updated 17 Nov 2012, 04:05
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Wed, Nov 14, 2012
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Transgender pageant to raise LGBT awareness
by Juliana June Rasul

SINGAPORE - It was a night of glamour and fun. The 13 transgender contestants of the Miss Exotica 2012 pageant at Talent Cafe in Tanjong Pagar had lots of fun pretending to be from exotic places like Zimbabwe, Puerto Rico and South Africa, complete with over-the-top "national" costumes.

When it came to the talent portion, they wowed as well.

But when it was time for the question-and-answer segment, the mood turned serious and the catcalls came fast and furious - and not just for the sometimes revealing costumes.

Unlike the usually cliched or completely out-there answers given by other beauty pageant contestants, the Miss Exotica finalists were all businesslike during the Q&As.

They had a big responsibility - that of using the pageant as a platform for awareness and support of rights for those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

The contestants were asked tough questions by the judges that focused on what they would do with their Miss Exotica title to bring awareness to the LGBT cause.

Judge Jada Jade Rodriguez, an entertainer, had this question for "Miss Zimbabwe" Giena Natasya: "Every pageant, big or small, gives you a chance to voice out. If you get to become an ambassador for transgenders, what would your message be?"

Ms Natasya, a Malaysian, replied in Malay: "All the contestants have their own talent. Every one is special in their own way, whether in talent or beauty."

Judge Amy Tashiana asked "Miss Malaysia" Arisha Iskandar what her reaction would be if she found out her best friend was HIV positive.

"As a friend, I would like to give support and not turn him or her down," she said.

"It could happen to anyone. I would give her support to help her continue her life."

All the contestants were asked the same question by judge Nira Blackhouse, a designer who runs her own bridal shop: How would they make use of the title?

Ms Arisha said that if she won, she would capitalise on her crown to join more pageants to show "what we can do".

"We have our talent, we have our beauty, we should let people see what we have," she said.


Ms Natasya added that she would like to set up an association in Malaysia that supports transgenders.

"I would want the association to ensure that we (transgenders) feel like we're not being looked down upon," she said.

The night's eventual winner was "Miss India", Singaporean Angel Aurora Jalleh-Hosey, 38, who said she would use her title to unify "the transgender community, regardless of size, race and colour".

"There are so few of us, and it's not easy," she said. "It's important we support one another."

She took home $1,000 in cash, and the organisers, Makin Sorfina Productions, are looking to send her to an international competition next year.

Judge Missy DeEnormous, an entertainer whose real name is Desmond Charles, was impressed by the quality of the questions and answers.

"(In transgender pageants here), it doesn't usually get so intense," he said.

"The contestants didn't know the questions were going to be so hard.

"I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the contestants, they way they handled themselves and the questions."

An audience member, who only wanted to be known as Mr Teo, said he felt the girls had put on a very good show.

"It was very entertaining, but I was also impressed by the Q&A," he said. "You could see some of them had to overcome their nerves to speak."

Mr Charles and Mrs Rina Yeo, the organiser, are already planning for the next edition of the pageant.

Top on their list? A bigger venue.

The tiny space on the second floor of the Talent Cafe was so packed with supporters and family members on Friday night that some had to sit out the four-hour pageant.

Said Mr Charles: "The support and response was so good that we're definitely going to make it bigger next year."

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