Kataluna Enriquez has always loved creating things.
“At a young age, I was unable to play with the toys I wanted,” Enriquez said. “I remember going to my sister’s room so that I could play with her dolls. I cut my socks and turned them into dresses.
On Sunday night, Enriquez wore one of her own creations – a rainbow-colored sequined dress – when she was crowned Miss Nevada, making history as the first transgender woman to be the make.
Enriquez, who immigrated from the Philippines with his family when he was 10, now owns his own fashion business and designs costumes and evening dresses. She will be spending the next few months preparing to compete for Miss USA in November.
Enriquez recently spoke to the Reno Gazette Journal following her big win and shared her experiences as a transgender woman competing for Miss Nevada.
This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity:
What interested you in fashion and pageantry?
Enriquez: Fortunately, I realized that I wasn’t good at math and couldn’t be an engineer, which I wanted to be when I was young. I was really speeding up on projects where you have to build things, and then somehow I just landed in fashion design.
The pageant shows are very inspiring to me. There was a woman who was in competition at one point, and her story mirrored mine. She didn’t have much when she was growing up. There was a time when she and her family were starving. It was something that resonated with me.
I learned to look beyond her pretty face and her story to understand her as an individual.
Often people think pageantry is just superficial beauty, but it’s beyond that. Leading Miss Universe and Miss USA in the future is expanding the definition of beauty and the definition of femininity, and that’s something I want to be a part of.
What were the steps you took to become Miss Nevada?
Enriquez: In terms of pageantry, there’s the closed-door interview, the on-stage interview, the evening gown and then there’s the swimsuit contest. But apart from that, I had to work on several things that involved my past and my childhood traumas.
Communication is very important in the pageantry industry, especially at this time. But speaking, at one point in my life, was an invitation to be attacked and intimidated or discriminated against (against). I learned to shut up in order to survive, which also allowed me to hate myself and not value myself. At one point, I wanted to die and I prayed that I would not wake up.
So there were just a lot of challenges in terms of childhood trauma that I had to overcome to get to where I am now. I am grateful that I was able to do this. I want to share these life experiences so that others can relate to and understand.
How did you overcome these challenges and learn to express yourself?
Enriquez: Honestly, I have no idea. I was trying to live for someone else. I was tired of trying to please the social structure and the expectations of society. No matter what I did, there was always someone there to comment on something. I was fed up and exhausted from constantly having to make people happy. It was time for me to choose to live for myself. It was that or not live.
Can you talk about when you were crowned Miss Nevada?
Enriquez: I was afraid. I was hopeful, but always accepted that maybe it wouldn’t have been because it’s a huge leap.
It’s a big deal. I thought my possibility of winning was very low, regardless of my performance. I know that I played and I prepared myself very well, beyond what was expected of me and what was expected on stage. I played more than that. But I still had a feeling that maybe it wouldn’t work because I’m so different.
But when they called out my name, I was so happy because it was one of my dreams to participate in Miss USA. In the end, it was one of those things that when I was young I had hoped to see someone on stage who looked like me and could represent me. It just turned out that I needed to be that person.
I know that feeling of winning, but I don’t know that feeling of making history. It’s hard to explain what it is, but I’m delighted. I am more than honored and I am grateful.
The first dolphin and the winner have a little moment where they hold hands and stand in the middle of the stage (before announcing the winner). It was a very moving moment for me because the first runner-up is a black-Asian woman. She’s beautiful and inspiring, so she could have taken the place. We were just grateful and proud of each other. When they announced who the winner was, I was just in shock.
Can you tell us about the importance of this moment for the LGBTQ + community?
Enriquez: It’s pride month, and I didn’t know it, but it was also the 52nd anniversary of the Stonewall (riots). This is a very important moment because, not only am I trans, I am a trans woman of color.
Often, trans women of color don’t always have the opportunity to be themselves. We are constantly being murdered in our countries and around the world. Many of us do not have the opportunity to have a regular job without being discriminated against, sexualized or objectified. We don’t have the same opportunities as everyone else. We are a minority within a minority.
So being able to win and get there and be represented is a big deal, not just for the trans community or the LGBTQ + community, but for people of color, people from minorities who are not often represented.
I was a woman who was the victim of physical and sexual abuse, and I am a survivor. It is also a representation for these communities.
How were the feedbacks?
Enriquez: It has been good and bad. I’ve always received negative feedback, and I’ve always received positive feedback, but I always try to pay attention to the positives. I have no room for hate in my life. I prefer to focus on creating a positive place for myself and for others.
What do you say to people who react negatively to your victory?
Enriquez: I have nothing to say. Their opinions are their opinions. I did my part and I knew I was fighting for the crown, and I was fighting for my right to be there. I am eligible to compete. And like everyone else, I also fought as much as I could to be able to have this title.
As for the other negative comments about me and my identity, I have no words. I will continue to create a place where… we can live without hate and so that everyone is represented, has an equal chance to be heard and to have opportunities.
What is your family like and what was their reaction when you became Miss Nevada?
Enriquez: I haven’t had a lot of family experience. I didn’t grow up with a family. My mother was quite young when she had me. My parents were still trying to figure things out.
So, I didn’t have much in terms of memories regarding my family. I have two sisters who I love very much and they have supported me a lot. They mean the world to me.
They are very proud, they are happy. They are happy that I can thrive and be successful, regardless of the backlash I received and what I went through at a young age. They were very encouraging and grateful.
You also work as a health administrator specializing in the best LGBTQ + care. Can you explain more about this?
Enriquez: As a person from the LGBTQ + community, our experiences are completely different from those of others. We don’t have the same experiences and opportunities as everyone else. In terms of housing, employment opportunities, quality of life, we are still below the standard that everyone receives. When it comes to health care, some people do not have access to health care, especially people of color. Many of them have mental health issues. Many of them struggle with the way society treats them. It’s just a bunch of layers and layers of adversities that people have to go through in order to survive.
I am basically advocating for the patient to help them find resources and get what they need in terms of treatment or to improve their lives.
What does the preparation for Miss USA consist of?
Enriquez: For me, it’s always sanity and the message I want to get across, to stand out and make sure I’m in a good position to compete.
How do you balance it all out?
Enriquez: It’s hard to balance, but it’s part of my goal. It’s one of the things that motivates me. It gives me a purpose. There are things in life that I have lived that I don’t want others to experience. I think with that mindset… and I’m able to go all the way and get through it.
Marcella Corona is a journalist who covers underrepresented local communities in northern Nevada. Support his work by subscribing to RGJ.com.