SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
For decades, the pageant world has leaned heavily into conventional notions of ideal beauty and womanhood. Critics have long been calling out these competitions for their lack of diversity and for promoting unhealthy beauty standards. But in recent years, some pageants have made notable changes to their rules.
In 2012, the Miss Universe pageant system, which includes Miss USA, ended its ban on transgender contestants. And last weekend, in a rainbow gown she made herself, Kataluna Enriquez was crowned Miss Nevada USA, making her the first transgender woman who will compete in the Miss USA pageant this fall. Here to talk more about this historic first is Kataluna Enriquez. Welcome and, first of all, congratulations.
KATALUNA ENRIQUEZ: Thank you so much. And it's an honor to be talking to you all.
MCCAMMON: I wonder if you could take us back to that big moment when your name was called and you were crowned Miss Nevada. How did that feel?
ENRIQUEZ: I have no words. I mean, we made history. I don't know how to explain that. Winning was always been my dream. I fought for it for five years. And to be able to have that achieved is amazing, but actually making history is something that I can't explain.
MCCAMMON: How did you get interested in pageants? I mean, what drew you to them?
ENRIQUEZ: Well, first, when I started watching pageantry, I've always thought that it was just about superficial beauty and just having the tallest contestant, the longest hair, the nicest teeth, the slimmest body. But I've learned from one contestant, who was from Miss Universe Philippines, she was growing up in a rice field or she was training in rice fields. And there's times where she would have barely anything to eat. And that story resonated with me and my community and my people. And I've learned to look at beyond such a pretty face and listen to their heart and their stories and what they've going through in life and really celebrate that. And I thought that I wanted to be a part of that. And I have a story that I wanted to tell and share the world as well.
MCCAMMON: But your journey hasn't been easy. In an interview with FOX 5 Las Vegas, you said that when you competed in another state, pageant organizers there did not give you a roommate and had a doctor certify that you were a woman after they found out you were trans.
MCCAMMON: In that same interview, you mentioned that you felt alone and misunderstood. After all of that, what made you want to keep participating?
ENRIQUEZ: Well, I had a purpose and I had a dream. I wanted to compete in the Miss USA stage. When I was young, I've always wanted to see someone on the Miss USA stage, someone like me. And it just happened to be that I was the person that I needed and - to make that history. But again, like, I had that purpose, and I had that dream. I wanted to achieve it and, for me, the purpose of representing people and representing not just myself but something that is not always represented in our communities and in this time, especially in media.
MCCAMMON: How might you respond to somebody who would say, look, you know, I get it. Inclusion is important, but why fight for inclusion in an institution that's been, in the eyes of many women, problematic for a long time? Why not focus on showcasing your talents in other ways that aren't focused on your appearance?
ENRIQUEZ: Well, I think people are still stuck to the idea that beauty pageant is just appearances, but it's not. I think people are still having a hard time accepting that you can be absolutely stunning and still be purposeful.
MCCAMMON: I don't think the issue is so much a question that women can't be beautiful and successful. It's more the idea of what beautiful is. I mean, I've seen your photos. You are, you know, conventionally beautiful. You are thin. You have long, glossy hair. You have a pretty face, you know? A lot of women feel pressure to look that way and have a hard time looking that way. Don't pageants perpetuate what, for maybe most women, is an unachievable standard?
ENRIQUEZ: I don't believe so. I mean, we use our platform to really share ourselves in reality, too, as well. If you look into my media, I'm not always wearing makeup. I am not always having a good day. I always share the very vulnerable moments in my life, including when I'm being attacked, how would that makes me feel as a survivor and as a trans woman. I always share the reality of my truth. And so I would disagree with that.
MCCAMMON: And of course, you will be representing Nevada in the Miss USA pageant in November. So before we let you go, what are you doing to get ready for that?
ENRIQUEZ: Great question. So there's a lot of things I have to work on. Communication skills is one of them. That's one of the things I had a hard time - especially because at a young age, I taught myself to silence myself in order to survive. But that's - one of the things I'm working on is, obviously, preparations in terms of gowns, your interviews, how are you going to advocate for your community and how you going to brand yourself.
For me, it's really mental health. And for me, the most important is representing my state, as it is the No. 1 state for LGBTQ+ community, and I was be honored to that and show the world what that is like when we are given opportunities to rise beyond hardship and limitations.
MCCAMMON: That's Kataluna Enriquez. She was crowned Miss Nevada USA last Sunday, and she's set to compete in the Miss USA pageant this fall. Kataluna Enriquez, thanks so much for joining us, and good luck.
ENRIQUEZ: Thank you so much for having me.
(SOUNDBITE OF LIZZO'S "GOOD AS HELL")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.