KENDALLVILLE — Lydia Tremaine is doing this one for her younger self.
The jeweled tiara, the sparkling rainbow sequin dress, the stage, the spotlight — those are all familiar to Lydia, a Kendallville native who’s been performing in shows and competing in pageants for years. As the former Miss Indiana 2018, she knows a thing or two about carrying at title and advocating for the things that are important to her.
But this one? This one is a little different, because she’s doing it while out as someone who identifies as pansexual.
This year, Lydia is carrying the title of Miss Pride of Indiana and using that crown as not just a way to become true to herself, but to share her story and support other LGBTQ+ youth in her hometown and her state.
And, in some ways she’s working to subvert some of the norms of pageants, “ruffling feathers” as she puts it, and finding success doing so, even to her surprise. After finishing as second-runner up in last week’s Miss Indiana USA pageant, it showed that there is a place and a platform for her to tell her story in that scene.
“This is who I am, even if other people are uncomfortable with it,” Lydia said. “It’s about the impact that that’s having on other queer youth or other queer-identifying humans.”
But first, what is pansexuality?
As someone who has had to explain it numerous times to numerous people, the definition can be boiled down to a few simple words:
“Attraction and love regardless of gender,” Lydia defines.
“It’s very personality based,” she elaborates. “I fall in love with personalities, not a gender.”
That falls under the Q for queer in the acronym LGBTQ+ and it’s something Lydia only began to embrace publicly within the last year. Like most people, that process of figuring out who they are and then making the leap to declare that publicly was a journey. But what helped Lydia make that leap for herself was seeing over her many years of performing the impact she could have for other people like her.
“I was really quiet about my sexuality for some time, but it was when I was speaking up in smaller spaces and someone would come up to me and come out to me and tell me how it inspiring it was,” to see someone like them, she said.
The louder she got, the more she discovered there was a role she could play in helping other people to be brave and embrace who they are. So, she took that step herself, publicly.
“I’m just ready to show others how to take up space and how to stand up for what they are rather than hiding who they are, because that’s very detrimental,” she said. One in four youths are shunned from their families for coming out as LGBTQ+ and that’s a number that breaks her heart, she said.
Lydia’s been no stranger to a stage — whether it was theater in school, competing in pageants or performing with her powerhouse singing voice — so the concept of stepping up and belting out the message only felt natural.
So when Lydia signed up for the Miss Indiana USA — a qualifier for Miss USA which is itself a qualifier for Miss Universe — she needed a title to compete under.
Unlike the Miss America Organization, which she competed in for years before rising to claim the title of Miss Indiana in 2018 and finishing in the Top 15 at Miss America that year, women don’t have the win local qualifying contests to make the Miss Indiana USA stage. Instead, they select a title to compete under when they register for the contest.
When Lydia, a Kendallville native but now living in Huntertown, joined, the nearby title of Miss Fort Wayne had already been taken by another contestant. But one title that was available was Miss Pride of Indiana, a new title in its first year of existence.
For someone who just came out within the last year, the match felt perfect to Lydia as an opportunity to share her story.
“I thought this would be the most appropriate title. I came out of the closet a year ago as pansexual. What better statement than to call myself Miss Pride of Indiana?” she said. “It ended up being perfect. This is the best way of representing what I’m trying to do in this competition.”
While Miss America is a scholarship competition for young women, Miss USA is a beauty pageant with ties to the modeling industry. While the Miss American Organization dropped swimsuit competitions from its contest in 2018 — Lydia competed in swimsuit in Miss Indiana but it was gone by the time she reached the Miss America stage — it’s still a component in Miss USA competitions.
There’s also no talent portion in Miss USA, which has always been one of Lydia’s strongest segments because of her singing voice.
And, openly LGBTQ+ women are a rarity in the pageant scene.
So she entered Miss Indiana USA on July 26 as a different type competitor. Openly queer. A “midsize” figure. And a one-piece swimsuit when most contestants go with bikinis.
She didn’t expect to win, but competed as a statement.
“I really thought it would be me just going there and doing OK and not doing it really well,” she said.
She was wrong.
At the end of the evening last Monday, A’Niyah Birdsong was crowned Miss Indiana USA, but Lydia wasn’t too far behind, finishing as second runner-up.
On top of that, Lydia was also selected as Miss Congeniality and received the I Got Moxie Award from Crown Moxie, the organization that produces the Miss Indiana USA pageant, which includes a $500 donation to an organization of Lydia’s choosing.
The recognition at the contest showed that, yes, there is space for women like Lydia in pageantry.
Every contestant brings a platform to the contest and Lydia’s is a five-point platform titled Act Now Advocacy, hitting on initiatives that are important to her.
Those points include human rights, mental health awareness, LGBTQ+ awareness, body positivity and keeping the arts alive, a holdover passion from her Miss Indiana days.
“I just diversified, I decided to not limit it. Those are the five things I hit at the events I speak at,” she said.
And she’s working on getting out around the state to continue that advocacy. She participated in two pride events, including the recent Fort Wayne Pride festival, and will be launching a podcast in October to continue talking about topics important to her platform.
With that, she hopes she’ll be able to continue helping LGBTQ+ people live their truth, but also to help build bridges and allies.
Having grown up in a small, conservative community like Kendallville, Lydia knows how scary that can be. Even now, as an incoming senior in psychology at Trine University, Lydia finds it surreal to be telling this story to her hometown newspaper.
But she’s doing it for her younger self, knowing that maybe if there was someone like her speaking out when she was an adolescent, she might have had an easier time coming into her own now as an adult.
“Coming from a smaller community, it instills a lot of fears because you know that people are against the LGBTQ+ community. But thankfully there have been a lot of conversations the last few years ever since gay marriage was legalized,” she said.
“There’s going to be some people who are never going to listen and never going to be OK with it and we’ll never change their minds,” she said. “I am able to hold a conversation and open people’s minds who are willing to hear my story and find out that my heart is still good.”
In the end, Miss Pride of Indiana hopes that her time wearing the crown and sash and speaking will help make progress in not just the local area but the state as a whole.
For that, Lydia marches ahead, openly, fearlessly, proudly.
“I just want to encourage the community to try to be more open minded to the LGBTQ+ community, listen to our stories and know that we just love differently and that we’re not bad people,” she said.
And for those out there who aren’t out or are struggling to grasp their own identify and their own sexuality, she offers this:
“Don’t let people put you in boxes. You are beautiful in the way you are and are beautiful the way you love.”