The power to transform

Queen for a Day: Transformistas, Beauty Queens, and the Performance of Femininity in Venezuela
Marcia Ochoa
2014, Duke University Press
282 pages, plates, paperback

IN A pioneering departure from previous scholarship about transgender women in Latin America, which has tended to focus upon such themes as the transgression of gender identities or the risk of HIV, Queen for a Day studies the transformistas, the very Venezuelan expression of this category, within the logic of power. It examines transgender women within the policing of gender that occurs throughout Venezuelan society, where the beauty pageant is an obsession that has nurtured a form of “national femininity” which sets the parameters for the ways in which all femininity is performed, articulated by the mass media, and consumed. Those parameters apply equally to cisgender women as they do to the transformistas and the misses, female contestants in the beauty pageants that are taken so seriously in the country. Marcia Ochoa explores gender and sexuality within the complex context of media and spectacle, seeking to link the notions of gender, media, nation and bodies. As the author writes: “By looking at the role of the mass-media spectacle in the self-making projects of differently situated actors in Venezuelan society, this book speaks not just to the conditions of existence for transgender women but also to the ways in which these women are produced by the same society that treats them with so much violence and rejection – the same ways that nations produce all their subjects: through processes of gendering, racialization, labour, and mediation.” [pp5–6] It is this approach that makes Queen for a Day such a valuable work of scholarship, for it notes the clear parallels between the study of, say, national identity or indgeneity, and gender identity. All are produced by society within distinct power frameworks and national narratives. As the author writes: “Transformistas and the nation of Venezuela have something in common: they both use beauty and glamour to negotiate power and marginality. Of course, beauty and glamour are not the only tools available for this negotiation, but they are useful tools for transformistas, misses, and for Venezuela as a nation.” [p6] – EC