By Emily Young
This year’s and first ever-reigning Mx. MOSAICO, Ali Durkin may be the most unconventional pageant winner since Miss Congeniality. Durkin won over both the judges and her audience when she delivered a brief on-stage tutorial on how to milk a cow for the talent portion of the annual Ms., Mx., Mr. MOSAICO competition. She was crowned on Friday Nov. 6, where the pageant was held from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Granite State Room.
Durkin, in square black framed glasses and a baseball cap that fit snugly over her closely cropped hair, wore blue jeans, a green and white plaid shirt and work boots. Her attire was surprisingly the least unique aspect of her stage presence. What really stole the show was Durkin’s assistant: a three dimensional wooden cow named Bessie.
Using Bessie as a visual to explain how to properly stimulate and clean the utter, Durkin drew cheers and laughter when she stopped short, concluding, “And then you let the milking machine do all the work because it’s the [twenty-first] century! ”
MOSAICO, the Latino(a)/Hispanic student organization at UNH, has hosted the Ms. & Mr. MOSAICO pageant annually. However, few students are aware that auditions have been held for the Mx. category over the past two years. No one had ever tried out –until this year.
The Mx. category was originally introduced by MOSAICO in order to expand their event and make it more inclusive by opening the competition to students who identify as gender-neutral. Being gender-neutral means that although a person might physically be male or female, he/she/they do not feel comfortable distinguishing his/her/their social role according to the typical behaviors associated with the gender he/she/they were assigned at birth. The vast majority of people are cisgender, meaning they are identified at birth as either male or female and maintain that identity into adulthood.
The pronouns used by people who identify as gender-neutral can vary. Some prefer the singular use of they/them/theirs. Others prefer more newly invented pronouns such as “ze,” “xe,” and “hir.” Despite being gender-neutral, both Durkin and her competitor, Mx. Dominican Republican, Anna Parsons, said they preferred to use the pronoun she/her/hers.
“The pronouns themselves shouldn’t be assigned to just one thing,” Durkin said, “It should really just come down to what the person wants to be called.”
Having been called she/her/hers for her entire life, Durkin said she feels more comfortable sticking with those pronouns for now. Durkin came out as a lesbian in high school, but she said it wasn’t until this past summer that she came to terms with her gender-neutral identity.
“I couldn’t even pinpoint what it meant to be a woman anymore,” Durkin recalled. “Maybe one day I’ll end up making the transition to they/them/theirs,” she added, “I’ve just been trying to take it one step at a time.”
Being as busy as she is, giving herself time to gradually become accustomed to her new identity is probably wise. In addition to being a pageant contestant, which is something Durkin said she never imagined herself doing, she is a junior majoring in biomedical science and also works three jobs. She is an assistant at the Stratham-Newfields Veterinary Hospital, a coordinator for Safe Zones at the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (OMSA), and a farm worker at the Fairchild Dairy Farm.
After securing an undergraduate degree, Durkin hopes to go to vet school and continue working with cows. “I always had this weird love for them, because they’re these majestically clumsy animals, and I feel like I can relate with that so well,” Durkin said.
Durkin is also a member of the campus LGBTQ Alliance and was on the executive board for the Diversity Support Coalition last year. It was during an Alliance meeting, Durkin said, that she first heard about Mosaico’s annual pageant and decided to compete.
At the show on Friday, Durkin said she was blown away by the effort put in by the executive members of MOSAICO to make the pageant as inclusive as possible. “They always called us Mx. and never mis-gendered us. They asked us what dressing rooms we wanted to be in, if we wanted our own dressing room, if we wanted crowns or tiaras. They thought of everything. And it really made me feel included on a whole other level,” Durkin said.
For Durkin, participating in the show was a sort of second coming-out that allowed her to break out of her comfort zone. She said competing for and winning the title of Mx. MOSAICO “was a powerful thing.”
“It feels really great,” Durkin commented after the show. “Honestly, it feels kind of like a validation of identity in a way,” she said.
Yamilex Bencosme, a junior majoring in sociology and women’s studies, competed as Ms. Dominican Republican and won the category for Ms. Mosaico. Bencosme is also an R.A. in Mills Hall, a member of the Black Student Union and a Cat Pack Captain. She expressed positive feelings about standing on stage with MOSAICO’s first ever Mx. contestants.
“I felt as if everyone was comfortable and did not fear to show their true identity. We had a blast!” Bencosme wrote in an email.
Both Durkin and Bencosme said they would support the inclusion of a Mx. category in larger campus-wide competitions in the future.
“I do think there should be a Mx. UNH because it allows for a more inclusive community where those who do not identify as him/her feel comfortable,” Bencosme said.
Durkin said she would love it if a Mx. UNH event was held. “I would definitely compete. Oh yeah, Bessie and I would go for gold,” Durkin said.
However, Durkin pointed out the potential for negative repercussions if the Mx. category was added into a bigger campus event. She said that not all participants or audience members would likely be as accepting as those affiliated with marginalized groups under the Diversity Support Coalition. The possibility for waves of pessimistic backlash wouldn’t be enough to keep Durkin away, though.
Durkin explained how she maintains strength when facing adversity. “You have to get past the fact that some people are not going to accept it no matter what you do, and you flaunting it in their face is not going to make them want to accept it any more,” she said.
Giving advice to future Mx. contestants, Durkin said she would encourage gender-neutral students to compete not for the audience, but for themselves. “You’re going to go out there, and you’re going to have a great time. You’re going to be able to make a difference,” she said.