Transgender beauty chooses to ‘be visible,’ enters pageant 00:00

Identity It's not all crowns and gowns

Transgender beauty chooses to ‘be visible,’ enters pageant

In 2016, Angel Qinan competed in the 15th annual Queen USA national trans beauty pageant, the largest in the country. It not only helped her form tight bonds with other women in the trans community, but she also found herself and her voice along the way.

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The first Miss America beauty pageant was held on Sep. 8, 1921, in Atlantic City, N.J. Source: “American Experience”/PBS

Angel Qinan

Initially, I kind of saw it as not something I want to try. I wasn’t really like, transitioned yet back in the Philippines, even though I knew that I’m feminine, and I would be pretty as a girl, and that’s who I am. But I was scared of how my family would react, how my friends would react. And I just don’t know how to begin sneaking out, getting the clothes, being in public, speaking in public, being seen by the public. And for some people being laughed at by the public.

My name is Angel Qinan, and my pronouns are she and her. And I’m based in Los Angeles, California. Originally, I grew up in the Philippines. That’s where I was born and raised, and I moved to New Jersey first. And that’s where I got my nursing degree. And I moved to California and eventually transitioned. So I’m a transgender woman. 

I knew already at an early age that I’m different. And looking at my cousins who were female. I thought it was not fair that they could wear pants and they can wear skirts because I want to wear skirts you know, cuz I feel like that’s me.

I wanted to transition pretty much since I was a child. But my mom didn’t approve it. I remember I was 17 years old back in the Philippines, and it was the night before Christmas and she asked if I was gay. Some older Filipinos, they still use gay or baklâ for the whole umbrella of the LGBTQ. At that time, I was actually excited because I would be out with her. And maybe I’ll be able to transition, I’ll be able to live life as a woman. So I actually said, “Yes, I am.” But then she just said, “You know what? People like that they don’t have a future. Why would you choose to be like that? If you’re just going to be like that, why don’t we part ways?” And I didn’t have any resources, I didn’t know a lot of information about how I could move on with life if I left home. So I actually chose not to transition until I pretty much got my independence. And it never left my mind that I want to transition.

When I moved here to the United States, and I started knowing that I’m ready to transition, that I’m financially independent, and that I want to live my life, I started attending a gathering for transgender people. And I started meeting friends and some of those friends are also Filipinos. And they’re very active in the pageant community here in Los Angeles. There was this pageant called Queen USA. And they do that every year. And some of them are pageant winners, and I would attend and watch the pageant, it always inspires me to see all of this beautiful women or transgender women on stage, because I aimed for that when I wasn’t transition yet. 

Angel Qinan was a finalist and also named Miss Congeniality in the Queen USA national trans beauty pageant in 2016. (Photo courtesy of Pep Pe)

So when I decided I would join that pageant, I asked all of my friends to kind of train me. It’s very visual on stage, like if there’s lights, if you have like glittery clothes, then you attract more attention. So it’s fun also looking for those big jewelries, or like grand clothes. And walking in heels and kind of doing the twirls.

When I joined Queen USA in 2016, I represented New Jersey, because that’s the first hometown I have here in the United States.

The check in was two days before the pageant. So we actually went out to some gatherings in Los Angeles, we were taken on a bus and it was – I felt special because I felt like we were treated as most of the cisgender pageants, at least from what I’ve seen on TV, you know, like, we had the sashes from the beginning. And we would have our change of clothes and we would go to the gatherings and we were treated as the contestants and like we get to know each people from different states – amazing women, amazing transgender women from all the different states. The age range was wide. You could actually see who has a lot of makeup on their faces or no makeup. I think the the most special part of that initial meet and greet and kind of knowing each other is, it’s like the transgender community, like the transgender family all in one place. And each of these person have their own stories. Each of these person are unique, and are brave, to get to the point of being confident about who they are and being public about it.

Clip: Angel as Miss New Jersey at Queen USA 2016 Pageant

Angel Qinan

The first time we came out on stage was the opening number. Everybody was wearing red. And that’s the first time I would be seen on stage and I would see the crowd and we would do this dance number, and I was wearing heels and this lovely red dress that I actually added more jewels on it so that it’s gonna show more sparkles. It was amazing. It was nerve racking. I mean, you can’t really see people in the crowd or pinpoint who’s who, so you just have to start performing. Luckily, we did some practices earlier that day, so you kind of just have to go through it and just hope for the best that you don’t like make a fool of yourself on stage.

Clip: Angel as Miss New Jersey at Queen USA 2016 Pageant

Angel Qinan

So when they were calling for the special awards, they called New Jersey for Miss Congeniality. And I was so thankful to all of the other pageant contestants, because it’s an award that the pageant contestants would vote for. It didn’t come from the judges. 

When they were calling for the finalists, and they called New Jersey, I was very happy because it’s a tight pageant. I think there’s so many beautiful women there. And I work so hard to kind of excel in the pageant. So it feels like at least all of my hard work was worth it. When they started calling for the pageant winners and I’m still not called, I would be honest, that I felt disappointed a little bit that I didn’t place but it is what it is. It’s my first time joining a pageant. I’m still so grateful and happy for the experience I had at the pageant.

During the pageant, my brother and my sister who’s also transgender, from New Jersey, flew in, and they were in all support of me, my, my sister is a makeup artist. And she did my makeup. So I made sure I choose the team who are working with me to be the people that I love. That’s including my siblings, my trans mom, our other friends that became my inspirations when I transitioned. And not everybody has that with all the other pageant contestants. So I think it’s important that we were also there for each other, even though it was still a contest. Because in the end, it’s just a contest. But what matters is what’s going to happen after that. 

I chose to be visible because I want to elevate the community. I want to be part of that movement of us being seen, not just as somebody who cannot be confident about themselves, not just as somebody who cannot maintain jobs.

Because I grew up seeing the transgender pageants on my pre-transition during my transition after my transition, the transgender pageants has been a community for us. Even some of our bonding moments for some of my friends would be surrounded talking about pageants because, especially like growing up in the Philippines, like Miss Universe is a big thing. They actually say that that’s like, Olympics for us. So having a place for me to be able to join something Filipinos look up to, it’s an amazing opportunity.

So now we have a great relationship with my mom. I actually talk to her every day on the phone when I drive home from work. And it’s been a good relationship. I never thought it would happen especially if I look back from that night that I almost lost my family.

I think beauty in the outside is being able to show everyone that you’re confident of who you are, regardless of what they perceive you to be. For example, for me as a transgender woman, a lot of people would probably still say, you know that she’s still a man. But as long as I know to myself, that I’m a woman, regardless of what other people will say, and I could actually walk out there confidently, being secure about who I am, that’s one of the things I find beautiful in people. 

It’s an experience that I do not regret and I’m so thankful that I was able to do, even though I didn’t win.

Jackie Noack 

For iPondr, I’m Jackie Noack.

Audio story edited by Annie Sinsabaugh 

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Episode It's not all crowns and gowns