Meet Annia, a young, energetic, and passionate milwaukeean with a reputation for badass local organizing who has participated heavily in projects such as the Brave Green Wave Trybe (BGWT) and the 21st Street Community Cooperative, Uplifting Black Liberation and Community (UBLAC), and MKE Good Food Bus. For the average black child having grown up in milwaukee’s segregated, incarcerated, and disinvested northside neighborhoods, Annia’s life is fairly typical – growing up with a single mother working multiple jobs for less than her worth and still struggling to pay the bills, schools stripped bare by budget cut after cut until there are no sports or arts or music programs at all, an ever-mounting stream of brutal attacks and murders of Black and brown people coupled with personal racially targeted experiences – shit pretty much sucks and no one’s going to come and make things better anytime soon.
Much like many of our readers, Annia is an anti-capitalist. Driven by the harsh realities of living in a class society as a queer, Black person to a radical anti capitalist socio-political philosophy, Annia just plain hates work.
Annia saw how the non-profit industrial complex is yet another part of capitalism, watching people think they’re gonna save the world through non-profits, but end up perpetuating it with their savior complexes.
Annia’s got a dream of a life free from the chains of capitalism, and they’re making use of one of this country’s arguably most capitalist systems, built to reward those who conform: the Miss wisconsin usa beauty pageant. The idea came to them back when they were trying to gain support for BGWT – on a whim, they entered the 2021 pageant!
A B-B-Beauty Pageant??
Given the role that so-called beauty pageants have historically played in enforcing harmful body stereotypes, uplifting racism against BIPOC people and in defining and maintaining negative gender stereotypes, one may naturally be asking, why participate in this harmful institution?
The Miss wisconsin usa pageant is run by the for profit company Future Productions, LLC. It is a beauty-based competition with no talent portion of the event. The crowned winner gets a whole host of things from pageant sponsors which could include: a variety of scholarships to various colleges and universities, complimentary services from numerous businesses for improving physical appearance, funds to purchase an evening gown, hair styling services, custom earrings, shoes, a fur coat, and many other beauty-focused gifts for the Miss usa competition. The winner of the Miss wisconsin usa competition gets to move on as a contestant for the Miss usa competition, though in its history, there has never been a Miss usa crowned from wisconsin.
If they win the Miss wisconsin usa competition, Annia says they will use whatever funds they win to pay off student debt, which is preventing them from re-enrolling. Though they have no intention of returning to formal school to finish their degree, Annia says the competition will give them access to pursue more non-traditional forms of education, build a resource network, and develop self-sufficient life skills, which will prepare them for their vision of living outside capitalist structures.
Youth in the milwaukee community face a multitude of barriers to pursuing post-secondary education, but the prevailing barrier is a lack of access to the financial resources necessary to attend college or university.
The fact is that, even when BIPOC students graduate, they face a saturated pool of candidates as equally qualified for any given job as they are, scrambling to accept whatever lowball offer they’re made to commit ½ of their waking life just for the privilege of survival.
Luckily for Annia, the idea of a future such as this is completely out of the picture. Building from the various experiences of living and organizing within intentional communities in northern wisconsin, and having made their own attempt at forming and maintaining such a space in milwaukee, Annia is carving out an escape from the rat race, corporate, drone cycle of zombie consumerism they despise.
For urban dwellers like Annia, getting into programs for farming is rare. At the same time Annia applied to be in the pageant, they applied for farm internships, “but nobody would take me because I’m a city girl!”
Because the competition is profit-motivated, another requirement for Annia’s entry to the Miss wisconsin usa pageant is the actual cost involved to enter and compete in the pageant – a $900 entry fee, travel and hotel expenses, wardrobe, hair, makeup, and shoes for the competition. Let’s not forget, if you want to have the additional “official Miss wisconsin usa” gear that proves you were in the actual competition, you’re sure to be spending quite a bit! Future Productions LLC is gracious enough to recognize that some participants may want to solicit sponsors to help fund their entry, so contestants are provided an official sponsorship letter to help the women with their donation asks.
Now the task is moving out into the community to gather the support and funds Annia needs. Funds to meet their short-term goal of competing and winning the Miss wisconsin usa pageant that likely will help them achieve their long-term goal of owning land and building a sustainable, self-sufficient and supportive community, completely off the grid! Annia has galvanized the process of entering and fundraising for the pageant as an opportunity to talk with potential donors about their vision for an intentional community. The act of sharing this vision has both encouraged people to support Annia’s pageant entry, and generated potential ideas that fuel Annia’s dream for an intentional community. “I’m taking all of this knowledge, all of this information, and bundling it up so I can share it with my community.”
But pageants suck for women, right?
In a nutshell, yeah they do. Annia won’t lie to you, the process of participating in a competition where the standard of beauty consists of women who look and dress and identify entirely different from how they look, is a difficult one. For Annia, the journey of discovery has been important. They entered last year’s pageant for the first time, meaning the upcoming Miss Wisconsin USA Pageant competition is their second pageant, ever. In thinking back to the 2021 competition, Annia says they felt like they “…[were] constantly having to be ‘the other’ without actually BEING the other.”
Beauty pageants have an undeniably sordid history when it comes to oppression of women, social control, perpetuation of gender stereotypes, amplification of class divisions, and the glorification of harmful body image stereotypes. Dating back to ancient Greece, with the first Miss amerikkka having been held in 1921, beauty pageants are, in effect, a way to sexualize women’s bodies for male consumption while presenting a facade of a celebration of “women’s beauty”.
Case and point, until 1999, Miss amerikkka didn’t allow contestants to be married, divorced, have had abortion or given birth (this last one is still a rule for Miss usa). In 2021, Miss nevada was forced to live by herself and undergo a medical inspection to prove that she was “a woman.” On a number of occasions, pageant winners were stripped of their title when their actions weren’t condoned by the organization they won their titles from. This is a form of social control, allowing the institution to dictate what behavior is and isn’t ok in society. In 2016 Miss great britain lost her title after she had sex on a reality TV show, allowing the organization to dictate what is and isn’t acceptable sexually.
The truth is, there’s still a certain standard or set of characteristics that the judges are looking for in a winner and the winners certainly haven’t looked like Annia.
Oh, did I mention that Annia identifies as a nonbinary femme?!
The Miss wisconsin usa pageant allows only contestants who meet a certain set of eligibility requirements. One requirement is that the contestant “must represent and warrant that you are a female (recognized medically and legally as a female in the united states).”
Annia comments on this rule, “…[the requirement] stops a lot of people from being able to engage in this pageant, to have the chance to access this network, to access these resources. And for folx that do self-identify as a woman, for that validation – because that’s important – the journey of being able to complete this process and to show that we don’t all have to identify in these traditional means, that is really important.”
Annia identified as nonbinary femme when they applied to the 2021 Miss wisconsin usa pageant last year, officially making them the first nonbinary femme contestant in wisconsin to enter this pageant. However inclusive this may sound at face value, Annia explains that the company will leverage these instances of “inclusion” to prove how ‘diverse and tolerant they are of all women, regardless of their physical appearance,’ though these women are given a seat at the table, what really matters is if they’re given a voice. Annia adds, “even if this pageant does include queer and trans folx, even if it does give them a seat at the table, it doesn’t mean that they’ll have a voice. And even if they do have a voice, they’re still just giving them a pat on the back for being there, it’s not acknowledging their identities, it’s not giving them space to operate outside of the binary.”
“I want to not only show that it’s a process, like that process of just discovering yourself and your queerness and being sound in that, or however not sound you are, but also i want to be a representation for the queer Black folx, and for the differently-abled folx, i want to be a representation of those who don’t get seen a lot…”
How to win with integrity
As Annia grows in their journey as a nonbinary femme, they develop ways to express and defend their identity, even in a competitive and judgmental space like a female beauty pageant. Last year, Annia represented themself to the competition as non-binary femme, however, this identity was still fairly new to them at the time. Annia explains that as part of their entry, contestants are required to provide the producers with written biographies and personal statements which are read to announce the contestant as they walk across the stage. Last year Annia’s gender identity did not receive the tolerant response they expected from the producers. In one example, the announcer read Annia’s statement onstage and each “they/them” pronoun Annia had written in their original statement was instead replaced with “she/her” pronouns.
This year, Annia’s journey of personal discovery has made them more confident in their non-binary identity, as they so succinctly disclosed when they said “I move outside this binary … that’s my nonbinary”. They plan to be more assertive in this year’s pageant when it comes to being referred to by their correct pronouns, and went ahead and made it a little harder for the producers to sanitize Annia’s identity by including phrases about their queerness in both their written bio and their announced statement. Annia says they will also incorporate small ways of rebelling against the pressure from the pageant to conform to a different image standard while remaining completely them.
Annia’s strategy for winning the pageant is what they call “blending in without blending in.” Annia’s formal gown will be a stunning African design style that is traditionally for weddings. Their style is Afrocentric with a little punk added in. Their rebellion against conformity will show in the tattoo’s they don’t cover up, their unshaven leg and underarm hair, and their guests who will be present wearing their fundraiser t-shirts (available for purchase!). And they don’t plan to stop with just this pageant. Annia wants to use what they have learned throughout their pageant runnings to help other trans/non-binary people from their community to enter pageants themselves.
Encouraging other Gender Non-Conforming (GNC) people to celebrate their identity with clothing.
Clothing is a big deal for non-binary (or GNC) people, as most clothing produced in the fashion world is gendered. This doesn’t just mean that the styling is geared toward specifically masculine or feminine wearers, but the actual garment is in fact tailored to fit standard masculine or feminine body types. Those who don’t fit that body type struggle to find clothes that match their gender identity. As a way to combat this issue, Annia plans to launch their clothing line House of Cocoa Ketur as a way to not only build clothing for non-binary people, but to also make non-binary clothing accessible to cis people. They create their works of wearable art using recycled thrift store items in addition to things they find anywhere else, trash included.
Annia says clothing has helped them to discover and understand their gender identity. “One of the things that is really important to me is that journey of discovering yourself and still discovering yourself, not just holding other people accountable to my journey, but holding myself accountable to my journey is super important.”
They also note that in our local queer community, more care could be taken to allow for more fluidity as people discover and move in their own personal journeys. “…even in our queer community, we need to be more accepting that it is all still a journey, we shouldn’t constantly be trying to police ourselves just because others are policing us.”
How can people help ensure Annia never enters a corporate office again in their life?
- BEFORE SUNDAY MAY 8TH AT 8:00AM: Vote (by paying the pageant producers themselves) so Annia wins the guaranteed semi-finalist spot as the people’s choice contestant. It’s 25 cents a vote, so 4 votes for a whole dollar! Then make sure your precious money doesn’t just go to waste by pressuring all your friends to vote for Annia too. Let’s prove Annia’s strategy of pooling community resources by asking that each person contribute only a very small amount of individual resources to successfully outvote the families with deep pockets who are also vying for the spot. (Also, if you have lots of money and can put them in first place when the voting ends, we’re down with that, too!)
- Fund their Kickstarter for House of Cocoa Ketur fashion line
- Commission a piece of clothing for yourself!
- Follow and subscribe to their twitch
- Donate to or get involved with one of the projects they support
- Just give them some fucking money or land or something!