'I'm Nevada's First Transgender Beauty Pageant Winner'

In the Philippines, where I was born, pageantry is huge. But I was never really exposed to it until after I moved to America when I was 10. I recall watching Miss Universe and hearing the story of a contestant from the Philippines. She had grown up in poverty and her family couldn't always afford food. I had thought that pageantry was objectifying women, but that particular contestant inspired me to look beyond the superficial layer of beauty and into contestants' personal stories and what they advocate for.

In 2016, I competed in my first pageant; an international transgender pageant called Queen of the Universe. I didn't know a lot about pageantry at the time and I was amazed with the production, costumes, and dresses that the girls wore. One contestant was wearing a costume that was must have been more than 15ft tall. I was just wearing pieces I had put together as I didn't yet know how to sew properly, so when I got on stage my top was falling off and I was having to hold it up. It was embarrassing and afterwards I remember thinking that perhaps pageantry wasn't for me.

Then I learned that I had been just a few points away from making it into the competition's top ten. That gave me a bit of a push and over the next few years I began competing more and improving.

Trans pageants tend to really focus on glamour and in my experience they are a little more competitive. I understand, because we're in a community that is small, often targeted with hate and there aren't as many opportunities. Cisgender pageants have been a little intimidating for me. I was scared when I first decided to participate in cisgender pageants, because I knew I was different and would most likely be the only trans person competing. It would be new territory where I did not know anyone and I was conscious that I would compare myself to the other women and question whether I was enough.

My first experience of a cisgender pageant was exciting but unfortunately, it was also humiliating. I have always been open about who I am as a person and always disclose that I am trans. It's a choice that I made because I don't want anyone saying I am a liar. And more importantly, it's my way to embrace myself.

I applied to this particular pageant three years in a row before receiving a response. Perhaps they hadn't paid attention to my fourth application, because their first email said that they had looked at my social media and discovered that I am trans. They told me that they needed documents providing proof that I am a woman. That was perfectly fine and I had everything ready, but after I submitted court documents and my name and gender change certificates I was told I needed to provide further proof that I was female. Essentially I was being asked to go to a doctor and get a letter to show that I am a woman.

I decided not to let that stop me, and I was hoping the competition itself would be different. But when it came to assigning roommates, I was told by the organizers that I wasn't going to be sharing a room with anyone. I tried to see it as a positive: I had more space and I didn't have to worry about anyone else. But when I got to my room I cried. I felt like they didn't want me there.

During the competition I would also hear contestants saying they didn't think I should be there, which was hurtful. But some of the girls became good friends and we are still close now. I didn't place at all in that pageant which was surprising to me because I was fairly seasoned at that point and believed that I could easily secure a spot, at least as a semi-finalist.

transgender, beauty pageant, women
Kataluna Enriquez at her personal interview at Miss Silver State USA. Kataluna Enriquez

I've now competed in seven or eight pageants in total and I went to Miss Silver State USA in Nevada this year with the intention of competing for myself and focusing on overcoming my insecurities. I wanted to overcome my fears of rejection, having to second guess myself and changing who I am for other people.

Like most pageants, Miss Silver State USA has a personal interview, an evening gown round, a swimsuit round and an on stage Q&A session. In my personal interview I was asked what my goal was as a trans woman competing in a cisgender pageant. I told them that oftentimes people think that my experience is different to a cisgender woman, and in some ways it is, but it's also very similar. As a trans woman I have experienced abuse, discrimination and inequality because of my gender.

Typically we think pageantry is for women who are slim, tall and have nice teeth, but I'm not just a body, I am also a person who struggles with mental health and I am a survivor; I grew up in poverty and have had to forge my own path. A lot of women share the same stories and I think we need to highlight that rather than focusing solely on beauty.

I wasn't expecting to win but I was also too busy trying to calm my nerves to be fully aware of what was happening. So, when my name was called as the winner I was really surprised and didn't know how to react. It was overwhelming but I was really happy.

I wasn't aware at the time that I was the first transgender woman to win a beauty pageant in Nevada, but it's amazing. I'm now an automatic entry for Miss Nevada which is in June and my goal is to then go on to Miss USA. I think it's about time we see a trans person on the Miss USA stage and I'd like to make that history.

I've had a mixture of reactions to my success. My friends and people from the LGBTQ+ community are always supportive, but I've had a lot of messages saying that I'm a man, or I'm not a real woman because I don't get periods and I can't give birth. I've been told that I'm a sin and I'm taking something away from little girls. People have their opinions and when it comes to people calling me a man, it doesn't hurt me. I've heard that so many times.

There was a point in my life where I would cry myself to sleep hoping that I wouldn't wake up. I don't know what happened, but one day I just decided I wasn't going to listen and instead, I was going to pay attention to what makes me happy.

I have always wanted to become the person I needed when I was younger, when I knew I was different but I didn't know what or who I was. I was very feminine but I didn't know anyone who was trans, even when I moved to America and saw TV shows where they would present trans people.

transgender, beauty pageant, women
Kataluna Enriquez (center) after winning Miss Silver State USA 2021. Courtesy of Kataluna Enriquez/Miss Silver State USA

After I won Miss Silver State USA one contestant messaged me to say she was really happy that I had won. She told me that she had been feeling insecure at the competition because she is a person who identifies as pansexual. I was so glad that I had been able to give her some light and positive energy.

It's so important because even now, people are still hurting or afraid to be their true selves, and I understand why they are afraid. That's why we need to continue having discussions and sharing our stories and our authentic selves.

I just want to continue having conversations, sharing my story and advocating for mental health awareness, representation, inclusivity and diversity.

Kataluna Enriquez is the winner of Miss Silver State USA 2021 and will be competing in Miss Nevada in June 2021. You can follow her on Instagram @mskataluna and follow her fashion line @katalunakouture.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Jenny Haward.