Being crowned Queen Universe is coming full circle for 30-something Nikki Normanson (real name:
Dominique Noelle Estanislao), who made her mark as being the only one from the capital to cinch the coveted red crown since the pageant for alternatives started four years ago.
In Manila back in 1994, the world witnessed the coronationof Miss India Sushmita Sen as Miss Universe. With wide-eyed fascination at this metamorphosis from being just one of the beauties to being queen, Dominique Noelle knew deep in his heart that one day, he would be she.
Fast forward to present day Queen City of the South. Making it through three-thousand aftershocks, after spending her 40th night in Cebu and by some happenstance her make-up done by Roy Erwin Tizon (known as Mommy T, who did the make-up of Sushmita Sen and several other beauty queens after her), Nikki’s dreams came true.
During the final round, all seven finalists were asked: How as Queen would you inspire young people
in the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender/Transsexual) community?
Her answer sealed the deal with destiny: “I believe I already did that. I have inspired not just the LGBT community but the rest of society by being true to myself. That despite all the difficulties I’ve gone through… it’s difficult if you are a transsexual in this country… it all starts with knowing what makes you
happy—and chasing it. My dad, a colonel, has accepted me—his only son—for who and what I am, and because of that, I’ve turned into the woman I’ve always wanted to be.”
Play! sat down with the newly crowned queen the day after her coronation, as she reveals her most sacred life journey to becoming one’s self.
What made you decide to come all the way from Manila and join Queen?
I’ve always loved pageants, since I was a kid, so every time there’s a big pageant for transsexual women,
I make it a point to join. And I have this good friend who has been telling me to join Queen for the longest time. We work in the same office, and she’s Queen’s first winner, Rain Madrigal. But I was busy at work and I understand that contestants need to stay in Cebu for quite some time because of all the activities.
But this time around, Rain told me that it might be the last production of Queen, so here I am.
So you left everything in Manila just to join Queen?
I did. I resigned from my work as a coach at ePerformax to come here.
Was it a hard decision to make?
It wasn’t that hard. I wanted some time off from work, to relax a bit. I’be been working for 15 years straight, without a break. I also wanted to travel and enjoy myself.
I was in Boracay when Queen came along. So from Boracay I went straight to the screening.
And you’ve been here in Cebu for over a month now?
Yes, 1 month, 11 days… and counting!
So you experienced the earthquake here.
I was sleeping alone when it happened. I wasn’t awakened by the shaking but by the sound the building was making. When I realized that it was an earthquake, I ran to the parking area and everyone was there already. The people were speaking in Cebuano, and I was like: “What am I gonna do?” Yeah, I was scared and my family was scared for me. They kept on calling me because of many strong aftershocks… begging me to come home.
Speaking of family, did you have rejection issues while growing up?
Thankfully, none. I am blessed with a very understanding and accepting family. I have three older
sisters so I guess they didn’t really expect me to be a “straight” guy.
You revealed onstage during the competition that you are the only son of a colonel, right?
Yes. I can’t help it. My dad and I have a very special relationship. I remember we had this talk when I was about 13 or 14, and he told me straight to my face that I’m “different” and he doesn’t love me any less because of this. I never had a problem “coming out” because I never had to do that.
Does your family approve that you join pageants?
Well, they said that if I wanted to join, I have to produce all paraphernalia, on my own. That was the deal. And whenever they see me win, they are so proud of me and my achievement.
Growing up, who are the Top 3 beauty queens you idolized?
Of course, there’s Gloria Diaz, the first Filipina to be crowned Miss Universe. There’s a certain nostalgia about her triumph that inspires people. Then, when I was in high school, there was Yedda Marie Mendoza
Kittlestedvt, a Cebuana I was following since she joined Supermodel Philippines before Binibining Pilipinas. I could never forget her. She’s the most beautiful girl I’ve even seen. And the last would be … I think … Megan Young. She’s perfect. No wonder she won the country’s first Miss World crown.
Among the pageants that you joined, what to you is the most difficult?
Queen is the most difficult and the most prestigious. There’s a certain level of stress that goes with it… you have to be away from your family, your support system, for a month. You’d feel homesick, and sometimes you’d feel that you don’t have the confidence anymore.
Why do you consider this your last pageant?
Because I have been joining pageants since I was 16, and I won most, if not all, of them. I couldn’t compete and repeat my journey. Right now Queen Cebu is the biggest and most prestigious pageant for alternatives in the Philippines. I want to retire from my “career” as a beauty queen on top of the game — it’s a graceful exit for me.
Transgendered women are now allowed to join the Miss Universe pageant provided they win in their respective countries. Don’t you see yourself competing internationally wearing the “Philippines” sash?
Basing on the rule, you’d have to be an accepted female in your documents. Unfortunately, in the Philippines we can not “change” our gender on paper. So there’s no way for me to join.
So you’ve given up on that thought?
Yes, because it would take a long time to see that becoming a reality. And I have already set my mind that Queen is going to be my last pageant. I’m already happy with that.
What do you think made you win Queen Universe?
When I compete, I try to observe and formulate a tactic. In a pageant, you need to stand out. The girls are really trying to please the crowd to get the applause, and I was pressured because every time a candidate answers, they get thunderous applause. So I told myself I’m just gonna answer it from my heart, and I’m not going to try to please the crowd just so they get entertained. What I was aiming is to please the judges. Fortunately for me, not only were the judges pleased. I got the crown as well.
After hearing the other finalists (you’re the second one to answer the common question for the Top 7 candidates), did you somehow think that you’ve bagged the crown?
I was not expecting, but I was hoping for it. I answered from the heart. I heard the five ladies, and they all answered great. But I didn’t allow myself to get discouraged that I didn’t win any special award. I was just focused on one thing: the red crown.
If your life were made into a film, who would you like to play you?
Hmmm … maybe Megan Young? I’d love for her to play my role.
Looks wise, is there anything you’d like to improve on?
I want to be slimmer. They say I’m curvy, but I consider myself fat by beauty queen standards.
On the scale of 1-10 (with 10 as the highest), how would you rate yourself on the vanity scale?
Of course a 10! I always have to think big about myself. If I don’t, who will? But, at the same time, I have to keep my feet firmly on the ground.
What’s your beauty secret? What is that one beauty regimen you have adhered to all these years?
The only beauty regimen I adhere to all these years is surrounding myself with people who love me and believe in me. It makes me feel beautiful inside and it also shows on the outside. That is no secret!
What is one beauty habit you cannot live without?
Sleep! And I sleep anywhere: in my car, on a chair, backstage, etc! I can manage to catch sleep anytime I want.
What is your advocacy as the reigning Queen Universe?
In the midst of political issues and catastrophes, there is an issue in the country that has taken a back seat. Our country has to be aware that the AIDS rate has alarmingly grown 10 times. It’s very close to my heart because I have seen friends and colleagues who fell victim to this dreaded disease. Even
before, I have already campaigned to help heighten the level of awareness. As the newly-crowned queen, I will continue doing that aside from working with the different charities that Queen is associated with.
Who to you is the best past winner of Queen and why?
I honestly can’t say who because I believe that each of the past winners did her best with the guidance and support of Queen Chairman Cary Santiago, of course. That is why all of them won the admiration not only of the LGBT community but also men and women everywhere. And it is only right that I do my best to be at par with each of them, the legacies they left in their respective reigns.
What is the biggest misconception about being a transgendered beauty queen that you’d like to correct?
People think that our pageants are just here for mere entertainment. Not everyone is aware that these pageants actually raise funds for charities. I have joined and won pageants where I had to do community service and seminars to educate people. Queen for one is a pageant that not only presents a good show, but also gives us “transpinay” beauty queens the opportunity to give back to the community.
What is your biggest regret in life?
I have no regrets. Even if I have gone through a lot of challenges, all these made me the person that I am today.
If you can be born again, who would you like to be and why?
I’d still want to be the same person. I have no regrets—who I was and who I turned out to be.
If you can trade your physical beauty with a superpower but have to be super ugly, what would that be?
Hahaha! If I have to give up how I look for a superpower, then I would want to be Invisible Woman who can do great things for humanity anonymously!
Face to face with God, what would you tell him?
I will thank Him for creating me the way He did: exactly the person that my family and friends love—
and exactly the person worthy to be Queen.