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Courtney O'Donnell

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Why I Did an About-Face and Boarded the Jenna Talackova PR Train

Posted: 05/22/2012 3:11 pm

Transgender Miss Universe Canada contestant Jenna Talackova cracked the top 12 in the final night of the pageant. Although she didn't win, I was rooting for her the entire way, because over the past few weeks I've come to realize that you can't buy this kind of positive PR. And when such an opportunity comes your way, you've got to milk it for all it's worth to win the hearts and minds of those wary of all things trans.

Not too long ago, I sort of looked at beauty pageants as a shallow part of our society; after all, people, trans or not, are more than just their looks -- and to me, pageants of this sort rank very low in the grand scheme of things. Indeed, shortly after the Jenna Talackova saga first surfaced, I wrote a blog titled "The ruckus surrounding Canadian trans beauty contestant Jenna Talackova burying other trans stories." Here's what I said:

All the hype and hoopla in the mainstream media over the Jenna Talackova booting has pretty much wiped out coverage of other transgender-related stories for nearly an entire week. Those in the news business will know exactly what I'm talking about -- with all the space given to the Jenna Talackova story, most everything else goes unreported. Indeed, there were a couple of stories I happenstance across by sheer luck -- something that would not have happened during normal times.

I did not expect this reaction to my post:

Jenna's story has opened the door for me to tell my story of transition struggles, so i'm very happy with her story going viral. i was invited onto mainstream tv to interview about her ... the longer we can keep her in the news, the better! she's a great example to show the world of what being transitioned is all about.

And this:

...truthfully, how many trans related stories are in maistream media at any given time? Even the recent horrific murders went underreported and the victims were mocked or misgendered. Jenna is getting us good press and an opening for others ... I say the longer Jenna Talackova is in the news, the better!

There were dozens of such comments from social media, where my blog article was reposted.

The kicker, though, was looking my blog stats: In the weeks that followed, the number of people visiting my blog via the keyword "Jenna Talackova" was simply stunning. That keyword outdistanced the previous high by a factor of 3. The people drawn to these pro-transgender blogs were given an opportunity to learn things -- human things -- they may not learn elsewhere.

Trans people who oppose pageants still have valid arguments, for example:

...not fantastically excited about further being regarded by society as ... a parody of the most stereotypical view of women in the first place. Like ... congratulations we're allowed into one of the lowest forms of entertainment ... this is about one step higher then Ru Paul's drag show...

For me, personally, however, I've now an eye on the big picture: winning the hearts and minds of those not quite on board with trans people. If this involves embracing something seemingly shallow, so be it. It's not like we are playing on a level playing field to begin with.

My hat goes off to Jenna for opening some doors we couldn't have done easily otherwise.

 

Follow Courtney O'Donnell on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lexiecannes

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