Twenty contestants came together on Saturday night to strut their stuff for the Miss International Queen pageant, which is one of the only pageants open solely to transsexuals.

Women came from all over the world to participate in Miss International Queen for the 2009 crown. Haruna Ai, 37, was named the winner, and thus the world's "most beautiful transsexual." Ali works as a Japanese television host, but she says her gender is continually under question in Japan. "I am very, very, very happy," she said. "I want contests like this to show everyone that they should love each other and live freely. The way of life in Japan is more traditional and transsexuals cannot live freely, but in Thailand they can do what they want."

Most of the participants have similar stories of discrimination. Maggie Gao, a contestant from China, says she won the Miss World Shenzhen title earlier this year, but once pageant officials learned she was born a man, she was stripped of her crown. For many of the women, this is a rare opportunity to, in the words of Camilia Dzelma, "show the world that I am not a freak." U.S. contestant Sunny Dee-Lite says she "can only hope for [an event like this] in the United States."

Even though the overall tone of the Sydney Morning Herald article is uplifting, there is something that irks me about the idea that the best way to empowerment and equality is equal objectification. These women talk about defying discrimination and living freely, something we certainly should celebrate. And yet, it's difficult not to wonder why this. Every goal stated on the Miss International Queen website is worthy (from donating to the world AIDS foundation to promote awareness of human rights issues), but does it have to be done through this forum? Can a beauty pageant - which judges and ranks women based almost entirely on their physical appearance and conformity to certain standards of feminine beauty - ever be truly positive?

Transsexual Miss World Contest Aims To Boost Awareness [Sydney Morning Herald]
Miss International Queen [Official Site]