Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Womanless Beauty Pageant Theory

By Starla

Long time Femulate readers will recall regular contributor Starla, who perused online high school yearbooks and clipped any womanless events she found memorialized in those volumes. (You can view her collection of clips here.) 

Starla is back with her theory regarding the reasoning for the existence and popularity of womanless beauty pageants in the Deep South.

Those of you who have followed Stana’s blog for any length of time know that she shares my obsession with “civilian” womanless beauty pageants. It has been fascinating for me to seek out and discover many of these increasingly elaborate events as they have evolved over the last few years.

What has fascinated and intrigued me is that in recent years, the vast majority of the most elaborate and “realistic” pageants (in which the goal is to faithfully mimic girls and not to make fun of them with grotesque parodies), especially at the high school and middle school levels (and even occasionally elementary school), tend to take place in just two states: Alabama and Mississippi.

Yes, in two of the most religious and conservative states in the union, where gays and trans people encounter hostility and harsh judgment, people seem willing and eager to parade their tween and teen sons on a stage in up-to-date gowns, excellent wigs or natural hairstyles, perfect makeup, and high heels, and revel in the event.

Yet the cruel irony is that if any of those same young boys came home one day and announced that they were trans and want to actually become girls, those same parents would probably be horrified!

From a purely geographic standpoint, it’s not hard to imagine this phenomenon being concentrated in certain areas. After all, it's not unusual for any school fundraising or spirit building event to spread from school to nearby school. In this case, it’s also telling that while womanless pageants are held throughout the South, the few really top-notch and realistic events outside of Alabama and Mississippi tend to take place in border areas adjacent to those states. A good example is the annual pageant held at Ernest Ward Middle School, which is in the extreme northwest panhandle of Florida, just a few miles from the Alabama border. (Here in Florida, we tend to say that culturally, everything north of Gainesville is really Georgia and everything west of Tallahassee is really Alabama!)

The degree of attention to detail and realism in some of these pageants is remarkable. One recently discovered Mississippi event (in Kozciusko) had a dress shop owner bragging on her Facebook page that she had supplied dresses to four of the young male entrants in a local pageant (including her own 14-year-old son who, she proudly announced, had won the pageant). No thrift shop bargains or hand-me-downs – these were current fashions.

In many womanless events elsewhere, footwear tends to be male shoes, flip-flops, or bare feet. In these Deep South pageants, the boys almost uniformly wear stylish high heels and, judging from the ease with which they walk in them, they have practiced in them for some time. We’re talking about 3-to-4 inch heels on some of these! How many 12 to 16-year-old boys do you know who can walk gracefully in heels?

Makeup is done lavishly and professionally – one tween boy in an Alabama pageant looked like he had gotten a full M•A•C makeover. Nails are almost always painted – some even wear fake nails. A few of the pictures I’ve found show boys in open-toed shoes and it is apparent that their toenails have also been nicely painted. (This is the sort of obsessive detail that most audience members wouldn’t even be able to see from their vantage point.) 

The outfits are nicely accessorized with earrings, necklaces, bracelets, even rings. Not grandma’s old junk jewelry – stuff that would look right at home on any female pageant contestant.

And the parents – these same parents who trash Caitlyn Jenner on their Twitter feeds or fight to keep transgender students from using gender-appropriate bathrooms (if they allow trans kids at all in their schools), or encourage county clerks to ignore the SCOTUS ruling and refuse marriage licenses to gay couples, nevertheless revel proudly (and often, not ironically or jokingly) in their son winning or placing high in a womanless event. They will brag on how pretty their son looked and how they looked totally feminine. While simultaneously, their Facebook accounts feature hunting trips, NASCAR, scripture quotations, and proud, defiant and conspicuous display of the rebel flag.  

What’s going on here? 

Well, maybe they truly see no irony. For them, dressing in drag for a womanless pageant is a fun frolic, a tradition, an innocent pastime having no relation to those heathen LGBT folks. It’s even a sort of rite of passage – I’ve seen more than one parent or grandparent congratulate their young’un on his “first” womanless pageant. (Implying that there will be more to come.)

But the lengths to which they take these things! I’ve corresponded with a fellow womanless beauty pageant enthusiast who has even attended some of these events and talked to some of the parents. Believe it or not, in the most extreme examples, they have worked for weeks on finding the perfect dress, experimenting with makeup, and drilling their son in pageant deportment. This is not something they throw together two days before the event – this is serious business to many!

I strongly suspect that many of the mothers who go all-out for these events are established “pageant Moms” who have daughters who compete. Then when it’s Johnny’s turn to be “prettied up,” they just apply the same level of intensity and attention to detail to their boys as they do to their girls. 

Or they may be “wannabes” – I’ve noted a few cases in which a Mom freely admitted that they had no daughters and despaired of ever having the fun of preparing their kin for a pageant – until their son’s school held such an event and they were able to lavish their machinations on him! Beauty pageants, especially child pageants are big in the Deep South – it should perhaps not be surprising that much of this enthusiasm and borderline fanaticism spills over into the womanless pageant world.

As for the realism of the femulations, that, too, may be explainable. 

Traditionally, the South has viewed their girls and women with an inordinate degree of chivalry, seeing them as precious gems to be honored and celebrated for their femininity. To lampoon girls in a womanless pageant with an exaggerated and homely burlesque of the “fairer sex” would be anathema to them. If their boys are going to portray girls for an evening, they will do so in a way that honors and celebrates their beauty and special status.

What about the young men and boys who don female garb for these events? Well, in the region in question, they seem to enjoy the experience for the most part. This doesn’t necessarily signify anything profound. Dressing up for a womanless pageant is not going to turn a boy trans, though it may help to confirm and solidify an existing propensity or desire to crossdress in someone who’s already wired that way and provides a safe and fun way to indulge those stirrings in a socially acceptable context.

However one theorizes about this phenomenon, it is a fascinating window on the unique and contradictory culture of Dixie!

Source: Nine West
Wearing Nine West

Michel Epalza Betancourt


  1. Fascinating...thanks, Stana and Starla!


  2. A very good article, Starla. Thank you. These pageants do seem counter intuitive, don't they? It seems that when you have such a non permissive attitude in a society, those with alternative and "frowned upon" lifestyles take any alternatives that may arise to live it. As these opportunities are few and far between, they will go for it with all guns blazing (hopefully not literally as we are talking about the "Deep South"). I think this largely goes along with the points you make.

    I am relieved that these contests don't exist in the UK, though. If they had done at my school there is no way that I would have had the "balls" :) to have entered and had I done my parents would have totally forbidden me to do so (and I would have lost all credibility with them, too). Had they existed they would almost certainly have been hijacked by the rugby team (who were very important in my all boys' school) and consisted of hairy legged gorillas using it as a chance to show off their manliness by showing how ridiculous they looked in a too small dress and a cheap wig planted on their head.

    One other thing to add is how amazing the entrants look in the photos you have published. Wow!

    Michelle x

    1. The only time crossdressing was found in my time at school was for the school play when the younger boys were picked for the female parts. My last school admitted girls 40 years ago and spoiled such chances. not all school plays were classic Shakespeare etc. Two modern productions saw the youths in 1960's bouffant skirts. I wonder how much they enjoyed the sensations and wished to repeat the experiences. I would have loved to have had the opportunity and the tuition in femininity then.

  3. Quite the post!!!! Thanks Stana and Starla!!

  4. Maybe they could extend to debutante balls.

    I think the best thing is the big smiles on the girls' faces. Some are practically giggly. These are not boys who had to be forced to participate.

  5. Dear Starla and Stana,

    Fascinating article! I think Starla's theories are "spot on". I'd guess that 90% of the participating boys have no desire to crossdress except in the pageant. Possibly, one to two percent may be true transsexuals (whether they go on to pursue transition or not). Some of the remaining 8 or 9 percent may be crossdressers already, while others discover (to their surprise) that they LOVE the experience and will go on to be life-long crossdressers.



  6. When I taught high school many years ago in New England, our school had a womanless event. One year, I was a judge. Unfortunately, many of the contestants fell into the "grotesque parody" category. However, two of them outdid all of the others in attention to detail, and feminine charm and manner. They easily won the top awards. The way it worked was each contestant had a team of one or sometimes several girls who prepared them. The winners obviously put a lot of time into preparation. The families and the town really turned out too. The place was jammed with people and the applause was thunderous.

  7. Starla and Stana have done a good job over the years of assembling photos of these pagaents. Is it just me or do others agree that he presentations and quality of the looks, dresses, deportment have gotten better.
    I think that men and woman, as well as those of us who straddle the binary line, are inately competitive. If we engage, as a general rule, we what to do well. Add to this is the positive reinforcement that carries from year to year.
    I see these events as another means of stretching the envelop and developing tolerance and acceptance. I am somewhat disappointed at the cheap shots taken against conservatives, religions, certain states and southern traditions. I am not sure that the lack of tolerance comes from the traditional religious southerners or is superimposed upon them by outsiders.

  8. Thank you so much for this article! It's nice to see somebody who doesn't see the South as simply full of bigots and haters, but truly as a different society with different culture and sense of morality. Southerners are too often demonized by popular media and news, and it's refreshing to read a different perspective.

  9. AnonymousJuly 15, 2015

    Womanless pageant are something really interesting,i spent hours and hours searching for them on internet.Interesting Starla's descriptions and opinions too..but i want to say something more.
    In my opinion wom-pageants have no something to share with trans or gender problems so it's possibile that they are popular in conservative states...the spirit of those events is,this my "theory", a "role reversal" ritual with hilarious elements.
    Role reversal spirit created by women or girls who sometimes are judges or escorts (even in mens'attire) and who adore to dress up and watch their sons,brothers or fiends parading in heels and wigs.
    Womanless pageants are not organized to permit boys to show their feminine side but with the desire of the girls to take priceless blackmail pics of their classmates.
    Most to the backstage pics show groups of girls with big smiles doing nails,lipstick or putting wigs to the boys-contestants.Comments are 90% of girls and contestants have often a picture taken with girlfriend,mom or sister.(2% with dads or males),In all those pictures girls are grinning for the fun or pointing in laughs at the boys strutting their stuff in catwalk.
    The same thing often happens on youtube when are realy popular "turning my bro into a girl" or"doing my brother's makeover" with teen girls having fun with their "victims".
    Cheerleaders or women's group often are organizers.
    The idea of the "strongest sex" "having to" dress in women's clothes is pure fun for female minds.
    In my conservative country (italy) there are not womanless pageants but in church summer camps it's not rare to have evening activities with boys competing for "miss"-contest parading in front of the girls.
    In spain,another conservative state,there are some carnival (the most popular in Torello) with all boys dressed as women and viceversa.
    This is my idea and of course it 's only an opinion but i'm pretty sure that womanless-contestants are not boys who want to parade in drag in front of boys cause they feel girls..womanless-contestants are parading in front of girls taking pics and posting them on facebook. "are you brave enough to walk in those heels and clothes with dozens of girls watching at you?" .

  10. My what a patronizing and condescending attitude towards those of us living in the South. The author assumes that we are all backward, bigoted hicks. There is a lot more sexual diversity present in our communities than those living on the east or west coasts will ever know about because it would be beneath them to actually visit here. We are, by and large, socially conservative compared to y'all but we like that just fine. You would find, however, that there is a long heritage of 'live and let live' here. Religion is a strong influence for many but so is a distaste for outsiders telling us how we are supposed to act or what we are supposed to believe or say. Of course this article was written not for us. It was written by someone of the literati class for others of the same. signed, Lived in the South for 70 years.

  11. My early childhood, would have been in the early to mid 1950s, I guess, I was wired from the very beginning, to notice the differences, between boys and girls, their clothing, laces, crinolines, bright colors, delicate motions, and how they were favored by their moms. My late father, was a WW11 Veteran, and being very small a weaker, than my peers, including the girls, never measured-up to his standards. I finished my military career, with 30 Hononorable, USArmy years, Disabled, and 31 years, as a teacher. My mom was my protector, from dads brutality, so, as I found out just recently, before my last relates passed-on, I was her secret daughter, rarely allowed to be out of my mothers watchful sight. She was told by her doctor, that I would be a baby girl, and last chance for a daughter. My mom went into deep depression, after my birth, and the girlish baby-shower. Mom taught me how to sew, little girls dresses, of which, I helped model, and turn-up, along with most things all mothers teach their daughters. Ten years later, my sister came along, but, the kitchen, and girlish things weren't here. Many times, my mom sat me down, telling me, how lucky I was, that she could pass-down the things she learned from her mom. With so many moves, and lack of anyone willing to share photos from these times, surviving 3 wars, 4 combat tours, Chemical/Radiation Poisoning, and PTSD, from 3 Baghdad tours, and memory loss, those times are becoming erased. I would have loved to participate in a CubScout Womanless Pageant, take Ballet, or, just go out, as a totally disguised, unrecognizable little girl. Maybe I was, but, I will never know the truth. This was the secret, that all my female relatives knew about, but, would never answer any questions. Maybe one day, my cousins may locate some tucked-away, photos

  12. Growing up in a conservative neighborhood in western New York State, I can't imagine the parents ever approving of something like this. They probably would have been against the idea. Nor could I see the boys participating. Most of them were jocks and judged you on how well you did in sports. But had a womanless beauty pageant occurred and been socially acceptable, I would have loved it!

    1. By far, most of the pageants occur/occurred in the southern USA, which is certainly not a bastion of liberalism.