wider discussion of redefining the rights of people belonging to the LGBTQ spectrum. The past year saw a barrage of international issues and controversy, most recently that of the similarly high-profile Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in November, which many felt failed in terms of inclusivity in their models. The VS Fashion Show similarly revolves around a host of international females in their highly-anticipated annual showcase, which this year many felt was out-of-touch and tone deaf for failing to include more diverse models than their usual leggy, long-haired, heterosexual-female formula.

The Miss Universe pageant itself has withstood controversy and debate on whether its very existence contradicts the progression of women’s rights, and in recent years has undergone a metamorphosis of sorts, and now brands itself as an organization built on a foundation of inclusion and celebration of diversity.

True to its word — or at least on Monday morning in the live broadcast of their 2018 show — the pageant took an unprecedented turn in celebrating Miss Spain in a specially made tribute that highlighted her struggles in the industry as a transgender woman as the beauty queen took her final solo walk down the runway. The tribute also featured Ponce’s advocacies of furthering rights of LGBTQ people, and pushing for a world of equality for everyone. She was quoted saying, “If I can give that to the world, I don’t need to win Miss Universe, I only need to be here.”– a moment many netizens took to heart.

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