Originally published through Hijacked
It’s pretty clear that the mix of people milling around the Yarraville Club’s function room is not the venue’s usual crowd. Large groups of well-dressed young men huddle together by the door. In the smoking section, fifty-something women with flyaway hair exhale into the air, while trendy couples head purposefully towards the bar.
There’s a tap on my shoulder, and a woman in a floor length black dress, a sexy shade of lipstick and patterned heels strikes up a conversation. Her name is Katie, and she’s here to watch the fourth annual Miss Gay & Miss Transsexual Pageant. Katie’s transgender herself – “an umbrella term that refers to persons who have a gender identity and/or gender expression different from the one assigned to them at birth,” as defined on pamphlets being handed out – but according to her, all you need to know is that she’s a person.
“I hate labels!” she exclaims. “I have people asking me, if since I’m transgender, I’m gay. I mean, I like women. So does that make me gay?”
Katie, who can’t dress up when she visits her favourite coffee shop, or when catching public transport after the event because “it’s safer to catch a cab”, decided to check out the pageant after spotting the contestants take part in a photo shoot. It’s so intoxicating that by the end of the night, she’s decided she’ll compete next year.
We stop chatting as the lights dim and the hosts appear. The curtain goes up and a backdrop of shiny red sequins is revealed. The first round is about to commence.
The Fantasy Costume round gives contestants the chance to show off. The theme given to them this year is Queens and Goddesses, a creative direction that has been funnelled into an explosion of feathers, sequins and satin.
One contestant pulls a canister out from her bra, felates it, rubs it around her crotch, points it into the audience and then showers them in confetti. Another has neon blue light-up tits. There’s maroon latex, gold cashmere and peacock feather headdresses that graze the ceiling.
Huge green leaves that are twice the size of a human being are attached to one woman’s back. Another is dressed as a Spartan warrior, and slams her spear repeatedly against the floor. The glitz and kitsch present in these 15 minutes could fuel a Katy Perry tour.
This is the first of five stages of the pageant: fantasy costume, sexy wear, talent, evening wear and interviews. Unfortunately, however, at this point there’s a series of horrible microphone screeches followed by a half hour delay. According to one of the previous organisers, something like this happens every year – the voltage necessary to power this extravaganza is unattainable in a smaller venue like the Yarraville Club.
The chaos only adds to the fun though, and before long the girls are back parading their sexy wear, talent performances and evening wear. It’s the interviews, though, that are a real reminder that while the pageant is a party, it’s purpose is to raise awareness of the LBTQI community.
The sobering reality is that 41 per cent of transgender people have attempted to commit suicide, nine times the national average. They are far more likely to suffer discrimination, homelessness and violence.
One woman speaks about the difficulties of being transgender in a family who demand a heterosexual lifestyle.
Charity Steals, eventual first runner up for Miss Gay, shares a story of having to leave her job because of her sexuality. She uses it to charm the crowd, though, with her ability to turn a negative experience around. “How I dealt with it was that I threw my time and energy into tonight!” she grins, resplendent in a purple gown.
Others use wit to win over the judges.
“It’s not about what’s between your legs, it’s what you are inside,” Miss Transsexual third runner up, Maria Victoria Marti, says. “I know that’s hard for some people to understand, since… we look so much better than them…” She’s forced to pause, smiling, as she waits for the deafening eruption of appreciation to die down. “But it’s true.”