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Raquela Rios: Courting the Queen

Raquela Rios, hailing from Mandaue in the Province of Cebu, stars in The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela (which looks at the plight of transgenders in the Philippines), and helps re-define what it means to be a woman.

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Raquela Rios
Actress, The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela

“I was not being positive (with playing the lead role in Queen Raquela). I’m a type of person who prefers to live a life in private. But then a realization dawned on (me). I realized I could serve as an inspiration to many; not just to the transgenders or transsexuals, but to everyone in the society – as a Filipino, as a transgender and transsexual, and as a citizen of a Third World country,” says Raquela Rios.

Her Facebook account has, at one time or another, used Valerija Kushukskina, Snježana Yevteushenko, and Ilena Kokkinopoulou for her profile name – but she may well be more known as Queen Raquela, the main actor in a female role of Poppoli Productions’ documentary movie The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela, which won the 2008 Teddy Award for Best Featured Film at the 2008 Berlin Film Festival for Panorama Fims.

She is, of course, Raquela Rios, the MTF transgender hailing from Mandaue City in the Province of Cebu, who, when asked when she realized she was in the wrong body, said: “For as long as I can remember, though I was never a toy-oriented person (like playing with Barbie or with guns), as a kid, I liked to play baha-bahayan and I liked portraying the role of the housewife. At that time, I still had no idea what I am, who I am. But it eventually dawned on me that this is me, this is what I am – and what I am is not a boy, I’m a girl.”

The realization did not make life easy for Raquela.

“It was a bit hard for me growing up since many were against my effeminate behaviour,” says Raquela, who also recalled having to “blend in with the norms.” “Having been taught that homosexuality/transsexuality is a sin and is bad, I was scared, naive, not knowledgeable of the truth. And when people teased me as bakla, I always just cried, picking fights with anyone and everyone to deny the fact that this is me.”

“I don’t know how much of the story can be said to be completely mine,” Raquela Rios says, smiling. Then turning serious: “But then looking at the film – how it was done and how the story line flow – it really talks about the reality of most TGs living in the Philippines, on how they live their life, et cetera, even though it doesn’t talk about sex change and transformation and the likes. It is more about penetrating the lives and their daily encounters.”

Her living differently from the stereotypic normative did not make it easy for others, too, so much so that “at first, I had to be discreet about it, about being me because while I know they knew (my being different, just about everyone was) against it.” In fact, when she reached college, she had to somewhat live two lives – “Every time I was out of the house, away from the eyes of my family or neighbours, I’d come out from my shell,” she recalls.

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Eventually, though – and fortunately – “they came to accepted me (for being me.”

Life being difficult particularly for TGs hasn’t changed much – at least if Queen Raquela the movie is to be used as basis.

Queen Raquela the movie follows the life story of, yes, Raquela, a sex worker Filipino MTF transgender (dubbed, a la TGs in Thailand, a “ladyboy”) who wanted to escape the streets of Cebu City for a (assumed, at least) better life in Paris, France. Stopping working the streets, Raquela instead started working in the Internet porn industry – which was how she met an Icelandic “ladyboy”, Valerie, as well as one Michael, the owner of the Web site she worked for. Valerie is the one to help Raquela go to Iceland; Michael, eventually, offers her access to Paris.
With a character named after her, the first question that comes to mind is exactly how much of the character Raquela’s story is based on the life of the person playing her.

“I don’t know how much of the story can be said to be completely mine,” Raquela says, smiling. Then turning serious: “But then looking at the film – how it was done and how the story line flow – it really talks about the reality of most TGs living in the Philippines, on how they live their life, et cetera, even though it doesn’t talk about sex change and transformation and the likes. It is more about penetrating the lives and their daily encounters.”

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Like Raquela in the movie, Raquela, too, met Icelandic Olaf de Fleur Johannesson “via social network online – I (have forgotten) what site that was – but I thought he was looking for a date or girlfriend or something, so we (chatted). At that time, I was looking for an online date or a relationship.” However, “I didn’t see any future with him since all he did was talk about his job in the film industry, et cetera. I felt like I had to ditch him because he was not coming over to the Philippines anyway.”

After a few months, however, the filmmaker sent Raquela an SMS, telling her he was coming over to shoot a film. Even then, he was interested in her as the subject of the film even if “I wasn’t interested to be an actress since I never dreamt of becoming one. But I told him I would be happy to help him find his subject until the time we met for real.”

Raquela was persuaded to do some test shots, at which point, “I already grew to like the (developments),” she says, eventually making her accept the role of Queen Raquela.

Not that, from then on, things already went smoothly.

“At first, it was all awkward,” says Raquela. “I was not being positive (with the experience). I’m a type of person who prefers to live a life in private.”

But then a realization dawned on Raquela. “I realized I could serve as an inspiration to many; not just to the transgenders or transsexuals, but to everyone in the society – as a Filipino, as a transgender and transsexual, and as a citizen of a Third World country,” she says.

And how has life changed for Raquela after her foray with, well, fame?

“It bettered my standards in looking for a man in my life,” she beams. And then, on a more serious note: “I can say it empowered me as it (helped teach me maturity) – even if, at the same time, I also gained some recognition and made new friends from all over the world.”

Raquela’s way of seeing has long broadened, as she has also worked as a GLBTQI rights advocate in Cebu City to fight against discrimination and give rights to GLBTQIs (specialization in safer sex practices).

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In her Facebook profile, Raquela states that she is a “pre-op transsexual.” The thing, though, is that this identification is more for other people’s ‘comfort’ than for hers. “To be honest,” she says, “I prefer to be a non-op transsexual. The only reason I (use that descriptor) is because not all know what a non-op transsexual is.”

The point is the deconstruction of the heteronormative – often erroneous – beliefs.
“For me everyone is entitled (to be who and what) they want to be,” Raquela says. “If one wants to undergo sexual reassignment surgery to be happy, go for it. But for me, I choose to be a non-op since I know I am a woman, a transsexual woman. I don’t need (any) process of going under the knife to make me a woman.”

The necessary change, stresses Raquela, is in the recognition of the individual differences.

“If there is a law that recognizes TGs in their own gender, then for me, it will be not necessary to go for any operation just to change one’s identity from male to female or female to male (the deemed identifiers of sex and gender differentiation),” she says.

That there remain stereotypes about transgenders, including association with sex work, is true, but “we are all different individuals and you can’t just conclude one to be such or such,” she says, adding that even if assumptions may prove to be true, too, “we still have to respect every one as human beings – after all, (even for TGs in the sex industry, they still) have to make a living in a harsh world, considering the harsh treatment they experience every day.” And this is even if TGs “could offer a lot of other things just like all of the other people out there (when given the chance).”

These are issues, of course, that the GLBTQIA community, as a whole, needs to deal with – something problematic since “there’s often no unity in (the GLBTQIA community) so that many actually marginalize themselves into gay versus TG versus lesbian versus bisexual. There remains so much hate even within (our ranks),” Raquela says.

Hopefully, however, films like Queen Raquela can help remedy the situation.

“(Through such efforts, hopefully) people will get a glimpse of the life, the struggles of being GLBTQI – especially of living in a country where we are not protected by laws and we are not recognized to have human rights.”

Raquela remains hopeful, nonetheless, inspired by the “the existing sisterhood/brotherhood, too, (in the GLBTQIA community),” she says. “(Our community) is colourful, full of life – as such, it is fun, not just tediously serious all the time.”

What’s next for Raquela?

“To come out of a ‘depression’ stage,” she says, as Raquela continues to finish her studies, yet to decide if she’ll pursue becoming a chef or a haute couture fashion designer. The dream, though, is to “maybe go back to Europe to build a ‘normal’ life – “my experiences (there) opened my eyes to (a TG) life’s possibilities.”

For now, though, remember her as “Queen Raquela, the innocent/naive but street smart girl who touches everyone’s heart.”

"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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#KaraniwangLGBT

The lone drag queen

Kenneth Lemuel Esteban interviews Lawrence Villiones, a.k.a. Wire Shun, the 23-year-old lone drag queen of San Jose City, Nueva Ecija, who believes that doing drag is not just a way of expression but is a way of self-empowerment that can also empower other people.

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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 is very hard to fight for my sexuality and, at the same time, fight for my drag artistry here in the province because most people here are not open enough to understand both.”

So said Lawrence Villiones, a.k.a. Wire Shun, the 23-year-old lone drag queen of San Jose City, Nueva Ecija, who continues to experience hardships for being part of the LGBTQIA community and for being a drag artist in the province.

For Lawrence, discrimination happens every day for him as a member of the LGBTQIA community. “On a daily basis, discrimination is inevitable here in the province. You can witness discrimination in public and sometimes even at work.”

And as if Lawrence is not oppressed enough because of his sexuality, he is also forced to abstain from being the drag performer – something that he always wanted to become – due to the lack of drag culture, and the knowledge and appreciation of the same in the province.

“Being a drag queen here in the province can get really hard… because we don’t have nightclubs and bars that (hire) drag artists for gigs just like in other cities. If there only is a drag culture here in the province, I’d be able to live and enjoy my drag career to the fullest,” he said.

Nowadays, people often judge other people through race, size and gender preferences so Lawrence thinks that, “as a member of the LGBT community, we should convey messages of inclusion and diversity.”

Not surprisingly, Lawrence hopes that “someday, I want be able to have a platform to showcase my talent and show the people that I am more than just someone who can do drag make-up. I want to show them that I can also perform. I can also ‘lip-sync for my life’.”

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Lawrence discovered the art of drag when, “I was in high school, I saw ‘Rupaul’s Drag Race’ on TV, and I got curious. I just tried to watch a single episode.” Lawrence said that at that moment, “I had zero interest and idea on what drag is. I just got the urge to know more about it.”

As soon as he finished college, he tried looking for a hobby, and “I rediscovered drag artistry on social media and I had the time that I didn’t have before so I decided to explore more from the world of drag.”

Lawrence’s drag name is Wire Shun, inspired by his favorite character from a Korean drama that he always watches.

Sometimes, Lawrence wants to go outside as Wire Shun but he can’t because “people here in the province might not understand my art.” he said. “Most of my neighbors might judge me because of my craft because other than the fact that they don’t understand the concept of drag, my drag style is very different and creepy so things might get too overwhelming for them.”

Lawrence added that “even my family is not aware that I do drag… No one knows that I do drag and that drag is my passion.”

And so for Lawrence, the only way for him to express his artistry is “by performing alone in my room.”

Lawrence hopes that “someday, I want be able to have a platform to showcase my talent and show the people that I am more than just someone who can do drag make-up. I want to show them that I can also perform. I can also ‘lip-sync for my life’.”

His drag style is, “very alternative. I serve looks that are very unique, spooky and sometimes it may even look alien-ish,” he said.

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Alternative drag is, Lawrence said, not the typical style that other drag artists do. “It is very different from the looks of other mainstream queens appearing on television because those queens are more focused on serving beauty pageant aesthetic and feminine looks. “

For him, “alternative drag on the other hand has no limitations when it comes to expressing your artistry”

Lawrence is very different from his drag persona; they are like a paradox.

Lawrence can be just as “mundane as I could be. I am just a person trapped in what the society expects me to be. I am just an artist looking for a way to express my talent and creativity.” When out of drag, “I am just this shy person who lacks a huge deal of confidence.” But when he is finally in drag, he can “get very wild and cocky… a complete opposite when he (I am) out of drag.”

Lawrence believes that doing drag is not just his outlet and way of expression, but is also his way of self-empowerment with hopes of empowering other people.

Nowadays, people often judge other people through race, size and gender preferences so Lawrence thinks that, “as a member of the LGBT community, we should convey messages of inclusion and diversity.” He gushed as he added that for him, “my drag artistry is my way of expression and through my art is how I convey that message to people.”

“Being a drag queen here in the province can get really hard… because we don’t have nightclubs and bars that (hire) drag artists for gigs just like in other cities. If there only is a drag culture here in the province, I’d be able to live and enjoy my drag career to the fullest,” he said.

To the aspiring drag queens and artists in general who thinks that they are limited because they are in the province, Lawrence has this to say: “Living in a (non-metropolitan) city is not that big of a deal because no matter where we are, we can showcase our talent and artistry. We just need to learn how to be resourceful. Just unleash your creativity and you can do it no matter who you are. All drag is valid. So just keep on honing your craft and artistry. Let’s just live on and keep on learning so that we’ll be able to reach our goals in life.”

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People You Should Know

What it’s like to be a lesbian artist in this generation

Meet Pixie Labrador, an openly lesbian singer/songwriter, who laments the under-representation of lesbians in the music industry, which is unfortunate because she believes that music can help mainstream discussion of LGBTQIA issues. “Lesbians get invalidated, discriminated and fetishized because of who we choose to love, and it’s disappointing to know that… some people would choose to overlook the passion and dedication we’ve put into honing our art,” she says.

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Photo courtesy of Pixie Labrador

“Lesbian artists in the Philippines are not being represented enough. In fact, if I’m being honest, it would’ve taken me a while to name a few at the top of my head, which is alarming and something I’m not proud of. It’s a shame because we are part of such a talented, inspiring community, and very few people recognize it.”

That, according to Pixie Labrador, is the current state of representation of lesbian artists in the Philippines.

And for her, this is bad because “lesbians get invalidated, discriminated and fetishized because of who we choose to love, and it’s disappointing to know that the close-mindedness of some people would choose to overlook the passion and dedication we’ve put into honing our art.”

Pixie is an openly lesbian singer/songwriter, with over 9,095 monthly listeners on Spotify. Her most popular song on Spotify – “What’s it Like” – is about unrequited love, but uses just the right amount of pronouns for fans to openly identify her pride on her gender identity. The same song – which has a stanza that goes: “And I know from a distance| That I can’t compare | To the burn in her eyes | Or the love that she bears | It’s too much to hand over | But you never cared | For as long as your heart was with her” – is also included on her first album, “Does It Hurt””.

“Sometimes people would assume that in my music, I’m talking about being in love with a man (even) when the pronouns I use are very clear in the lyrics of the song,” Pixie quipped. “It’s another case of heteronormativity and invalidation, and It needs to be stopped.”

Being a lesbian “kind of” affects her craft/music, Pixie said, “in the sense that my music is heavily targeted towards the queer community, and it’s mostly based off of my personal experiences on loving other women.” However – and Pixie stressed this – “although I feel that rather than saying ‘being a lesbian’ is affecting my music, it’s really more of just me being my genuine self, if that makes sense. Like, I don’t write because I’m a lesbian. I’ll write what I feel and think regardless of what I identify as, simply because it’s something I love to do.”

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But by and large, for Pixie, sexuality does not really matter when creating music.

“That’s the great thing about art: anyone can make it, and it’s so expressive and limitless. I don’t think it would make sense to have sexuality matter in making music. I feel like it disregards people who are questioning or unsure of their own sexuality, as well as people who just don’t give a damn about labels, which is also entirely valid. It just so happens that I have a specific style of writing that touches on my sexuality, but it doesn’t mean everyone has to do it that way. Basically, you don’t have to question yourself to make music. Just do it.”

TOUCHING LIVES

Pixie is actually fortunate that “my audience, my family, and my friends have all been so accepting and supportive of me… When I started writing more frequently, and was trying to find my own unique style, writing in regards to loving as a lesbian just came so naturally to me. I published ‘Maybe’ and the response was so overwhelming. I didn’t realize how many people I’ve helped with just one song. So after that, there was a click in my head that made me think: ‘This is what people need: LGBT representation by LGBT creators.’ So I wanted to give exactly that. Eventually, my fans started giving me nicknames like ‘Lesbian Queen’, ‘WLW Icon’, ‘Queen of The Gays’, and things like that. It’s because of them that it kind of became my branding. My family seems to recognize this too, and they’re all for it as well. My parents show their support by coming to whatever gigs they possibly can, even though they’re heard me live dozens of times. I feel really blessed.”

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Pixie is also “lucky enough to not have experienced discrimination during gigs, and hopefully I never will. Most of the gigs I’ve been to were at safe spaces, and I’m glad I can feel comfortable working with trustworthy organizations, and in certain venues.”

MUSIC FOR THE STRUGGLE

Pixie recognizes, however, that the struggle of the LGBTQIA community particularly locally is far from over.

“There is still so, so much we need to fight for before we can even get close to the kind of acceptance we hope to achieve. Every time I think we’re getting closer to our goal, I would see something on social media, like a news headline, about something terrible that’s happened to someone in the community. It’s truly devastating,” she said.

But for Pixie, “the LGBT community is really the strongest bunch of individuals that I know. Despite the challenges that come with being our true selves, we push through every day, 365 days a year. We might not be where we want to be right now, but I know our struggles will all be worth it someday.”

And how does Pixie use her platform as an artist to help the LGBTQIA community?

“I’d like to think that as an I artist, I touch on topics that are very real and relatable, especially to people who are still figuring themselves out. It’s actually quite cliché when you think about it. ‘Maybe’ is about falling in love with your best friend. ‘For You’ is about being in love. ‘What’s It Like’ and ‘Use Me’ are about unrequited love. It’s not all that different from mainstream media. When it comes to my writing, I don’t talk about the LGBT community in such an ‘in your face’ kind of way; but it’s more of using real, firsthand experiences to make unaccepting people realize we’re not as alien as they think we are. We are capable of feeling what they do, and we deserve to be loved just as much as them. I think this whole thing also applies to the community itself. By writing about these things so casually, I’m putting out a message that basically says ‘Hey, I’m gay, and it’s okay to talk about it.’”

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And so, as an openly lesbian singer/songwriter, “to me, it feels really empowering to be fighting for equally every single day, and with every song that I write and put out into the world. It’s so heartwarming to see milestones of the LGBT community being recognized – like the recent legalization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan, or the Metro Manila Pride March reaching over 70,000 attendees, for example. In a more personal case, I’ve gotten messages from listeners saying that my music has given them the courage to come out, or has just helped them through difficult times in general. There may be pitfalls every now and then, but I do strongly believe that we are progressing towards a more love-filled world; and it’s a nice feeling to think that I am and always will be a part of what made that happen.”

BETTER REPRESENTATION

But it wouldn’t hurt if – as she earlier mentioned – lesbian artists in the Philippines start getting being represented enough.

“It would be nice if the media (shone) light on a more diverse range of lesbian artists. Like people of different skin tones, different body types, different ethnicities, et cetera. Because there’s no right or wrong way to ‘look like’ or ‘be’ a lesbian. It doesn’t have to feel so limiting,” she said. “Plus, there may be a number of under-appreciated but extremely talented lesbian role models whom the world needs to know about.”

But at least for now, her music is helping fill a void as Pixie Labrador continues to be a lesbian artist particularly in this generation.

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NEWSMAKERS

Pinoy wins Mr. Gay World 2019

John Jeffrey Carlos won as Mr. Gay World 2019, the second time the title went to the Philippines (and Asia).

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Screencap from John Jeffrey Carlos' video for Mr. Gay World 2019

Pinoy rainbow pride.

John Jeffrey Carlos won as Mr. Gay World 2019, the second time the title went to the Philippines (and Asia).

The 41-year-old local of General Trias, Cavite is not new to pageantry, first trying his luck to represent the country in the same pageant in 2016. He placed fourth runner-up then, losing to John Raspado, who ended up winning the first Mr. Gay World title for the country.

Carlos is actually also already relatively known in various circles – e.g. in Facebook and Instagram, where his repeatedly “liked” photos range from showcasing living a luxurious lifestyle in Manila, traveling from one country to another, flexing his muscles during a workout, or wearing swimming trunks and posing provocatively for no other reason but to satisfy the fantasies of his social media followers.

Carlos – who obtained his bachelor’s degree in hotel and restaurant management at the Cavite State University, where he also played for the men’s varsity volleyball team – also appeared in some movies directed by the late Wenn Deramas, such as “Moron 5.2: The Transformation” (2014) and “Wang Fam” (2015).

“When it comes to pageantry, the best trait of Filipino representatives [in general] is they always surprise people with their biggest ideas, just like what Catriona Gray did [in Miss Universe],” he said to Outrage Magazine in an earlier interview.

Perhaps typical of many beauty titlists who are new to their advocacies, Carlos only recently partnered wth Mental Health PH, an organization that promotes awareness about mental health through social media, a few days after winning the Mr. Fahrenheit 2019 title.

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All the same, he said that “I think it’s a very good platform for me to push my advocacy, as it is very timely and relevant, especially with the LGBTQI community… We’ve heard so much about mental health issues and things are getting worse. In my own little way, I want to spread awareness about depression, so people will know what to do in case they feel some of the symptoms of this mental illness, affecting us and our loved ones.”

As Carlos wears the second Mr. Gay World title for the Philippines, he stressed: “We have to reach out to people with depression. Together, we can turn this illness to wellness.”

Carlos – who competed with 21 other contestants in Cape Town, South Africa – has a partner and they’ve been living together for the past seven years.

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People You Should Know

Overcome doubts to be happier version of yourself, says gay Ateneo grad who topped 2018 bar exams

Openly gay, Atty. Sean James Borja obtained the highest score of 89.3060%, leading the 1,800 aspiring lawyers who passed the bar exams.

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Photo credit: Facebook/Atty. Sean James Borja

“Definitely there were a lot of times I doubted myself but I’m happy to say that I did overcome those doubts and insecurities and I’m just happy to be me right now.”

These are the words of now Atty. Sean James Borja, an Ateneo de Manila University alumnus, who topped the 2018 bar exams.

Openly gay, Borja obtained the highest score of 89.3060%, leading the 1,800 aspiring lawyers who passed the bar exams.

Interviewed by ABS-CBN News Channel following the Supreme Court’s announcement of the results of the 2018 bar exam, Borja was asked if he had ever felt that “being gay did not make you worthy to follow your aspirations.”

Borja was quoted as saying that “definitely… I guess especially during grade school — you know how grade school is like when you’re being bullied for being different and it was during that time… where you think you’re not good enough to be at the top; to be a lawyer to fulfill your dreams just because of who you are.”

When Borja delivered his valedictory address for class 2018 of the Ateneo Law School, Borja actually talked about his being part of the LGBTQIA community.

The rest of the top 10 are:

  • Marcley Augustus Natu-el, University of San Carlos, 87.53%
  • Mark Lawrence Badayos, University of San Carlos, 85.842%
  • Daniel John Fordan, Ateneo de Manila University, 85.443%
  • Katrina Monica Gaw, Ateneo de Manila University, 85.421%
  • Nadaine Tongco, University of the Philippines, 85.032%
  • Patricia Sevilla, University of the Philippines, 84.859%
  • Kathrine Ting, De La Salle University-Manila, 84.857%
  • Jebb Lynus Cane, University of San Carlos, 84.805%
  • Alan Joel Pita, University of San Carlos, 84.693%
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The 2018 bar exam posted a passing rate of 22.07%, which is lower than the previous year’s passing rate of 25.5%.

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People You Should Know

John Jeffrey Carlos eyes Mr. Gay World 2019 title in South Africa

A closer look at John Jeffrey Carlos, a 41-year-old realtor and online entrepreneur from Cavite, who will compete with 24 other gay men in the 11th installment of Mr. Gay World contest in Cape Town, South Africa.

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Images courtesy of Mr. Gay World Philippines Organization

It may be difficult to fill the void left by John Raspado, who won the country’s first Mr. Gay World title in Maspalomas, Spain two years ago because the original always seems better; and to keep pace with him, the next Filipino Mr. Gay World aspirant needs to be worth twice as much.

When John Jeffrey Carlos first tried his luck in Mr. Gay World Philippines pageant back in October 2016, he was deemed by the pageants fans and pundits as “the one who would make the others compete harder.” Prior to the competition, he was already known to some circles via Facebook and Instagram, with repeatedly “liked” photos ranging from living a luxurious lifestyle in Manila, traveling from one country to another, flexing his muscles during a workout, or wearing swimming trunks and posing provocatively for no other reason but to satisfy the fantasies of his social media followers.

But the judges that time didn’t give this flawless-skinned gay hunk from General Trias, Cavite high enough scores to enter the final round of the competition. “Janjep” (his nickname) finished in fourth place. It was Raspado, a native of Baguio City, who walked away with the top plum. He would later on become the Philippines’ first Mr. Gay World victor, in Maspalomas, Spain.

Fast forward to the present and Carlos was teary eyed while thanking everyone who attended his send-off press conference arranged by Mr. Gay World Philippines national director Wilbert Tolentino, at The One 690 Entertainment Bar in Quezon City. Winning the Mr. Fahrenheit search three weeks ago gave him the golden-ticket opportunity to wear the Philippine sash in Mr. Gay World 2019 in Cape Town, South Africa between April 28 and May 5.

Mr. Gay World, a “four-day challenge” founded by Australia-based philanthropist Eric Butter, is now on its 11th year of determining which cisgender gay man supposedly best represents his national spirit while serving as an ambassador for LGBTQI rights worldwide.

Carlos, a realtor, online entrepreneur and “cyber star” from General Trias, Cavite, who is already 41 years old, will be competing with 24 other gay men to be the successor of Jordan Bruno, a 26-year-old Australian reality TV chef, cookbook author and owner of an LGBTQI cooking school. 

Though Carlos wants to replicate Raspado’s historic feat, he said to Outrage Magazine that he’s uncomfortable being likened to the titlist.

“When it comes to pageantry, the best trait of Filipino representatives [in general] is they always surprise people with their biggest ideas, just like what Catriona Gray did [in Miss Universe]. Perhaps I’ll just take my inspiration from her. It’s like from day one, she’s [already] a fighter… I will surprise them with my ideas, like what she did, from what she wore, from the way she spoke, everything… well-planned. That’s how I prepared, with the help of my mentor and our national director, boss Wilbert, and Sir Rodgil Flores of the Kagandahang Flores camp. They really groomed me for Mr. Gay World 2019.”

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Janjep Carlos, a realtor, online entrepreneur and “cyber star” from General Trias, Cavite, who is already 41 years old, will be competing with 24 other gay.

Without revealing what he would be wearing during the preliminaries and coronation night, he – nonetheless – named those who helped him: Albert Andrada, the designer behind the iconic royal blue evening gown of Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach, provided his formal wear; Razen Montero, for his national costume; and Domz Ramos, the official swimwear designer of Binibining Pilipinas pageant, for his swimwear.

And if Gray has “lava walk” and “slow-motion twirl,” Carlos has the “baklava walk”.  

GETTING PERSONAL

Carlos obtained his bachelor’s degree in hotel and restaurant management at the Cavite State University, where he also played for the men’s varsity volleyball team.

Striking the ball before it touches the ground gave him everything—his education was paid for, along with his food and board. It also gave him a support group—teammates and coaching staff who all wanted him to succeed and strive for excellence, in and out of the court.

After he got out of school, started working, paying for his own expenses and providing for his family, he realized how incredible it is to graduate not owing any money.

He also appeared in some movies directed by the late Wenn Deramas, such as “Moron 5.2: The Transformation” (2014) and “Wang Fam” (2015).

Carlos has a partner and they’ve been living together for the past seven years. And even if he’s openly gay, there are still women who get attracted to him. “There were cases wherein some of them were very vocal about their feelings toward me. But I never concealed ‘the real me’ ever since. They tell me they know that I’m gay, so I don’t have to explain myself,” he said with a wide smile.

Janjep Carlos has a partner and they’ve been living together for the past seven years.

MENTAL HEALTH ADVOCATE

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If his Mr. Gay World Philippines predecessors focused their respective reigns on HIV prevention, de-stigmatization and care, Carlos is taking a different route.

“My advocacy focuses on fighting depression, through my #IllnessToWellnessCampaign,” he said.

A few days after he won as Mr. Fahrenheit 2019, he partnered with Mental Health PH, an organization that promotes awareness about mental health through social media.

“I think it’s a very good platform for me to push my advocacy, as it is very timely and relevant, especially with the LGBTQI community… We’ve heard so much about mental health issues and things are getting worse. In my own little way, I want to spread awareness about depression, so people will know what to do in case they feel some of the symptoms of this mental illness, affecting us and our loved ones.”

A month before joining Mr. Fahrenheit, Carlos traveled to South Africa. It included a trip to a psychiatric rehabilitation facility catering to impoverished communities.

“I had a chance to visit Cape Mental Health and I saw the situation there. We have to be informed. We have to reach out to people with depression. Together, we can turn this illness to wellness. I’m happy to come back in Cape Town, as I am now more familiar with the port city as well as with the people’s way of living.”

THREE-PEAT

Tolentino was the first Filipino to compete in the inaugural edition of Mr. Gay World, in Whistler, Canada in 2009. He topped the sports challenge and harvested the Best in National Costume, Best in Formal Wear and Mr. Gay Popularity special awards. He received the local franchise for the Mr. Gay World pageant in 2016, after it was held by Noemi Alberto since its inception a decade ago.

Under his management, the Filipino representatives’ standings in Mr. Gay World improved: Christian Lacsamana, a 30-year-old public high school teacher from San Fernando City, Pampanga, topped the online voting, named Mister Social Media, won the Best in National Costume award, and placed second runner-up to Roger Gosalbez Pitaluga of Spain in April 2016. Raspado, a 36-year-old online entrepreneur of health supplements from Baguio City, made history by becoming the first Filipino and 100% Asian to win the title in May 2017.

But Tolentino shocked Mr. Gay World Philippines devotees when he announced his resignation as national director two months after Raspado won. Coming from a very conservative Filipino-Chinese upbringing, he wanted to spend time with his parents, especially with his aging father, as well as to focus on his then newly born son.

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But “a few months back this year, I dreamt that the Philippines will have three consecutive wins in Mr. Gay World. That prompted me to once again assume the national directorship [for Mr. Gay World]. And this year, we are very proud to say that we have the best delegate. I promised that as national director, I would do my very best in preparing Janjep for his international competition.”

A month before joining Mr. Fahrenheit, Janjep Carlos traveled to South Africa. It included a trip to a psychiatric rehabilitation facility catering to impoverished communities.

Mr. Gay World 2019’s roster also includes Australia’s Rad Mitic, 36, business development manager; Nick Van Vooren, a 22-year-old polyvalent caregiver from Belgium; Botswana’s Oratile Victor Phofhedi, 26, chef and book author; Raphael dos Anjos, a 31-year-old Brazilian teacher and sign language interpreter; Canada’s Josh Rimer, 41, travel vlogger, show host and producer for national LGBT TV station OUTv; Carlos Navarro, a 30-year-old sexual diversity and gender equity activist from Chile; Costa Rica’s Marko Soto, a 25-year-old Greek immigrant, veterinary student and gay rights activist; Ismo Poutiainen, 35, hairdresser from Finland; Germany’s Marcel Danner, 30, marketing officer for an art house cinema group and crowd funding campaigner; Oliver Pusztai, gay rights activist and lifestyle blogger from Hungary; India’s Suresh Ramdas, a 37-year-old information technology executive; and Guilherme Souza, 25, writer for Gay Community News national monthly free gay magazine in Ireland.

Japan’s Tiger Shigetake, 21, multilingual gay rights activist, motivational speaker and international business student; Kaleb Omar, a 30-year-old international business graduate, professional model and sports coordinator from Mexico; Namibia’s Rivelino Reinecke, 21, gay rights activist and law student; Nick Francis, a 27-year-old Samoan immigrant who is an ambassador for New Zealand’s Aids Foundation; Panama’s Iann Carlos Jean, 25, entrepreneur; Jorge Seminario, 28, management officer for an international tourism company in Peru; South Africa’s Chris Emmanuel, a 42-year-old fitness buff and gym owner who champions the need for wider acceptance of the LGBT community; Francisco Alvarado, 29, physician from Spain; Taiwan’s Colin Lu, a 27-year-old health and fitness professional; Chayodhom Samibat, 35, personal trainer, chef and mixologist from Thailand; and Walter Moreno, a 24-year-old model and surfer for Venezuela’s national team.  

Filipinos can help Carlos win the Mister Gay World Internet Popularity special award to advance in the semifinal round, by visiting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xvgcps7X34Y and clicking the thumbs up button below the video; they can also register and cast their votes 10 times every 24 hours via https://mrgayworld.com/vote/ until 5:59 a.m. of May 4, Saturday (Manila time).

Mr. Gay World 2019 finals will be held at the Cape Town City Hall in Cape Town, South Africa, and will be streamed live via the organization’s official Facebook page and YouTube channel on May 5, Sunday, 1 a.m. (Manila time).

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#KaraniwangLGBT

Gay in the highlands

What is it like to be gay and belong to an ethnic tribe in the Philippines? For Romnick Ampi, he only knew of acceptance and being encouraged to live a better life, showing that LGBTQIA people can achieve more. And he hopes for this to be the general concept – i.e. that looking down on LGBTQIA people stop to focus on what they can achieve in life.

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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.”

Romnick Ampi, 27, from Barangay Meohao in Sitio Palusok at the foot of Mount Apo in Mindanao, was in elementary school (“Around 12 years old”) when he knew he’s gay/a member of the LGBTQIA community.

“At that time,” he said, “hindi ko maiwasan magkagusto sa kapuwa ko gender (I couldn’t help myself from getting attracted to other men).”

At first, Romnick thought that what he was feeling wasn’t real. “But I observed that what I really feel for men is different. Yung puso ko ay parang puso pa rin ng babae (Like heterosexual women, I was attracted to men).”

But – belonging to the Manobo ethnic tribe (his mother is Visayan, while my father is Diangan) – Romnick said he only knew of acceptance.

“And even when I go to more mountainous areas, no one is surprised with a gay man like me. No one there bullies people with the same gender as me.”

“Yes, I told my family about me being gay. They did not have bad reactions. I am happy that they even support what I do. They particularly support my means of living that is aligned with my being part of the LGBTQIA community,” he said.

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Romnick noted – and stressed – that “nirerespeto po nila gaya ng pagrerespeto nila sa kaloikasan atsaka ng mga ninuno. So sa tao po, nirerespeto nila kung ano po ang LGBT (members of our tribe respect LGBTQIA people, just as they respect nature and our ancestors. They respect people, including LGBTQIA people),” he said. “We are not discouraged to live as LGBTQIA people,” even if part of this acceptance is anchored in the stereotypical expectation that LGBTQIA people (gay men and trans women, in particular) “bring… happiness particularly during local celebrations.”

This acceptance makes Meohao an ideal place for Romnick. In fact, he said, if one goes even higher in mountainous areas, it’s common to see members of the LGBTQIA community. “And even when I go to more mountainous areas, no one is surprised with a gay man like me. No one there bullies people with the same gender as me.”

Not surprisingly, “ang feeling ko ay happy, sa tingin ko ay walang kalungkutan na mangyayari ditto sa Meohao dahil nakita ko naman na ang lugar na ito ay peaceful at mapagmahal yung mga tao (I feel happy here; I feel that there’s no sadness here. The place is peaceful. And people here are loving/accepting),” he said.

“Members of our tribe respect LGBTQIA people, just as they respect nature and our ancestors. They respect people, including LGBTQIA people.”

Romnick’s family was originally from Davao, but because of his father’s belonging to the Manobo tribe, they moved to Meohao.

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Romnick has four siblings; he is the only one who goes to school. “All the others stopped going to school because of financial issues,” he said. “This is why I am studying hard so I can graduate and then be able to help them. I particularly want to help my siblings make a living.”

Romnick currently takes up Bachelor of Science in Food Technology at the University of Southern Mindanao, a course that is in line with his field of interest – i.e. events organizing.

“Perhaps this is also God’s gift to me – to take a course that is in line with the skills I now have,” he said.

Now moonlighting as an events organizer, Romnick had an early start working. “I discovered I have skills in organizing events when I was still in elementary school. While watching my teachers do the decorating in school events, such as the closing ceremonies, they told me to give decorating a try,” he said.

And nowadays, “per event, I earn from P5,000 – at least for the smaller events.”

Now single, Romnick said that not having a boyfriend is, for now, ideal. “Mas mabuti yung wala pa akong jowa para makapag-focus ako sa family ko at sa sarili ko (This way I can focus on my family and myself).”

To people who belittle LGBTQIA people, Romnick said “don’t look down on us.”

For him, LGBTQIA people thrive – and this is even if they are not supported by their parents/families. “Because LGBTQIA people are skillful. They will find ways to make a living,” he said. “I’m seeing it now in the world, and for myself, that LGBTQIA people can do good things even if they’re (just) LGBTQIA people.”

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This is also what he eyes to do in life: Do acts so that others to see that not all gay men are weak, that gay people are also skilled. “What heterosexual people can do, LGBTQIA people can do, too.”

To people who belittle LGBTQIA people, Romnick Ampi said “don’t look down on us.”

Particularly for younger LGBTQIA people, Romnick advised: “Huwag kayong huminto o huwag kayong ma-discourage kahit sa ano man yung sasabihin ng ibang tao. Dahil hindi nila alam ano ang feelings ninyo as… LGBT. At ipagpapatuloy ninyo dahil alam ko sa bandang huli… and Panginoon nga may plano sa ating lahat (Not to stop being who they are; or be discouraged because of what other people say. These people do not know what you feel as LGBTQIA people. So just continue being who you are because I know that in the end, God has plans for all of us).”

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