This is part of #KaraniwangLGBTQIA, 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 LGBTQIA 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.”
“Saan naman nila ako papupuntahin (And where will they make me go)? Force me to live in the streets?”
So said the then 95-year-old Mother Leony, at one point one of the “matriarchs” of the Home for the Golden Gays (HGG, which used to be a halfway house for senior LGBTQIA people, though now mostly a figurative ‘home’ that serves as a social group of senior LGBTQIA people).
Outrage Magazine started engaging with Mother Leony in 2012, and (At least we’d like to think so – Ed) some form of closeness developed over time, so that he became one of the resource persons on the issues facing senior LGBTQIA Filipinos during the 4th LGBTQIA National Conference in Cebu City in 2017. He was interviewed again in 2020 to provide his perspectives on Pride as a senior gay man. Verbose, Mother Leony loved talking about his experiences; he didn’t care if listeners found some of his stories lewd/vulgar, he just had to tell them… and hoped others could learn from them.
And then Mother Leony passed away, a few years before reaching 100.
GLIMPSES IN THE PAST
Hailing from Samar, Mother Leony was frank in admitting being a sex worker when he was still young, servicing clients in the US military bases of Olongapo City in the 1950s to the 1970s.
Times were hard, he admitted. And he had to “find ways to make do.”
In 1977, Mother Leony decided to move out of Olongapo City to settle in Pasay City, where he said he continued his sex work in the clubs not too far from where the HGG eventually held its first office.
Many times, he recalled, he had to “pass” as a woman not only to avoid getting discriminated, but also because he could earn more as someone pretending to be female. “Ipit (Tuck it in)” was the secret of the trade, he said with a laugh. That and “not being regularly seen so people can’t gossip about you.”
Mother Leony was unable to recall when – specifically – he retired from sex work. But he was sure that by then, he already lived in HGG. He was actually one of the few HGG members who were actually given an actual place to occupy (since other HGG members only went to the halfway house just to attend social gatherings); it was in a place also supported by Justo Justo, though not in HGG.
When HGG’s founder Justo Justo died in 2012, Mother Leony expected to be kicked out of the place where he was living in. But then, “Diyos ko, sa edad kong ito, saan nila ako papupuntahin (My God, at my place, where will they send me)?” he recalled thinking.
All of Mother Leony’s siblings already died before him. And most of his other relatives are abroad; he didn’t really know – or care – where they may be.
At a certain point, he said, the people in HGG became his “only family”.
And so the owners of the place that where he stayed at (an “extension” of HGG) allowed Mother Leony to stay. But they asked him to move to a smaller room, where “kasya lang ang isang kama para matulog ka; parang kabaong (only a bed fits for you to lie down; like a coffin).”
By 2017, due to his age, Mother Leony already underwent various surgeries – e.g. for his hernia, prostate enlargement and eye problems. His healthcare expenses were all covered by financial support from friends in politics and his church.
“In my many years of living on earth,” he said, “I learned that may selective support talaga (giving support only to select people is real). And some are luckier than most.”
In his twilight years, Mother Leony said he wanted to remain optimistic, and “isipin ang mga saya sa buhay (think of the joys in life),” he said.
On dying, Mother Leony said: “Huwag na muna isipin, darating din ‘yan. Kung dumating, may emergency numbers. Hayaan na ‘yung makakasagot ang mamroroblema (Don’t think of death now, it will come soon enough. When it does, there are emergency numbers to call; let those who answer the calls worry what needs to be done).”
Liking to find the funny in situations, he openly expressed that when he died, he preferred to be cremated. But – laughing loudly when he said this – before the cremation, he wanted for a long wake to be held for him, with his body “dressed and made up beautifully every day – a la Die Beautiful.”
Due to COVID-19, he never got that wish.
WANTED: LIFE WITH DIGNITY
But Mother Leony’s voice continues to reverberate.
“Pride is to live – and die – with dignity as who you are,” he said to Outrage Magazine on one of the few times he looked serious. And then, with his face breaking into a wan smile, seemingly bitterly: “Meron na ba kami niyan (Do we have that already)?”