How Miss Portugal felt ‘welcomed and respected’ as a trans Miss Universe competitor

Beauty queen Marina Machete had an entirely private life before being crowned Miss Portugal. Not even her boss knew she was trans. 

The flight attendant had chosen to live privately to protect herself after being bullied at school, and later as a young adult.

At college, Marina says she was outed against her will, and the experience led her to keep her gender identity under wraps so her colleagues would see her as “who I am, as Marina, not as an idea they have of trans people”. 

Since competing in this year’s Miss Universe competition, the 28-year-old hasn’t yet returned to work, but after representing her country at the completion, she says going back feels “really exciting”. 

Marina’s groundbreaking win as Miss Portugal came on 5 October in Borba, in the southeastern Evora region of Portugal.

She then went on to participate in Miss Universe, where a total of 84 women competed to be crowned in the 72nd edition of the international beauty pageant. Sheynnis Palacios – a 23-year-old mental health activist and audiovisual producer from Managua, Nicaragua – took home the coveted title.

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Marina says she left the globally-renowned competition with lasting friendships and the knowledge that she has created “equal opportunity” for trans women.

Beauty queen Marina Machete says her participation in Miss Universe has created "equal opportunity" for trans women.
Beauty queen Marina Machete says her participation in Miss Universe has created ‘equal opportunity’ for trans women. (Miss Universe)

“From what I’ve seen it’s been all support,” she says, adding that she hopes trans representation such as hers leads to erasing the “taboo for some people”. 

“The only way to create change is to keep existing and keep occupying these spaces,” Marina tells PinkNews.

“For many years I had an illusion of participating. I wanted to have that platform and to be there was unreal for me. Arriving there and seeing all the girls, after the third day it sunk in that I was in Miss Universe and representing my country, which was the most beautiful part.” 

Marina wasn’t the only trans contestant in this year’s Miss Universe pageant. Rikkie Valerie Kollé, who won Miss Netherlands in July, is also transgender.

Marina says the reactions from all of the girls who participated showed they “valued” that she and Miss Netherlands brought “another type of womanhood to this platform”. 

“We are proving that we are all equal,” Marina continues. “We are there, at Miss Universe, and we achieve what we wanted which is equal opportunity.”

Rikkie Valerie Kolle, who won the Miss Netherlands beauty pageant in July 2023, will now go on to compete in Miss Universe
Rikkie Valerie Kollé won the Miss Netherlands beauty pageant in July 2023. (Evert Elzinga/ANP/AFP/Netherlands OUT via Getty Images)

Speaking of Rikkie, she says: “We talked online as soon as I was crowned. She sent me a message saying how happy she was that we were going to be able to share the Miss Universe experience together. 

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“It was something very unique. We’re trans and we both expected to be the only ones in our year because it’s such a rare thing to happen. 

“It was really important to have her there for strength and to have a sister.” 

Marina says the feedback from the LGBTQ+ community was “so positive”, she says she feels their representation created “further positive representation” and enabled people to “normalise that trans women can be in, and occupy, any space”. 

The competition saw Marina form strong friendships with her fellow contestants amid the media scrutiny and pressure of an international pageant, and she tells PinkNews that she always felt “welcomed and respected” by the other Miss Universe hopefuls.

Although Marina notes that she did face some backlash after winning Miss Portugal, which she “wasn’t expecting”, on reflection, she puts it down to Portugal being a small country and people perhaps “not being ready” to see a trans woman win the title.

“I felt like that was the biggest problem for people to overcome in accepting my representation,” she explains.

Marina Machete in her national costume at the 2023 Miss Universe competition in El Salvador.
Marina Machete in her national costume at the 2023 Miss Universe competition in El Salvador. (Miss Universe)

Until her reign as Miss Portugal ends, Marina will continue to work on projects around social issues in her home country. She want to focus on spotlighting charities that create a space for those whose “rights are never guaranteed”. 

“There are no limits for what we want as women in general,” she says.

And she’s not letting any negativity get her down, instead putting her time and energy into those who support her.

“Growing up I had many women who supported me. I always focused on that when I maybe felt I wasn’t enough or my appearance was not what it should be. 

“Focus on the positive even though it’s sometimes hard.”

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