Rinnel Camino – who goes by the name of “Bianca Gidote” in gay pageants – is, in his own words, always confident and poised when he joins the various “Miss Gay” competitions in his municipality. Particularly that one time, in the search for Miss Gay Earth 2017 at Brgy. Catoogan, Pototan, Iloilo, he was asked about what LGBT people want. And – like the well-experienced beauconera* he is – he said: “We all know that LGBT(s) are being discriminated in this society. We are treated different. We all just want freedom in this world. A freedom to love, to be loved, to be appreciated and not to be discriminated. Therefore, I’m standing and speaking in front of you tonight just to prove that each and every one of us are equal in this world. Equal by the sense of happiness and enjoyment, that we are going to apply into our hearts…”
That answer, he said, was well-received; and this applause is (largely) what he’s after.
“Bal-an ko ya gwapa ako (I know that I am beautiful),” Rinnel laughed. “Ang ka-hadlok ko kung gina makeup-an pa ako, pero kung sa stage na ako kag ga palakpak na mga tawo ma-feel ko na ang excitement. Importante naka-rampa ako (I only feel scared when my make-up is being put on me; but when I’m on the stage and I hear the crowd clapping, I can feel the excitement. The important thng is that I got to walk the stage).”
Perhaps the backing of the crowd helped him that night; for Rinnel – who usually competes with his bestfriend, Quith Mark Limor a.k.a. “Olivia Culpo” – bagged the crown.
And this egged him on to continue joining “Miss Gay” pageants.
IN SEARCH OF A DEEPER MEANING
“Miss Gay” competitions are, of course, mainstays in barangay fiestas – albeit they bear different, and often outrageous names, such as Miss Gay Environment, Miss Gay Pangkalawakan and even Miss Gay Chacka. In most instance, they are a source of entertainment for many of the local folks watching. By itself, this makes these put these pageants in bad light, as they end up poking fun at members of the LGBT community, instead of upholding LGBT people’s human dignity. These local pageants do not necessarily promote being LGBT, as much as exploit those who join them. And many rightfully call out these pageants because they use these contestants at the expense of their dignity and identity (e.g. Miss Gay Pangkalawakan insinuates that gay men and transgender women are “aliens”/creatures from other planets or galaxies).
Of course, from the start, the titles at stake are tricky as they plays with the gender binary (i.e. that gay men want to be like women, thus “miss”, the salutation for women – Ed).
Some winners in competitions like this have moved on to become “ambassadors” in their own right, perhaps particularly national and international versions – such as “Miss Gay Philippines”, “Miss International Queen” and even “Mr. Gay World” – that supposedly make “ambassadors” out of the winners. The titles/crowns won give some of these LGBT people “authority” to even speak for the entire LGBT community, particularly when interviewed by mainstream media; and no matter if they really know of LGBT issues.
But even “proper” pageants remain criticized for promoting a certain “standard” of “beauty” that ends up backing a lookist society.
A SMALL STEP TO INTEGRATION?
There are, of course, those who would defend pageants to the hilt, with claims that these can be avenues for the candidates to exhibit wit, talent, skill and beauty onstage (with the idea of winning the cash prize, of course).
Particularly “Miss Gay” pageants are usually composed of five (or more categories), including the production number, casual wear, swimsuit, evening gown and the interview/s. Conspicuously, they mimic “traditional” pageants (involving women and now even men, such as Binibining Pilipinas, Miss Universe, Miss World and so on).
In a way, this “gay” versions end up making members of the LGBT community like the (heterosexual) mainstream. Perhaps when viewed as such, this shows “integration” with what’s stereotypically accepted as the “norm”.
And yet – particularly when “Miss Gay” pageants at local places are considered – integration isn’t always the by-products, with these pageants serving as events that allow the humiliation of the “pageanteras” who are jeered and scoffed at.
And yet again, this very notion isn’t “learned” by the very contestants who only eye the end-goal (i.e. winning the crown) regardless of how they were treated before reaching that goal.
WEIGHING THE PROS AND CONS
For Paolo Martin Saberon, founder of the Cebuano Youth Ambassadors and a staunch LGBT advocate, a “Miss Gay” pageant is “a creative platform that can raise awareness on various issues affecting the LGBT community.” But Saberon stressed that “regardless of the motivation why (the beauconeras/pageanteras) join these pageants, members of the LGBT community must be more responsible and accountable with their actions. It must be clear to everyone that even if we are living in a more progressive generation, love, respect and acceptance are still very difficult to find. So the moment that they own the stage and they hold the microphone, they have to remember the community that they represent (and maybe even speak on its behalf).”
For another frequent pageantera, Jhayr Basanes a.k.a. Kylie Veronica when onstage, “we need to be practical. Maintra kami pageant para sa kwarta kag sa experience and exposure. Importante man ang kwarta. Para sa iban nga agi gina pangabuy-an na nila ina. Completo ang pagka-agi ko (mo) kung mag intra ka Miss Gay (We need to be practical. We join the pageant for money, experience and exposure. Money is important. For other gays, it’s already their lifestyle. I feel like I’m a ‘complete’ gay person if I join Miss Gay pageants).”
With the seeming disconnect between those who just want to invade the stage and win, versus those who see the politics in “Miss Gay” pageants, a discussion then becomes necessary (perhaps particularly internally within the LGBT community).
Back in Brgy. Catoogan, Pototan, Iloilo, as the audience started heading home after the crowning of the new Miss Gay Earth 2017, Rinnel is only filled with happiness. The discussions surrounding “Miss Gay” pageants are not on his head, even as he heads home with the sash, bouquet, crown and title. He is only excited for his next “Miss Gay” competition.
And so the discussions surrounding LGBT (perhaps in this case in particular, “gay”) rage on…
*A REGULAR PARTICIPANT OF BEAUTY PAGEANTS