A two-decade-old national drag pageant’s decision to update its rules extending participation by some transgender people — but excluding transgender people who have not yet had gender reassignment surgery from competing — in two categories has caused confusion among some and claims of discrimination by other fans, followers and performers online.
The National Entertainer of the Year (EOY) contest, founded in 1991, announced after its national pageant this weekend that state promoters had voted to allow some transgender persons to participate in its Mr. and Femme categories, traditionally reserved for cisgender men and women portraying men and women.
“During the promoter meeting for this year’s Entertainer of the Year it was decided to fully embrace the LGBT entertainment community,” a Monday release drafted by Arizona EOY promoter and Femme contest coordinator Richard Van Stone read. “Contestants who are transgender may now compete in the division in which they gender identify for both the Femme and Mr categories, provided they have had a complete surgical tranformation [sic].”
The release added, “Contestants must be post operative and live their life as the gender to which they identify.”
The announcement was also shared by David Bryant, promoter for the 15-year-old North Carolina EOY contest.
The rule, as explained in the pageant’s initial release, effectively means that transgender people who have not undergone complete gender reassignment surgery will be forbidden from participating in the contests’ Mr. and Femme categories.
The news was immediately met with questions from performers and fans on Facebook.
“Embracing only ‘post-op’ is not really ‘fully embracing the LGBT community,'” Terra Rhyzen commented Monday.
Organizers involved with the contest, including Bryant, maintain that the new rule is meant to be more inclusive — opening the previously cisgender-restricted Mr. and Femme categories to more performers. Pre-operative transgender persons have been and are still allowed to participated in the Female Impersonator and Drag King categories, Bryant said. Bryant said former rules that “wrongly excluded” post-operative transgender persons were “archaic.”
Others, though, are debating whether the requirement for surgery is fair or necessary.
“Lots of people choose not to get any kind of surgery and still identify as a certain gender,” David Thomas wrote in response on Facebook. “Looks like more privilege for people able to pay for surgeries or have access to health insurance, not to mention that phalloplasty is medically way more challenging and dangerous than vaginoplasty. This is muddy water, EOY. I commend you for trying to be inclusive but this is not the way.” [Ed. Note — Thomas’ written comment has been edited for grammar and spelling.]
According to Bryant, Stone has been placed in charge of contestant verification. Stone told qnotes via message Monday that final rules had not yet been determined.
Stone declined several requests for clarification on how the pageant would define “complete surgical transformation.” He initially declined specifically to answer how the pageant would go about confirming or examining contestants’ genitals and surgery procedures — as, apparently, would be required by new rules mandating “complete” surgery.
“Bylaws have to be edited once that’s done it’ll be announced,” Stone said.
Stone later said the new rules might rely on a honor system and another close to the pageant said candidates might be required to present letters from surgeons or other medical professionals.
Bryant — who voted for the change in policy — also initially declined to elaborate, but in a comment later posted to this writer’s personal Facebook profile, Bryant clarified: “[The new rules do] not mean you are REQUIRED to get a surgery to compete in EOY. If you are a pre-operative transsexual you are still welcome to be a part of the biggest event of the year: Entertainer of the Year, FI and/or Entertainer of the Year, King just as has been the case for 25 years. If you are a post-operative, you are NOW also welcome to be a part of Entertainer of the Year via divisions that were previously reserved only for men portraying men and women portraying women. The thinking is that this coincides with these divisions devotions to men and women rather than impersonators of men and women. These two divisions are Mr. Entertainer of the Year and Entertainer of the Year, Femme.”
Bryant, who has previously competed in the contest’s Mr. category, first created in 2000, added: “While pre-op are not allowed to compete in all categories, post op transsexuals are not allowed to compete in all categories. Biological men are not allowed to compete in all categories and biological females are not allowed to compete in all categories. That is the reason we have sub-divisions that depend on the type of art you are presenting. Previously, post-operative individuals did not have a category and now they do just as I did not have a category to compete in until 2000… now I do.”
National EOY coordinators Ed Lewis and George Stinson did not respond to messages via Facebook seeking comment on Monday. A message was left by telephone for Lewis at his office Tuesday morning. He has not yet returned our request for comment.