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Sarah of Roxas City: ‘We can help dictate how people perceive us’

Meet Sarah, here as part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine launched to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living. As a trans waitress in Roxas City in the Province of Capiz, she believes LGBT people can help define how people perceive them by “dili abusohon ang kaugalingon (not abusing ourselves),” she said. “Ilagay sa lugar ang pagkatawo (Present your personhood properly/Don’t present yourself in a way that people will have excuse to abuse you).”

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBT people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

When the parents of Sarah, 23, discovered that their eldest child is “different”, “gipadala ko nila sa layo nga lugar para mu-eskuwela (they sent me to a far place to study),” she said. In her mind, “huna-huna nila, mu-bag-o ko (that while there, I’d change).”

But when she returned home a few years later, “babaye na ko (I was already a trans woman).” She said “wala na man sila mahimo (they couldn’t do anything anymore).”

That was already a few years back; and now Sarah works as a waitress in one of the food stalls in Baybay in Roxas City in the Province of Capiz, having finished vocational courses (food processing, as well as beautician) in TESDA.

Living as a trans woman in Roxas, she said, isn’t always “sayon (easy).”

Sarah takes “Pilar (pills)” to help her transition; but she self-medicates. “Wala man doktor diri mutabang namo (No doctor here can help us on this).”

There’s also no local LGBT group to belong to; so “iya-iya mi (to each his/her own here).” She admits, however, knowing of Manila-based organizations; but that “layo man sila para sa amo (they’re too far from us).”

READ:  #KaraniwangLGBT: My life as a beautician

Sara tries to be optimistic, nonetheless. For instance, she considers as a “challenge” her observation that “daghan gud ta (there are many of us here),” she said, adding with a laugh that “daghan competition (there are lots to compete with).”

Her heart was broken before, though she now just laughs this off. “Walang forever (There’s no forever)!” she said.

Sarah noted that there have been local cases of discrimination – e.g. “mangantyaw mga tawo (people would tease/mock us).”

But Sarah believes that LGBT people, themselves, can play an important role in how they are treated.

In the case of trans people, “ilagay sa tamang lugar ang pagkababae (act aptly as a woman),” she said. “Dapat dili ka magpariwara; hindi naton pagtamasa ang atong kaugalingon (don’t present yourself in a way that people will have excuse to abuse you).”

For Sarah, LGBT people can “help dictate how we are seen,” she said. “Tarong ba. Kana ang atong power para kontrolado nato kung pa-unsa ta nila tan-awon (Act aptly. That’s our power over people’s perceptions of us).”

"If someone asked you about me, about what I do for a living, it's to 'weave words'," says Kiki Tan, who has been a writer "for as long as I care to remember." With this, this one writes about... anything and everything.

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1 Comment

  1. Andre Leonard

    Oct 21, 2017 at 2:52 am

    Sarah sounds like a real winner and she makes very good points here.

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#KaraniwangLGBT: My life as a beautician

What is it like to work as a beautician to support your entire family in the province? Outrage Magazine chats with Jillian Agbuya, who has been working in the beauty industry since after she finished high school, just so she can send money to her family in Pangasinan.

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBT people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

Jillian Agbuya, 23, only just finished high school when she started working as a beautician.

When she was younger, “gusto kong maging (I wanted to be a) teacher, a psychologist, a model,” she said, wanly smiling. None of these happened, though Jillian just looks at how she ended up in a positive way. “Masaya na rin ako kung ano naging trabaho ko (I also find happiness in the job I ended up having).”

Though Jillian identifies as a “babaehan (like a woman)”, she does not see herself as a trans woman. This is because of a misconception – i.e. she believes that only those who can afford to undergo gender affirmation surgery can use the term “trans”. And so she offhandedly uses words like “gay”, “bakla” and “babaehan” to refer to herself, even if her lived experience is that of a straight (trans) woman. If she is given the chance, she would like to be a “real woman” by “becoming trans”; though she said it saddens her that she has to save a lot just to be able to identify as a “trans woman”.

READ:  Philippine psychologists hold trainers' training on LGBT Psych 101

As a “babaehan”, she uses the female pronoun (thus the use here).

Originally from Pangasinan, Jillian moved to Caloocan when she finished high school around six years ago. “Doon ako tumagal ng (I stayed there for) five years,” she said, crediting her past workplace as “doon ko natutunan lahat (where I learned everything).”

Jillian, by the way, also studied cosmetology with Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

As the fifth of 11 kids, Jillian said her family always “nag-udyok (encouraged)” for her to be the way she is. All her elder siblings are male, so her father – who wanted a girl – encouraged for her to be “girly”. They bought her dresses, and treated her as a girl; and so, for Jillian, it wasn’t surprising she became what she is now. She was in Grade 1 (around seven years old) when she realized she was part of the LGBTQI community.

When she graduated from high school, Jillian actually wanted to pursue college. She even started inquiring about BS Psychology. But then, “sa kawalan ng pera (because we are not financially capable),” she had to stop schooling and start working.

Nung una, nahirapan ako (At first I had a hard time, too),” she said. “Pero ngayon, easy-easy na lang (But things come easily to me now).”

Jillian is the breadwinner of her family. Daily, she earns from P300 to over P1,000; and every week, she sends money to her mother.

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Now working – and living – in Makati City, she hopes to be with her family when she gets older, and hopefully already running her own business. “Sila talaga priority ko eh (My family is really my priority),” she said.

Jillian said she never regretted being “babaehan”. “Paninindigan ko talaga pagiging (ganito) ko (I really stand up to what I turned out to be),” she said. “Kasi kung iisipin ko ang pam-bu-bully sa akin ng mga tao, wala naman silang ginagawa para sa kagandahan ng buhay ko eh, kundi sarili ko lang (If I pay attention to those who bully me, I realize they don’t really do anything to better my life anyway; it’s only me who looks after myself).”

And this more empowered perspective is what she hopes young LGBTQI people to learn.

Maging ka-respe-respeto; huwag maging bastusin. Kailangan maging proud ka kung sino ka basta huwag ka lang gumawa ng masama sa kapuwa mo… para sa susunod na henerasyon para malinis ang ating pangalan bilang LGBT community (Be a respectful/respectable person. You should also be proud of who you are; and don’t do anything bad to others… for the next generation and for the entire community to have a good name),” Jillian ended.

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Photos from the fringes of the rainbow

How Outrage Magazine’s #KaraniwangLGBT eyes to help broaden LGBTQIA representation in the Philippines by documenting those at the fringes of the rainbow. As editor Michael David Tan said: “To really engage, we have to allow others to shine. Hopefully, in a small way, #KaraniwangLGBT does that.”

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On June 13, 2015, fashion designer Veejay Floresca – who happens to be a transgender woman – alleged that she was almost refused entry by high-end bar Valkyrie in Taguig City.

“Because: 1. that venue was frequented by the so-called ‘high and mighty’ and the social climbing crowd; 2. one of the owners of the venue is a local celebrity in the person of Vice Ganda; and 3. Floresca, herself, was a mini-celebrity, the ‘Valkyrie issue’ made a big splash in the news,” recalled Michael David C. Tan, editor of Outrage Magazine.

TV personality Boy Abunda – an openly gay man himself – interviewed Floresca in ABS-CBN; and national dailies like Inquirer and The Philippine Star tackled Floresca’s “almost non-entry” into an exclusive bar.

But also around that time – on June 22, 2015 – Michael David interviewed another transgender woman: Claire Balabbo. Claire was one of the 96 contractual employees of Tanduay Distillers Inc. in Cabuyao, Laguna who decided to launch a sudden strike after they were told on May 16, 2015 to stop reporting to work by May 18.

“While a handful of alternative media picked the picketers’ story (for instance, Altermidya), this story remained largely ignored,” Michael David said.

And for Tan, this highlighted a “sad reality”, an “imbalance that should embarrass us all” because of the “seemingly too apparent preference to provide coverage to the issues of the rich and famous; but not of those at the fringes of society.”

Murielle

Ryan B.

Sarah

Vien

Aside from her issues as a contractual worker, Claire also encountered work-related discrimination as a trans woman – e.g. when she just started working for Tanduay Distillers Inc., the HR office allegedly forced her to cut her hair, else risk getting fired from work; and she was physically harassed at work, though the HR office allegedly just dismissed her claim since “all workers were ‘male’ anyway” and that the co-workers may have just been joking around (as boys do).

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Particularly looking at the Valkyrie versus Tanduay issues superficially, one is about accessing a space to party; while the other is about being able to work decently to make a living.

This helped drive the development of #KaraniwangLGBT, with Michael David starting to photo-document “LGBTQIA Filipinos at the fringes of the rainbow,” he said.

Michael David said that “in no way is this effort belittling the issues raised in occurrences like the Valkyrie debacle – e.g. access to space. Instead, this is an attempt to ‘give face’ to those who do not usually have the same access to, say, media and representation.”

Aian

Aris

Bunny

Claire

#KaraniwangLGBT became a section in Outrage Magazine, with the effort to tell the stories of “common LGBTQIA people” bringing Michael David (and the staff of Outrage Magazine) all over the Philippines. And what – initially – started as a photo campaign evolved, with this section now also telling the stories of the subjects via write-ups and mini-documentaries.

To date, Michael David has already photographed/documented – among others – members of the LGBTQIA community who are also Moros, sex workers, church workers, HIV advocates, differently-abled/PWDs, PLHIVs, members of Lumad communities, contractual workers, homeless, victims of domestic abuse, et cetera.

Jelly Ace

Mara

Marimar

MMK

“To really engage, we have to allow others to shine,” Michael David said. “Hopefully, in a small way, #KaraniwangLGBT does that.”

n.b.
Following Floresca’s media tour, Valkyrie eventually amended its policy to allow trans women to party in its premises. But the “Valkyrie effect” was minimal – e.g. only Valkyrie made changes; and was Taguig City, where Valkyrie is located, still does not have an anti-discrimination ordinance, so venues there can still opt to implement discriminatory policies similar to what got Valkyrie in hot water.

Balabbo was not able to return to work. She now helps other contractual workers in other factories/plants in Laguna to organize to also fight for their rights.

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To live a life in service

Meet Carla Culaste, the trans houseparent of a halfway house for people living with HIV in the City of Manila. It’s a challenging – and yet fulfilling – job, he said, as he stressed to others to learn more about HIV to promote non-discrimination.

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBT people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

Carla Culaste, now 26, was around 12 years old when he first visited the Positive Action Foundation Philippines Inc. (PAFPI). His sister worked for the non-government organization that was founded by his gay uncle, Joshua Formentera. Even then, he said that he was always “impressed” with how it was able to touch the lives of Filipino PLHIVs, providing them a “safe space” when even their own homes failed to do so.

Little did he know that – by the time he’d turn 22 – he’d be working as the houseparent of the NGO’s Abot Kamay Center, a halfway house for PLHIVs who are in need of a helping hand to get back on their feet.

DAILY ROUTINE

From Monday to Friday, Carla sleeps at the center. On weekends, he heads home (in Parañaque, where his family lives). But even if his work is actually supposedly only from 8:00AM to 5:00PM, “as a houseparent, 27/7 ka nakabantay (I watch after them 24/7).”

Part of Carla’s job is to “always check on the clients” – from checking if they have supplies of their medicines, if they actually take their medicines on time, if they eat properly, et cetera. This is particularly true when dealing with new clients who may still have physical limitations and need help in their day-to-day living in the shelter.

READ:  HIV org eyes to raise funds via screening of Charliebebs Gohetia’s ‘I Love You. Thank You.’

Aside from this, Carla also helps manage clients who may need to be rushed to the hospital, particularly when “wala silang pamilya na willing tumulong sa kanila (if they don’t have family willing to help them).” By extension, therefore, Carla becomes an alternative family member.

Iniisip ko kasi, bilang houseparent, hindi lang ako nanay o tatay sa kanila (As a houseparent, I do not only see myself as a father or a mother to them), Carla said. “Ano rin ako sa kanila… kapatid, kaibigan na puwede nilang takbuhan pag kailangan nila ng makakausap (I am also a sibling, a friend to them; someone they can go to if they need to talk to someone).”

But it is a fulfilling job, particularly when he sees people he helped do well in life. “Nakakasaya rin (It makes one happy),” he said.

GROWING UP TRANS

Carla didn’t finish high school; though if given a chance, he’d like to study again.

As a trans man, his life was not always easy.

The youngest of six kids, he always identified as a trans man.

“Before, hindi nila ako matanggap (In the past, my family couldn’t accept me),” he said. “Against sa religion nila (Being LGBTQIA was against their religion).”

As a child, two of his borther also bullied him; they hurt him verbally, as well as physically.

When he told his parents about it, they just dismissed the bullying, telling Carla that perhaps “naglalambing lang sila (they were just being affectionate)”.

READ:  LeAnn Rimes sings her LGBT support in #LovEisLovEisLovE

But Carla said he still chose to be what he is because this is what makes him happy.

By the time Carla had his first partner, “wala na rin sila nagawa (there was nothing they could do but accept me).”

In hindsight, that experience taught Carla an important lesson in life: To be accepting.

Kung paano mo i-treat ang tao… ipakita mo sa kanila na kaya mo silang intindihin kahit magkaiba kayo (In treating people, show them that you can understand them even if you’re different from each other),” Carla said.

EVERYONE’S ISSUE

With her exposure to the HIV community, Carla wants PLHIVs to learn to care for themselves. For instance, not to do things (e.g.vices) that will – in the end – just be bad on/for them. “Huwag matigas ang ulo (Don’t be hardheaded),” he said.

To everyone, he said “huwag kayong matakot sa PLHIVs (don’t be afraid of PLHIVs).” In fact, “matuto tayong sumuporta (sa PLHIVs) hindi lang sa kamag-anak natin (na may HIV). Maging concern din tayo sa iba. Iwasan natin ang discrimination (We should learn to support PLHIVs, not just relatives who may have it. We should show our concern to everyone. We should avoid discrimination).”

Learning also helps, he said, “at bigyan natin ng kaalaman sarili natin tungkol sa HIV kasi dagdag impormasyon yan para sa atin (and for us to add to our knowledge everything about HIV since this is good to our lifelong learning).”

READ:  #KaraniwangLGBT: My life as a beautician

For more information on Positive Action Foundation Philippines Inc. (PAFPI), visit Abot Kamay Center at 2613 Dian St., Malate, City of Manila, 1004 Philippines.
They may also be reached at (+632) 4042911; or email pafpiorg@gmail.com.

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The young believer

For Ian Jaurigue, it is nice to know that there are already a lot of people who support the LGBTQI community these days. “But as long as there is still inequality on the basis of one’s SOGIE, our call and our fight should be stronger,” he said.

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“As long as there are LGBT advocates who will fight tirelessly for the advancement of our advocacy, things will get better.”

So said 19-year-old Ian Jaurigue, a self-identified “gender advocate”.

And Ian believes that “(the older generation) did a good job when it comes to working for the advocacy, and we need to learn from their experiences and be grateful for it. If they did not start it, the advocacy would not have had moved forward.”

According to Ian, the young advocates today still have a lot to do; and for Ian, this is “not just talk and rant about (the issues).”

But while recognizing the efforts of those who helped start the movement, Ian also recognizes that there are gaps. And these gaps are not helped by the “disconnect” between his generation and the one before it.

“The struggles may have evolved and revolutionized, but we, the younger generation, still need to reflect and learn from what they have accomplished,” he said. Only “by doing this (will we be helped to) have a stronger grasp of our advocacy.”

Also, even if the LGBTQI movement has reached new heights, according to Ian, the young advocates today still have a lot to do; and for Ian, this is “not just talk and rant about (the issues).”

“It is nice to know that there are already a lot of people who support us. But it does not mean that we should settle for these little triumphs. As long as there is still inequality on the basis of one’s SOGIE, our call and our fight should be stronger,” Ian said.

READ:  HIV org eyes to raise funds via screening of Charliebebs Gohetia’s ‘I Love You. Thank You.’

Incidentally, Ian is also a freelance makeup artist, theater and indie actor, dancer, a student at U.P. Diliman, and… a drag artist. He is known in the drag community as – plainly – Mrs Tan.

“My style is a mixture of dance, comedy, and theater,” Ian said.

Though he is still new in the world of drag, Ian believes that the way he carries himself and how he performs onstage prove that “age is nothing but a number”.

Ian merges his advocacy with his performances, making sure that “every performance brings a certain message and not just a spectacle. I like the feeling when I’m able to give a deeper message to the audience while I’m performing,” he said.

His first foray into the world of drag was when he joined U.P. Samaskom’s Live AIDS. Ian took on the role of a drag queen. But he felt, during that time, that “drag should be more than what I did in Live AIDS; there should be meaning to it.”

Whenever he performs, “I feel a sense of fulfillment and liberation. I’m not just entertaining people, I’m also giving them something to think about. There is pride to it.”

For someone as young as Ian, “Pride is both a celebration and a revolution.”

On the one hand, it is a celebration of the LGBT community’s diversity, accomplishments, and ongoing contributions. But on the other hand, “Pride is also a protest for the members who are not able to take advantage and enjoy their basic human rights, and for those who have died because they are members of the LGBTQI community,” Ian ended.

“It is nice to know that there are already a lot of people who support us. But it does not mean that we should settle for these little triumphs. As long as there is still inequality on the basis of one’s SOGIE, our call and our fight should be stronger,” Ian said.

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All hail the beauty queen

A glimpse into the life of a trans woman beauty pageant enthusiast, Ms Mandy Madrigal of Transpinay of Antipolo Organization.

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBT people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

“I feel accepted.”

That, said Mandy Madrigal, is the main appeal of joining beauty pageants.

“I feel so loved when I join pageants. Especially when people clap for us, cheer for us. And when you win… it (just) feels different.”

FINDING ACCEPTANCE

Assigned male at birth, Mandy was in primary school when her father asked her if “I was a boy or a girl”. That question scared her, she admitted, because – as the only boy among six kids – she thought she did not really have “any choice”. “So I answered my father, ‘I am a boy’.”

But Mandy’s father asked her the same question again; and this time, “I said, yes, I am gay.”

No, Mandy is NOT gay; she is a transpinay, and a straight one at that. But the misconceptions about the binary remains – i.e. in this case, she is associated with being gay mainly because she did not identify with the sex assigned her at birth.

In a way, Mandy said she’s lucky because “I believe he (my father) accepted (me) with his whole heart.”

The rest of her family did, too.

Though – speaking realistically – Mandy said this may be abetted by her “contributions” to the family. “Hindi naman aka basta naging bakla lang (I’m not a ’typical’ gay person),” she said, “na naglalandi lang o sumasali lang ng pageant (who just flirts, or just joins beauty pageants). Instead, Mandy provides financial support to her family by – among others – selling RTW clothes and beauty products. In fact, some of her winnings also go to the family’s coffers. By helping provide them with what they need, “it’s easy for them to accept me as a transgender woman.”

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Growing up, Mandy realized that while “makakapagsinungaling ka sa ibang tao, pero sarili mo, hindi mo maloloko. Kaya mas magandang tanggapin mo ang sarili mo para matanggap ka ng ibang tao (you may be able to lie to others about who you really are, but you can’t lie to yourself. So it’s better to accept your true self so that others will be able to accept you too).”

Mandy was “introduced” to beauty pageants when she was 13 or 14. At that time, a friend asked her to join a pageant; and “I won first runner up.” She never looked backed since, even – at one time – earning as much as P20,000 after winning a title. Like many regular beauconeras (beauty pageant participants), she also heads to distant provinces to compete, largely because – according to her – prizes in provincial competitions tend to be higher. The prize money earned helps one buy more paraphernalia for the next pageants, and – in Mandy’s case – also helps support her family.

Generally speaking, Mandy Madrigal said that “ang tunay na queen ay may malaking puso (a real queen has a big heart).”

FORMING A FAMILY

Beauty pageants are competitions, yes; but for Mandy, pageants also allow the candidates to form bonds as they get close to each other. Pageants, she said, can be a way “na maging close kami, magkaroon ng magagandang bonding… at magkakilala kami (for us to be close, to bond and get to know the others better).”

READ:  What it’s like to be a gay executive…

Pageants can be costly, Mandy admitted – for instance, “you have to invest,” she said, adding that a candidate needs to be able to provide for herself (instead of just always renting) costumes, swimsuits, casual wear, gowns, and so on.

In a way, therefore, having people who believe in you helps. In Mandy’s case, for instance, a lot of people helped (by providing necessities she needs) because “naniniwala sila na I am a queen inside and out,” she smiled.

But this support can also rack the nerves, particularly when people expect one to win (particularly because of the support given).

One will not always win, of course; and this doesn’t always give one good feelings. In 2017, for instance, Mandy joined Queen of Antipolo, and – after failing to win a crown – she said many people told her she should have won the title, or at least placed among the runners-up. “naguluhan ang utak ko (That confused me),” she said. “‘Bakit ako ang gusto ninyong manalo?’ But that’s when I realized na marami ako na-i-inspire na tao dahil marami nagtitiwala sa akin (I ask, ‘Why do you want me to win?’ But that’s when I realized that I inspire a lot of people, which is why they count on me).”

This gives her confidence; enough to deal with the nervousness that will also allow her to just enjoy any pageant she joins.

A TIME TO SHINE

Mandy believes pageants can help LGBTQI people by providing them a platform to showcase to non-LGBTQI people why “hindi tayo dapat husgahan (we should not be judged).”

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Generally speaking, Mandy said that “ang tunay na queen ay may malaking puso (a real queen has a big heart).”

And she knows that not every pageant is good for every contestant. There will be pageants where you will be crowned the queen, she said, just as there will be pageants where you will lose. But over and above the winning and losing, note “what’s most important: that there’s a lot of people who supported you in a (certain) pageant.”

At the end of the day, “sa lahat ng patimpalak, pagkatandaan natin na merong nananalo at may natatalo. Depende na lang yan sa araw mo. Kung ikaw ay nakatadhanang manalo ay mananalo ka; kung nakatadhanang matalo ay matatalo ka talaga. Yun lang yun. Isipin mo na lang na meron pang araw na darating na mas maganda para sa iyo (in all competitions, remember that there will always be a winner and a loser. It all depends on your luck for the day. If you are fated to win, you will win; if you are fated to lose, you will lose. That’s that. But still remember – even when you lose – that there will always come a day that will be great for you).”

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Monique de la Rue: ‘See yourself for who you really are’

Meet Monique de la Rue (a.k.a. Mon Busa), who helms the Home for the Golden Gays. He hopes to “help senior LGBTQI Filipinos see that, even as they age, they remain beautiful. And – maybe, just maybe – young LGBTQI Filipinos can learn from us on how we can age gracefully and, yes, beautifully.”

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBT people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

It wasn’t even 9:00AM yet on March 19, 2014, but Monique de la Rue (a.k.a. Mon Busa), now 67, was already busy getting ready. He was prepping himself for the Miss Golden Gay 2014, a pageant for senior gay and trans Filipinos; many of them residents of the Home for the Golden Gays (HGG) in Pasay City.

“That was the first time I ever ‘cross-dressed’,” Mon said. This was because – while he may have always known he’s gay – growing up, “I was always old to dress ‘aptly’.” And by that, people meant he had to present himself only by using clothes that society deemed appropriate for a specific gender. While looking at himself at the mirror, it was the first time that Mon said he saw that “maganda rin pala ako (I actually also look nice) as a woman,” he said with a laugh.

Mon didn’t win the crown that day. But – considering that he dresses up now and then since that day – he said he may have won something bigger. And “that is this ability to see beauty in yourself no matter what you are,” he said. “I suppose this should strike us LGBTQI people even more…”

And it is this that now motivates him as he helms HGG: “To help senior LGBTQI Filipinos see that, even as they age, they remain beautiful. And – maybe, just maybe – young LGBTQI Filipinos can learn from us on how we can age gracefully and, yes, beautifully.”

When all is said and done, Mon Busa said he wants to be remembered as Monique de la Rue, “the one who saw himself for who he really is and lived his life following that mantra,” he said. “We should all aim for this.”

DIFFERENT TIMES

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Though his family originated from Borongan in Samar, Mon is – by and large – a Manilan, growing in Malate. “You know where Aristocrat Restaurant is now (along Roxas Blvd.)? That used to be Fernando Ma. Guerrero Elementary School; I went there,” he smiled.

There were 10 of them; he was the seventh. “Actually, 14 talaga kami (there were 14 of us). But four died during WWII.”

Mon recalled that “seven years old pa lang ako, nagtitili na ako (I was only seven, yet I was already flamboyant).” But it was the 1950s, “so being gay was largely a taboo.”

He could remember his mom reprimanding him particularly when he started acting feminine while playing, for example. “So people like us had to also act ‘formal’ or nabubugbog sa bahay (we get abused at home).” This made him realize that, truly, “discrimination starts at home.”

But expressing one’s true identity always happened, Mon said. When with friends for instance, “‘yung papel de Hapon, binabasa namin yun, tapos ginagawang pang-lipstick at pang-kulay sa pisngi (we wet Japanese paper so we can use its coloring as lipstick and to color our cheeks).”

Mon said he always knew he was “different”, but his attraction with another man happened in his fourth year in high school. “We had a 28-year-old transferee,” he recalled, “and he took me with him to the toilet. That was the first time I saw an adult male’s genitalia, and I was surprised at nanginig (I started shaking). I thought, ‘May ganyan pala ka-laking nota (There’s a penis as big as that)?’.”

In 1967, Mon finished high school; and “I already started working then.”

Looking back, he said he was never once pressured to already marry (as men his age then started doing at that age). “My dad, for example, had no comment about me being gay; he was always busy anyway,” he said. But he remembered that both parents told him to “act formal.”

LIVING GAY

This acting “formal” – perhaps akin to being cisgender and availing of the privileges of being non-feminine – served Mon well.

Mon eventually left the Philippines to work in the Middle East in 1981.

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And even while there as a gay guy, he said “di talaga ako nakaranas ng discrimination (I never experienced discriminatory acts).” For him, “I maintained my being ‘formal’; I suppose society is more tolerant of this.”

Mon considers himself “somewhat of a late bloomer”. He was 24 when he said he was devirginized by his first-ever BF (a Lebanese guy) while he was in the Middle East. But “marami akong naging BF doon. Gumihit ang pangalan ko doon (I had lots of BFs there. I made a mark there).”

Mon can recall how the Filipino gay community in KSA (where he specifically went) “looked after each other,” he said. It was from those who came before him, for instance, that he learned how to “labatiba (douching)”.

At that time, he said, he sent money to send relatives to school. On occasion, he set aside money for his boys – and on this, he can now say with bitter laughter: “Kung hindi ako nagmahal may naipundar na sana ako (If I didn’t love anyone, I’d have saved money for myself).”

With a sigh, Mon said that “sa panahon namin, bawal ang gay to gay. Bawal ang aswang sa aswang. Malalason ka (two gay men don’t fall for each other. If you did, you’d be ‘poisoned’),” he said. And so “falling in love with someone who is bound to leave you was, sadly, normalized.”

For Mon Busa, having an actual space can also help them develop livelihood programs since “maraming (a lot of) senior LGBTQI Filipinos still have skills and talents but can no longer find good employment. And so nasasayang lang (we’re just wasted).”

FINDING A HOME

The late Justo Justo (JJ), who founded the HGG, was “an old friend,” Mon said.

Though the two knew each other even before the 1980s, “naghiwalay kami ng landas (our paths separated).” JJ became a local politician, while Mon went to work in the Middle East.

And then “when I retired, I was able to get in touch with JJ again,” Mon recalled. “That was when he was sickly already. So I started doing the admin work for HGG; I fulfilled the tasks he couldn’t anymore.”

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Mon said that it was also then when “JJ said to me, ‘Ituloy ang legacy ng HGG (To continue HGG’s legacy)’.”

In 2012, JJ passed away, and HGG was left under Mon’s care.

“I always felt other (LGBT people) also experienced what I did in life,” he said. “It was colorful; it IS colorful.”

And this is why, now, as he steers HGG forward, “I want the members to feel this very thing now even in their sunset years.”

AGELESS PAGEANTRY

Holding pageants is one of the more popular way to gather the members of HGG.

To date, there are 48 members (including support staff), with 25 of them “active members”. The idea – originally – was to have an actual “home” for displaced senior LGBTQI Filipinos (thus the name), but even now, this hasn’t really been realized. Instead, HGG has an office that also serves as the home only of select members, while the rest still live elsewhere (e.g. on their own, or with families).

And then “when we gather, for example when we have pageants, everything becomes fun,” Mon said. He thinks this “stops the aging process” for many, as it allows them to remember the joys of the past and to look forward to living a life that – yes – still has beauty.

Mon recognizes that this is “non-lasting efforts”, stressing that HGG needs to get funds so “we can have a real home to call our own”. Having an actual space can also help them develop livelihood programs since “maraming (a lot of) senior LGBTQI Filipinos still have skills and talents but can no longer find good employment. And so nasasayang lang (we’re just wasted).”

STILL LOOKING FORWARD

If there’s an observation that Mon can give about the younger LGBTQI people now, it’s the “lack of compassion with older LGBTQI people,” he said. “You need to understand one thing: Tatanda rin kayo (You will also grow old).”

This is also a driver on why Mon said there is a need to have HGG; so that “when LGBTQI Filipinos get older – and we all will – meron tayong mapupuntahan (there’d be a place where we can go to).”

And in this sense, HGG is “an alternative home for a sector in the LGBTQI community that is often ignored.”

When all is said and done, Mon said he wants to be remembered as Monique de la Rue, “the one who saw himself for who he really is and lived his life following that mantra,” he said. “We should all aim for this.” – With Aaron Moises Bonette

For more information on the Home for the Golden Gays, coordinate with Mon Busa at (+63) 9476930516.

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