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April 26, 2001 06:34pm
Miss (Or Is It Mister?) Universe
Source: E! Online

Could this year's Miss Universe actually be a mister?
In the goofiest beauty pageant story since Miss Congeniality, there are reports flying that--quelle horreur!--the contestant from France is really a monsieur.

Elodie Gossuin, a 20-year-old nursing student from Picardie, France, has arrived in Puerto Rico (the site of this year's competition) embroiled in a potentially embarrassing scandal for France and the pageant itself--something that would make the 1984 Vanessa Williams-nude pics scandal at the rival Miss America (news - web sites) Pageant pale in comparison.

The brouhaha began in January, when the French Internet news site L'Examineur claimed that Gossuin was really a 27-year-old transvestite cabaret dancer called Nicolas Levanneur.

The story picked up steam when Puerto Rican papers and the New York Daily News began questioning Gossuin's gender. The local tabloids pointed out with glee that Gossuin had unusually large hands and her forehead sported a scar--supposedly telltale signs that the contestant had undergone a sex-change operation.

With the stories threatening to undermine the pageant, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Miss Universe organizers called in a doctor to give Gossuin a presumably thorough once-over. Finally, it was determined that she was, indeed, a she. Gossuin also provided a birth certificate that confirmed her gender.

"So far, all signs point to the fact that she's a female," said Mary Hilliard McMillan, the pageant spokeswoman. "She has a birth certificate that says she is a woman and she is one of the most stunning women I've ever seen. She's very feminine."

"Of course there's no doubt," Genevieve de Fontenay, the organizer of the Miss France contest since the 1950s, told reporters. "I've been running this competition for 45 years, do you think that men have never tried to enter before?

"I am scandalized, shocked, outraged and profoundly upset. It's really a considerable prejudice that she's going to suffer because of this."

"They really had to look far and wide to come up with a story so grotesque," the 5-foot-11 Gossuin told reporters Wednesday, speaking through an interpreter and shaking her head "no" when asked if she was ever a man.

Believe it or not, pageant officials have had to deal with cross-dressing competitors before. When a man won a beauty contest in Asia a few years ago, Miss Universe added a rule stating that contestants must be natural-born women.

In the past, Miss Universe contestants have also gotten into trouble for being pregnant, gaining weight and being underage.

Gossuin and the other contenders now have a couple of weeks to shake off the rumors and focus on the tiara and $250,000 grand prize, which which will be awarded May 11 in San Juan.

Joining the lovely, um, ladies on stage will be local boy Ricky Martin, who will perform two songs during the ceremony.

Supermodels Elle Macpherson and Naomi Campbell will cohost the 2001 Miss Universe competition, which will be broadcast live on CBS. Judges include model Veronica Webb, ousted Outback Survivor Kel "Beef Jerky" Gleason and 1993 Miss Universe (and Mrs. Marc Anthony) Dayanara Torres Muniz.

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