Update: Miss Universe has its newest titleholder, Catriona Gray from the Philippines. And while Gray walked away with the crown, another contestant had her winning moment on stage — even if she didn't get the top spot. Angela Ponce from Spain made history as the first transgender contestant in the international pageant.
Although she didn't place as a finalist (Top 20), the organization made sure to give her the victorious moment she deserved. During the telecast, a video aired highlighting the 27-year-old's story. It ended with one heartwarming quote from Ponce: "I don't need to win Miss Universe, I only need to be here."
After the montage, Ponce took the runway for a solo walk that had the audience in tears and social media erupting in support. "Miss Spain, I am tears. You deserve to be accepted and be embraced, not only by the world, but the universe rather. We are so proud of you," wrote one Twitter user. In light of her historic accomplishment, we're revisiting our conversation with her earlier this year in which she spoke about what her title means to her and how she has nothing to prove.
This story was originally published on September 6, 2018.
As a child, Angela Ponce dreamed of being a princess. She had no idea that one day her desire to wear a crown would become reality. In June, she won the title of Miss Universe Spain, a preliminary pageant for the coveted Miss Universe competition. Ponce's win marked a historical moment in the world of pageantry as she became the first trans woman to compete in the Miss Universe circuit. This comes six years after the pageant organization opened up the competition to transgender participation, following the controversy of a Miss Canada Universe contestant being banned for not being a "naturally born" female.
Although the titleholder has her eyes set on bringing home the international crown, Ponce — who works with Fundación Daniela, a non-profit organization for transgender children and adolescents — already feels like a winner because she is able to represent her community on a stage that has viewership from all over the world. As Ponce prepares for the Miss Universe competition, which will take place in Thailand on December 16, she spoke to Refinery29 about her country's support, what this position means to her, and how she has nothing to prove when it comes to her self-identity.
R29: When Miss Universe opened its rules to allow transgender contestants, did you know immediately that you wanted to compete?
Angela Ponce: I was very happy because I now had possibilities to get my message across to more people. It’s my opportunity to educate those who don't know what our reality is and choose to make value judgments from what they simply see.
How has the support of your country been since your win?
It has been incredible and very positive. The interest that people, especially those who hold a position in politics, have shown in understanding my reality and seeing how I can be of help to others paves a way for this country and society to continue progressing. I have lots of people who support me and others, who maybe for a lack of knowledge, who don’t understand what I’m doing here [as a titleholder]. But I am happy for everything that has happened since my crowning night.
There has been social media criticism about you holding an unfair advantage having undergone surgery. Being that plastic surgeries have a history in pageantry, do you feel this is only a conversation because you're a transgender woman?
Gender reassignment surgeries have nothing to do with plastic surgeries. These are major surgeries that have nothing to do with aesthetics, and they are necessary for some women like me. If the correlation between unfair advantage and plastic surgery derives from me being a transgender woman, it is clearly a matter of ignorance. Perhaps that is my advantage... the message that I carry.
I am very straightforward about what I am and what I want in life, but above all, I am very clear about what I want to achieve with my participation in the Miss Universe pageant.
Angela Ponce, Miss Universe Spain 2018
How do you shut out negativity as you prepare for the international stage?
I just silence the negativity and focus on my goals. I am very straightforward about what I am and what I want in life, but above all, I am very clear about what I want to achieve with my participation in the Miss Universe pageant. If only one person, upon hearing my story, manages to change their way of thinking and opens their mind and heart to understand a reality like mine, I will already feel like I have the crown on my head and that would be a great triumph.
What's the one question you're tired of being asked as a transgender woman?
There is no question in particular that bothers me, but I do get uncomfortable when I have to "prove" that there is nothing that makes me less of a woman than any other woman. But more than being a nuisance to me, it gives me a sense of responsibility to speak out so that certain beliefs and stereotypes about what it means to be a transgender woman can come to an end.
You hope to draw attention to high rates of suicide. What significance does this platform hold for you?
Suicide is a reality among many young people, and the highest rate is among transgender teenagers. Human lives are lost every day as a direct consequence of the harassment that many suffer, all because [they] are born different from what most of society expects. As I always say, and I won’t get tired of repeating, an education based on respect — respect for all human beings — is urgently needed. When this education exists, we won’t have to talk about this topic anymore.