A Venezuelan trans woman earned the title of Miss International Queen this week in Thailand, at a pageant which bills itself as the world’s largest beauty pageant for transgender candidates.
Isabella Santiago, 22, surpassed 21 contestants from 18 different countries to win the Miss International Queen pageant on Nov. 7 in the resort town of Pattaya. The prize included a cash award worth $12,500 USD, an international title, and the option to pursue free cosmetic surgery if she chooses.
Venezuela is famous for turning out pageant queens, but Santiago is one of the first transgender pageant queens to gain international attention. “When on stage, she is so elegant and that’s why the judges’ decision was unanimous,” Seri Wongmontha, one of the pageant’s judges, told The Star Online.
Santiago’s companions on the final award stage included Thai contestant Nitsa Katrahong as first runner-up and Lao contestant Piyada Inthavong as second runner-up.
This is the 10th pageant year for Miss International Queen, which celebrates trans pageant queens across the world. The pageant is held every year at Tiffany’s, a drag cabaret nightclub in Thailand.
Aside from the gender identity of the contestants, the pageant operates like any other pageant. Contestants work hard to maintain flawless, youthful appearances through beauty regimens including skin treatments and fitness training. Pageant participants should also take care of their overall health by eating well, staying hydrated, and avoiding smoking — smoking 30 cigarettes a day for 70 years can add 14 years onto the skin aging process.
Judges score them based on three rounds including national costume, evening gown and swimsuit rounds.
According to organizers, the pageant is about more than beauty. It’s part of a larger effort to promote transgender rights, an idea with which Miss USA Samira Sitara emphatically agrees. Sitara called the contest a “dream come true” and used it to come out publicly for the first time. “You know what?” she told The Star Online. “This is life and you can’t run away from the past – I can’t hide it anymore.”
When Reuters asked the newly dubbed Miss International Queen about her plans for her victory night, Santiago laughed and simply said “sleep!”