1. Every November at the Minas Gerais State Prison Complex in Brazil, the previous year’s Miss Trans Pageant winner awards the crown to the next.
This past year, photographer Marcela Xavier was there to capture the sights and ceremonies surrounding this unique beauty pageant. Xavier, who is currently studying law and journalism, has always been fascinated with the penal system, how modern prisons are built, how security functions in them, and the underground rules that command the lives of inmates.
Upon hearing about the Miss Trans Pageant at the Minas Gerais State Prison from a friend, Xavier knew that her photographs would be able to show the event in a thought-provoking and fascinating perspective.
3. The Miss Trans Pageant offers a humanizing form of rehabilitation for those inmates who don’t necessarily identify with their assigned gender.
6. The event was developed as a way to improve the self-esteem of women serving sentences behind bars, allowing inmates an opportunity to don makeup and gowns to express their true identities.
9. Xavier tells BuzzFeed:
10. “They were murderers and common thieves, but no one talked about it — the focus that day was the beauty pageant, and they all wanted to look their best.”
13. “It was a day to feel like people instead of inmates.”
16. With the help from a team of professional stylists and makeup artists, pageant contestants are given a chance to imagine their lives after incarceration.
19. In a statement about the project, Xavier explains that life for a transgender inmate can be as difficult as it is traumatic:
20. “The situation of this group is one of the most delicate within the prison system — many of the inmates who serve time today in the LGBT wings passed through male prisons at one time, where they were not only victims of prejudice but of physical abuse.”
22. “When a transsexual enters a prison aimed at men, they invariably turn into sexual property of the prisoners.”
24. “Many come to suffer up to 20 daily rapes.”
26. Xavier goes on to explain the success of this pageant:
27. “With the opportunity to participate in a beauty contest using their social names and clothes that emphasize their female natures…
30. transgendered inmates can not only reaffirm their identities as women but also win visibility in front of the media, representatives of the Bar Association, and prisonmates.”
32. To View more of Marcela Xavier’s work, check out her website at www.marcelaxavier.net