Fri, Dec 28, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Mongolia’s trans beauty queen is breaking barriers

AFP, ULAN BATOR

Transgender makeup artist Solongo Batsukh competes in the Miss Universe Mongolia competition in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, on Oct. 17.

Photo: AFP

Makeup artist Solongo Batsukh braves Mongolia’s below-freezing temperatures in a skimpy black dress and light pastel pink coat — the nation’s trailblazing transgender beauty queen wants to look good in any weather.

“I don’t like to look puffy,” the 25-year-old said as she drove to a beauty salon that hired her to promote its products and services via Facebook Live.

It is with this typical bluntness, confidence and attitude that taboo-breaking Batsukh strutted into the nation’s first-ever Miss Universe Mongolia competition in October.

Although she fell short of representing her country at the Miss Universe contest in Thailand on Monday last week, her participation shed another light on a group living on the edges of a deeply patriarchal country with conservative views about sexual identity.

Had she won, she would have joined Miss Spain’s Angela Ponce as the first transgender contestants in Miss Universe’s 66-year history.

“I wanted to inspire as many women as possible, but I’m still proud that I got the chance to compete in this contest, and the ‘Solongo’ I created was a true winner in my heart,” Batsukh said.

Her participation did not please everyone, dredging up negative reactions on social media.

“The world would have a negative image of our country if a man represents us while there are thousands of beautiful and real women in our country,” one person wrote on the Facebook page of Miss Universe Mongolia.

However, Batsukh is not deterred by such abuse.

Born Bilguun Batsukh, she grew up as a boy in the semi-arid central province of Dundgovi.

She could not pinpoint her gender identity until she learned about different orientations as a university student in her early 20s.

It was when she started working as a program officer at Youth for Health, a non-governmental organization that provides safe-sex education for LGBT people, that she realized she was a woman born in a man’s body.

She started wearing wigs, putting on dresses and taking hormone therapy.

Batsukh is among the few LGBT people who have come out in Mongolia, where about 80 percent of the community remain in the closet, a UN survey showed.

“It is extremely difficult for transgender people to be employed,” LGBT Center legal program manager Baldangombo Altangerel said.

A video of a young transgender woman who had repeatedly been beaten in the streets went viral in Mongolia last year, highlighting the prejudices LGBT people face.

Batsukh wants to dispel the image that transgender women can only be sex workers or strippers living on the fringes of society.

She flaunts her wealth, regularly travels abroad and is a celebrity in her country of 3 million people.

Batsukh found fame in 2014, when she represented Mongolia in Miss International Queen, finishing in the top 10 of the international transgender beauty pageant in Thailand.

She pursued a modeling career and became a makeup artist.

“I had to reveal myself [as transgender] so I could correct the misunderstandings in society. If we keep hidden, society will keep on hating us. They don’t know us,” she said.

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