TORONTO - Jenna Talackova, the 23-year-old woman who forced Donald Trump and his Miss Universe Canada pageant to end its ban on transgender contestants, is set to take the stage Saturday night and she says she's in it to win.
But in an interview with CNN several hours before showtime, the 6-foot-1 blonde Canadian seemed a bit weary, because the spotlight is still squarely on her gender transformation.
"Like I always say, my family didn't understand, so why would I expect anybody else to understand and then they got to know me and they loved me," Talackova said.
Talackova was born a boy with the name Walter, but she said she felt more like a girl by the age 4. By 14, she convinced her family that she should start taking steps to physically become a woman, she said. She began hormone therapy as a teenager and had gender reassignment surgery four years ago when she was 19.
It was then she pursued her dream of competing in a pageant. While she made it as a finalist in the Miss Universe Canada competition earlier this year, her gender history meant she was disqualified for not being a "natural born woman."
Talackova then hired women's rights lawyer Gloria Allred, and the pageant's co-owner, Donald Trump, was left with no choice but to change the rules and let Talackova compete.
"I'm not interested in having arguments with Donald Trump. I'm here to focus on Jenna and what she has won. And it's been extremely important and it really is a civil rights victory, and she has earned the right to claim that victory," Allred told CNN in an interview in Toronto after Thursday's preliminary competition.
Some women's rights advocates agree, saying Talackova's participation is in keeping with the principles of feminism and equality.
"I'll preamble this by saying that I'm not a huge fan of beauty pageants to begin with, but I do think that she will have an impact purely for participating. I mean, let's face it, she's beautiful, and it does challenge society's perception of what is normal," said Leah Eichler, a Canadian columnist and the founder of "Femme-O-Nomics," a media and networking company targeting professional women.
Eichler said she worries that the pageant is staging an opportunistic publicity stunt, something organizers deny.
"You know Jenna's a delightful young lady as are the other 61 contenders. They have substance and they all have something to offer. And I think that everyone should be allowed to try. We don't know who's going to win, but give it your best shot," said Andrew Lopez, one of the organizers of Miss Universe Canada.
As for Talackova, she said her entry in the competition is about equality, even if some believe pageants are demeaning.
"The power that you get for having the crown you can inspire so many people, so if I have to walk in a bikini for that, I will," Talackova said.
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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