Unpacking (Trans)gender Roles at the Miss America Pageant

How a pageant showcased a certain kind of woman and its impact in my own life

Adryan Corcione


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While scrolling on Instagram a few weeks ago, a post stuck out to me. Queer journalist Nico Lang (@queernewsdaily) posted about how the Miss America Organization added, and then promptly deleted after receiving backlash, “natural born woman” (whatever the hell that means) to its eligibly requirements, restricting transgender women from participating in the competition. The post linked to an open letter signed by the LGBTQ+ candidates, which calls for all women to compete. The organization hasn’t responded to the demand.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this news. What has me fixated on this news is what the Miss America pageant has represented.

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It’s not at all surprising to hear about this cultural institution of its own barring trans women. This isn’t the first time, either. In 2018, when Miss America announced they’d discontinue the swimsuit portion of the competition, “natural born woman” (seriously what the fuck) was listed in their eligibility requirements, reports Refinery29.

Before I proceed, there are some points I’d like to make clear. I cannot speak for transgender women nor even other nonbinary people. While gender greatly influences my experience as a trans person, I recognize my view isn’t the only valid one on this issue. I’m also not interested in critiquing LGBTQ+ contestants of Miss America-affiliated pageants. Lastly, I’m not interested in debating whether Miss America or beauty pageants should or shouldn’t exist.

I am interested, however, in interrogating the history of the Miss America Organization critically and analyzing its impact on gender. I’ll also apply critical family history to discuss how Miss America impacted my childhood, drawing from my mother’s upbringing living near Atlantic City. In the journal…