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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.