Angela Ponce – Tall, blonde, soft-spoken and impeccably glamorous, she’s a walking archetype of what you might imagine one Donald J. Trump envisioning as the perfect pageant queen. (He owned Miss Universe from 1996 to 2015.) But Ponce, who currently holds the title of Miss Spain 2018, is much more representative of the pageant’s future than its past—she’s the first openly transgender woman to ever compete for the crown.
The very fact of Ponce’s candidacy is historic. Being on the world stage as an openly transgender woman in a role that’s traditionally been held up as the the ultimate embodiment of womanhood is damn impressive (and overdue). “It’s important that people can see you to feel that they have a positive reference,” Ponce says. “It’s important that people see women like me to know that the ideas they may have about transgender people aren’t always true.”
But Ponce isn’t interested in simply being a silent symbol. She’s taking advantage of her moment on the global stage to speak out about the issue of gender identity—specifically, the rights of transgender adults and minors to be able to define their correct gender on official forms of ID. “It’s about [fighting for] the right to be,” she says. “It would diminish bullying and prejudice and the pain that society puts on us, unintentionally, for not knowing more about being transgender.”
The thing is, these simple semantics matter. The right to be addressed and identified correctly, would have made a big difference for Ponce growing up, she says, citing the total sense of vulnerability and rejection she felt when her childhood doctor continued to refer to her by her previous (male) name.
In a pageant that’s already had a cringe-worthy controversy, Ponce’s platform of understanding and equality might be why some reports have her favored to win the crown. “I’m working very hard to win and I would be very proud to achieve that,” she says, “not only for my country nor for myself but for all the people whose situation in the world could change if they called my name.” With her historic role and fight to be seen, Ponce has already proved that Trans people are a minority that can’t be ignored—or erased.
Miss Philippines, Catriona Gray, was crowned 2018 Miss Universe. Gray has a following of over 1.2 million on Instagram and was expected to do well going into the competition. She is famous for walking in slow motion, which has been nicknamed the “lava walk.” During the fashion elements of the show, Gray dazzled in the evening gown competition and sizzled during the swimsuit competition. But it takes more than looking to take home the crown. Gray answered some tough questions, including her thoughts on legalized marijuana. She said, “I’m for it being used in a medical use but not so for recreational use because I think if people argue about what about alcohol and cigarettes, then everything is good in moderation.”