Last Sunday, Manuel Gonzales, a 24-year-old social communicator competing under the nom-de-guerre of Argenis Gonzalez, was crowned Miss Gay Venezuela.
In Venezuela, beauty pageants of all sorts are followed with the passion of sports tournaments. Among these is one of the largest contests for transvestites anywhere in the world, the Miss Gay Venezuelan competition, called “one of the most anticipated shows of the year.”
This fall saw the ninth edition of the Miss Gay pageant, featuring 23 contestants and was created, according to its organizers, for the purpose of rescuing the authenticity of “histrionic transvestism.”
“It’s a great achievement to be holding this event for the ninth time, and to be the image of such a large community in Latin America, and even more so in our country,” Gonzales said, noting that he feels “truly privileged” to be the spokesperson of an event that showcases the “art of transformation.”
On being proclaimed winner, Gonzales wept before posing with the other finalists.
For up to five hours, makeup artists and stylists had been running to and fro, applying makeup, adjusting wigs, and fitting high heels, swimwear, and gowns. Last minute adjustments included wrapping packing tape to hide the male genitalia, positioning fake breasts, and strapping waists with plastic film.
Since none of this year’s contestants had undergone a sex-change operation, all had to conceal their male attributes and stuff their bras.
“The most beautiful transvestite in Venezuela,” as the slogan goes, means “the art of transformation,” stylist and makeup artist Oscar Esquiboyer told APTN. “We take this guy, and with makeup, heels, costumes and wigs, he becomes a goddess for the moment.”
With its national focus on beauty, Venezuela has won the Miss Universe contest seven times, including winning twice in succession: in 2009 Stefania Fernandez was crowned and the following year her compatriot Dayana Mendoza took the prize.
Venezuela has also won Miss World six times, and six times they have taken the scepter for Miss International, as well as garnering 100 other beauty crowns.
For Venezuelans, sex is not merely a pastime. At times, it is a means of survival.
Earlier this year, reports revealed that Venzuela’s economic crisis was pushing more and more women into prostitution.
Many head to Colombia, where prostitution is legal in designated areas. One woman, named “Jennifer,” said: “I have my own business in Venezuela, but you can’t make any money there. With a week’s work here [in Colombia], I can make more than I can make there in a month.”
In Venezuela, a traditionally Catholic country, religious observance is at an all-time low following sixteen years of socialist autocracy, first under dictator Hugo Chávez and now under current president Nicolás Maduro. According to the most recent study by the Pew Research Center, only 10 percent of Catholics in Venezuela “pray daily, attend worship services at least once a week and consider religion very important in their lives.”
Venezuelans also favor revisions in Church teaching, especially regarding sexual ethics, more than almost any other Latin American demographic.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.