Monday 18 January 2016

Beauty pageant for transgender women gets more support from public

Organised for transgender women, contest helps boost participants' self-esteem and offers link-ups with NGOs
By Kok Xing Hui, The Sunday Times, 17 Jan 2016

Every year since 2011, Pravinaa Productions has been running an annual pageant called Miss World Music Tiffany for a different type of beauty queen - transgender women.

Each year, 10 transgender women from Singapore and around the region strut down the catwalk, don national costumes and parade their talents at a club.

For their efforts, they win prize money, titles such as Miss Photogenic and Miss Elegant, but, more importantly, empowerment.

Last April, the company created a Facebook page, and supporters have written in to offer encouragement or help with the pageants.

Pravinaa Productions founder Sonia Pravinaa, 39, said the pageant started when a club she frequented asked if she could organise such a show to draw in crowds.

Afterwards, Ms Pravinaa, herself a transgender woman, decided to keep the pageants going to help her community, by boosting the participants' self-esteem and letting the pageants link them up with voluntary welfare organisations.

"My motive is to bring these people together," said Ms Pravinaa. "They are actually very lonely people. Some transgenders are kicked out of their families and when that happens, many go into drugs or sex work.

"Giving them something to do helps them kill time. We also send them out for dance performances and, hopefully, that inspires them to change themselves."

Ms Ranjana Tanggaraju, 26, director at Pravinaa Productions, added: "When they are in drugs, doing sex work and all that, they have this low self-esteem.

"But when they join a pageant, they feel good about themselves and they don't want to go back to where they came from."

Some have also gone on to greater things because of the pageant. Miss Tiffany 2013, for example, got a modelling job.

So that contestants will know who to approach for help, Pravinaa Productions has been getting non-government organisations involved in the pageants as supporting groups.

Among the NGOs they work with are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender counselling group Oogachaga, sex workers' rights group Project X, and transgender shelter The T Project.

Pravinaa Productions has organised seven pageants, with two last year and one in 2003, and organisers say crowds have increased, with more supporters from beyond the LGBT community. About 120 people watched the pageant last month, and Ms Ranjana estimates that about 30 per cent were from outside the LGBT community.

There have also been volunteers offering to shoot videos and photos, to help out backstage, or to work on the sound and lighting.

Contestant and Miss World Music Tiffany first runner-up for 2015, Ms Neha Nicole Hussin, 22, thinks such pageants offer role models to the transgender community.

"I have always been very outspoken and I use social media to air my views and showcase support to the transgender community," said the make-up artist.

"By standing there on stage and letting the public get to know me, I also let them see that I'm no different from other human beings."

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