"Having a vagina doesn't make a woman."


Angela Ponce is the first transgender woman to compete for the title of Miss Universe, and she's said to be a heavy favorite to win. 


Ponce, a 27-year old model from Seville, bested her fellow countrywomen in Spain's top beauty pageant in June, earning herself the right to compete for the international, if not intergalactic, crown in Bangkok in December. 


The Blast celebrity website reported Tuesday that Ponce is far-and-away the frontrunner going into the pageant, at least by the reckoning of internet odds-makers. 


"As the competition nears, online bookies are taking action, and Ponce has grown to become the clear favorite with current odds of +600," Blast said. "The folks at MyBookie.ag compiled their list of where all the countries currently stand. To put it in perspective, the Miss USA Sarah Rose Summers has odds of +2,000 if she wins the whole competition."


Ironically, given his antagonism of transgender Americans, President Donald Trump is in part responsible for Ponce's success. Trump was the owner of the Miss Universe pageant in 2012 when the rules were changed to allow transgender competitors. 

Since new broke that Ponce would be making history, she has been widely celebrated as an icon for long-marginalized transgender people around the world, earning social media accolades and flattering profiles by the likes of The New York Times.


Ponce has embraced the role. In June, she wrote on Instagram that her goal "is to be a spokesperson for a message of inclusion, respect and diversity not only for the LGBTQ+ community, but also for the entire world.”

In The Times profile, published in July, Ponce ​rejec​ted the notion that she is less of a woman than anyone else. 


“Having a vagina doesn’t make a woman,” she said. “Even if many people don’t want to see me as a woman, I clearly belong among them.”


However, even among those who acknowledge the legitimacy of transgender identity, not everyone agrees that the issue is so simple. Some, including a subset of feminists, have argued that certain institutions should be reserved exclusively for biological women, or at least managed in a way that acknowledges their life experiences and challenges as distinct from their transgender counterparts. 


The ​mainstream debate over the issue of female-only spaces has focused on prisons, shelters, and sports, where the primary objections to transgender access are safety and competitiveness. 

While the same concerns are not as clearly at stake when it comes to beauty pageants, there are those who believe that Ponce does in fact have an unfair advantage over the competition, either because her most characteristically female physical assets are the product of plastic surgery or because she will allegedly benefit from her status as a symbol of social justice ― al la Caitlyn Jenner winning the Arthur Ashe Courage Award in 2015.

Ponce, for one, doesn't buy it. She denied to The Times that being transgender has been anything like a leg-up in her career. 


“When I hear that all the girls won’t be competing in equal conditions, I say that’s right, but only because I’ve actually had to make double the amount of efforts to get there, because I wasn’t gifted everything by nature,” she said. 


She added that her physique is all-natural except for her breast augmentation and vaginal plastic surgery, which was necessary “to remove what for me was a burden and a trauma.”


Cover image: Angela Ponce. (Instagram)