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The bold and the beautiful
Publication Date : 06-05-2014
One transgender finds the strength she needs to overcome life's challenges in her mother's love
Life as a transgender is fraught with challenges but while Nissa Katerahong, winner of the Miss Tiffany's Universe 2014 pageant, has faced up to many difficulties over the years, she's been able to overcome them thanks, she says, to her mother's love.
Describing her mother as her "pillar of strength", 22-year-old Nissa, or "Noei" as she's known to friends and family, says that her mother's unconditional support gave her the courage to participate in the pageant, as well as to overcome the obstacles that life throws at her.
"It has been my life-long dream to win this contest. Ever since I turned 18, I've been meaning to participate in it, but kept putting it off because I did not feel ready.
"This year, with my family's support and encouragement - especially from my mum, who has always been there for me - I am finally ready, and winning this crown is truly a dream come true," says Nissa who recently graduated with a degree in fashion and design technology from a university in Bangkok.
Coincidentally, Nissa was asked the same question during the question and answer session with the top three finalists, "What is your biggest dream and if it came true, what would you do with it?", to which she replied that her dream was to win the Miss Tiffany's Universe crown and that she would use it to make the transgender community proud.
Twenty-two year old student Rachaya Nopkarun won the first runner-up prize while 24-year-old dancer Treetipnipa Tippapada was named second runner-up.
Speaking at the crowning event at Tiffany's Palace Pattaya on Friday night, Nissa's mother Chutimon Prasoet admits that at first it was difficult accepting her youngest son's decision to become a woman, but says that in the end, she felt it was more important that Nissa was a good person.
"I am very happy that she has won this crown as it was her dream. I will support her no matter what she decides to be because that is my job as her mother. She is a good person and a good daughter - that's enough for me," says the 47-year-old housewife and mother of two.
As this year's winner, Nissa took home 2 million baht (US$61,772) in prizes, including a diamond crown, which was placed on her head by last year's champion Nethnapada Kanrayanon, a Honda Jazz car, a one-year lease on an apartment unit at the Woodlands Hotel and Resorts Pattaya, gift vouchers, and 120,000 baht ($3,706) in cash.
She will also go on to represent Thailand in the Miss International Queen 2014 pageant come September.
Earlier in the pageant's semifinals, Nissa also won the "Miss Sexy Star" contest, which bagged another 15,000 baht and automatically placed her among the top 10 finalists.
This year's contest was themed "Season of Dreams" and also coincided with the Tiffany's Show Pattaya's 40th anniversary. Among the judges at this year's event was Hollywood actress Bai Ling who said that she had volunteered to be a judge because she was "curious" and wanted to experience for herself this "celebration of individuality".
Also among the 30 pageant contestants showcasing their beauty and talents was 20-year-old Millananin Santhep, nicknamed "Fighter", who won the Best Costume category.
Her nickname, she says, was given to her by her father who was a professional muay thai boxer.
While she does not practise muay thai, she says that she is a "fighter" - that is, for the rights of the transgender community.
"The world needs to change its perception towards transgenders. We are ordinary people and deserve to enjoy the same rights as everyone else, especially in terms of education and job opportunities," says the student, adding that she has made the fight for transgender rights her life-long mission.
Twenty-tree year old Prachat Begin, or "Cooney", who finished high school in the US, says that she returned to Thailand because she wanted to improve the standard of living in her hometown in rural Si Sa Ket.
Prachat who is currently a first-year architecture student at a university in Bangkok says that she decided to do architecture as a second degree because it will give her the skills needed to improve living conditions in Sisaket.
"I will return home to my province upon graduating and do what I can to raise the standard of living there.
"It is also a chance for me to prove that transgenders can also give back to society," she says.
Part of the proceeds from this year's Miss Tiffany's Universe 2014 pageant will be donated the Thai Red Cross Society in support of its "Aids Can Be Treated" project.