One of this week’s viral stories involves two young women whose names most people surely don’t know. Mariana Varela and Fabiola Valentin, who in a beauty pageant in 2020 won the titles of Miss Argentina and Miss Puerto Rico respectively, announced in a joint Instagram post that they got married last Friday.
The announcement of the marriage was broadcast in several major media in the United States and around the world. “After reaching the pageant’s top 10, the two beauty queens seemed to remain close friends on social media,” CNN reported Thursday. “What fans didn’t know was that they were secretly dating all the time.”
Without exception, the writers shot it as a feel-good story – and, of course, it is. Weddings are happy occasions. Love is beautiful. Two women finding queer sex and romance in a place where gender nonconformity will die is an undeniable triumph.
But as it spread, the story also started to make me feel a little crazy. No one seemed to want to acknowledge the unseemly impulses behind our gaping fascination. Forgive me, because he’s about to feel a little worse here.
Beauty pageants are business, and particularly vulgar. They have never been so meaningless and irrelevant as they are today, when any sexy person can become an Instagram influencer without setting foot on a casino scene. Yet dozens of media outlets are gullible with the titles of these women as if they hold political office or something, and as if we all know what “Miss Argentina” means. We don’t: As long as the titles “Miss Argentina” and “Miss Puerto Rico” mean anything to you, you’re probably thinking of a Miss Universe contestant. To make things even dumber, the two women met at the Miss Grand International pageant, not even one of the “Big Four” pageants.
So let’s put it on the table. The only reason the Varela-Valentine nuptials interest everyone is that it feels like a surprise, and it’s only a surprise because of some homophobic instinct. We are slightly perplexed when we discover that conventionally attractive and hyper-feminine women are queer, especially when they are conventionally attractive and hyper-feminine enough to win competitions based entirely on those two qualities. These women built their careers by molding themselves into the ideal female form determined, in large part, by male desire – and ended up desiring themselves.
It shouldn’t be surprising that two sexy people from the same industry discovered they had a lot in common and fell in love. But because of our stereotypes of what queer women look like, it is.
Nor do we expect queer women to embrace the bodily fascism of the pageant circuit as eagerly as segments of gay male culture embrace gym addiction, youth worship, and strength-enhancing drugs. performance. This presumption has a bit more meat behind it, and that’s the most interesting part of this viral news, in my opinion. Lesbians have been at the forefront of movements for fat positivity and against the idea that a woman’s worth can be measured by her aesthetic appeal. Now, we choose to celebrate the story of two queer women who instead tied their fortunes to an institution that enthusiastically replicates this exact model of one-dimensional female worth.
Therein lies another facet of the viral titillation this story inspired. As the Bachelor contestants in Australia and Vietnam who allegedly fell in love with each other instead of the men at the center of the show, Varela-Valentin’s story traveled on sentiment (unacknowledged, again, by the journalists) that these two women have hitherto been sexually available to men, as evidenced by their participation in sexist beauty pageants, and have now turned their backs on this sex market in a shocking and vaguely deceitful way. (There were a few nonsense social media chatter to that effect.) Several news outlets called their marriage a “twist.”
What’s the twist here? Is the twist that they were supposed to be straight, and aren’t? That they were competitors in a pageant and are now…partners in life? That they were doing a great job of being locked up and are now out? The putatively gleeful revelation that they were lovers all along, even though they pretended to be pals in their Instagram posts for two years, doesn’t warm my heart. I find that terribly sad.
The prospect of beauty pageants becoming hotbeds of lesbian love – and the media watching them avidly as a result, being forced to pretend that the love lives of contestants in a second-rate pageant franchise are somehow worthy of interest – strikes me as the end of something. Is this the nail in the coffin of heterosexuality, whose penultimate bastion of shameless reverence is finally going gay? Or should it mark a shift towards homo-pessimism, as queer women begin to openly occupy increasingly extreme positions within the infrastructure of gender conformity and institutionalized expressions of straight male desire? I will leave it to the judges of the swimsuit part to decide.
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