As Jai stood on the stage as the crowned Queen of Miss Transgender clutching her bouquet, a grin lighting up her face, she couldn’t have predicted that just a few months later she’d be left empty-handed.
Because in the weeks that followed what should have been a joyful celebration of trans womanhood, events descended into a bitter row that left Jai open-mouthed and crownless. Stripped of her tiara and the opportunity of £10,000 worth of gender reassignment surgery by the organisers of the event Jai had been deemed ineligible for the prize.
But who was behind the decision? That would be Rachael Bailey, the pageant’s organizer, herself a trans woman. Bailey posted a justification on the Miss Transgender page, stipulating that, amongst other reasons for retracting her crown, Jai had not verified her gender dysphoria, was not living ‘full time’ as a woman and performed as a ‘drag queen.’ We asked Rachael to elaborate on these comments but she declined to comment. Among the offending items that Jai claims she lost the crown was a pair of boxer shorts.
These boxer shorts.
Either way Jai isn’t too bothered now. In fact she says: “I’m just glad it wasn’t a testicle hanging out of a pair of lacy knickers to be honest. Adding: “I don’t want to be a part of anything that thinks like that. Being transgender isn’t some exclusive club that you have to tick boxes to get in.”
As a woman fairly early on in her transition Jai had not yet started hormone treatment when she took to the stage. She says: “I entered miss transgender because I felt it was a way to build my confidence, it was a way to meet other trans women. Where I live in the borders of Scotland, I’ve never really encountered anyone who had similar feelings, or thought in the same way that I did.”
Last month a report on the treatment of the trans community by the Women and Equalities commission called for a fairer and less bureaucratic approach to the treatment of trans women. Calls for reform included proposals for identification to be de-medicalised in favour of a self-identification and a more non-binary approach to the treatment of gender, such as an ‘X’ option you could tick on a passport. Rather than trans women needing to provide medical proof of a psychological gender dysphoria (as they currently do) they would simply need to live as a woman.
Jai claims some of her fellow contestants viewed her as a ‘gay boy in a wig,’ which is hard to prove, but what isn’t is that even within the community there are some conflicting ideas of what being ‘trans enough’ means.
There are some who may think the idea of a pageant in the first place is bizarre. That, by taking part, trans women are participating in politics of ‘passing’ and conforming to binary, (often patriarchal) gender norms in order to ‘fit in.’ When Caitlin Jenner last year appeared transformed as a trans woman on the cover of Vanity Fair, the change presented in such chrysallis/butterfly terms, some worried she was using her power to define socially acceptable ideas of trans womanhood.
As Tamara Wiens writes in Slate. “So, many trans women shape their eyebrows and wear makeup and skirts and have surgeries done to reshape their faces or to give them breasts – not because we necessarily buy into the stereotypes for our gender, but because the only way we will be accepted as women is if we conform to the stereotypes as much as possible.”
But Jai says, in entering the competition at the early stage of her transition, she wanted to present a more complex picture of womanhood. She says: “it was always celebrities fully transitioned, never anyone in limbo in that middle stage, I wanted to put myself out there as an early stage woman for girls who are thinking of coming out, or just starting out… girls who feel like they aren’t woman enough or man enough.”
If you’d still like to hear more from Jai, she explains more right here, plus you can watch Miss Transgender: Britain’s New Beauty Queens on BBC iPlayer now.