Miss Trans California 2015 pageant's sparkle and awe

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Here's what you can expect walking into Miss Trans California 2015, marketed as the Golden State's first beauty pageant for trans women: spectacle and revelry, sparkling gowns, provocative dance numbers and celebration of a world that so many in the white-bread, hetero, cisgender universe don't get to experience.

And on this particular Saturday night at the Crest Theatre that's precisely what attendees got … with a few surprises.

The contestants and attendees were almost exclusively Latinos. This explains why the competition's lingua franca was Spanish, why the opening act was a Pitbull impersonator and why the evening's events were halved by a fantastic, lively mariachi performance.

Six women competed for the crown, and much of the night's excitement derived from their energy. Some were nervous, others fierce and assured. Personalities were reflected in the range of bathing suits, from form-fitting one-pieces to stringy, suggestive bikinis. Feathered fantasy costumes spanned 15 feet across the auditorium, scarcely fitting onstage. Evening gowns sparkled and awed.

Somewhere among the sequins and towering heels, the bright dresses and wild fantastical gowns, one was struck by a profound truth: Miss Trans California 2015 is far more than a beauty pageant.

This hit me when contestant Monique Monroe entered the Fantasy Dress round clad all in white, framed by a flowing, stylized set of wings. She dressed as an archangel in remembrance of all of the trans women lost to violence in the United States in 2015. Another contestant, Cristina Aguilar, appeared as the Angel of Peace in recognition of transphobia throughout the world.

Perhaps the most evocative performance of the evening took place while contestants were backstage changing into their evening gowns for the final rounds. This was a choreographed sequence juxtaposing Catholic imagery and ceremony with hypersexual dress and dance—something you might see in a Madonna music video: a tatted-up beefcake Jesus on a sparkling cross, shirtless male dancers and a prayerful woman (whom the crowd adoringly called Camila) in knee-high black boots better suited for a dungeon than a church.

The pageant closed with a Q&A round that pulled no punches. Monroe advised on what someone undergoing a sex change should know. Aguilar applauded Caitlyn Jenner's transition, saying “It’s never too late” in Spanish. Carla Campos defined what transexuality means to her, and so on.

The event was spectacle and glam, with a theme of acceptance and understanding. That's by design, according Jorge Martinez of NGN Entertainment, the company that put on the event. It's a chance for those outside the LGBT community to see more of the trans world.

I'd say it's a good start.