He admits he is no spring chicken. But he said that he is still young at heart. This even if he has abundant life experiences, many of them memorable if not painful ones.
The ignorant people he met call him “baklang walang pinagkatandaan (a gay man who never learned).”
But on that particular afternoon, when the “sunset beauty queens” were being celebrated, he referred to himself as a “butterfly in disguise.”
He introduced himself as Rica Ramasamy.
He is 60 years old. Homeless. And gay.
He came from a group of gay senior citizens, most commonly known as the “Golden Gays of Pasay”.
Rica has been a member since 1982.
The bitter relationship he had with his family, particularly with his mother who refused to recognize him as her son because he’s gay, pushed Rica to ran away from home.
“Sa pamilya namin, ayaw na ayaw nila ang may bakla, lalo na ang nanay ko. Pinaramdam at pinamukha niya talaga sa akin na ayaw niya ako. Kaya ako umalis noong bata pa lang ako (In my family, they did not want gay people, particularly my mother. They always made me feel unwanted. So I left home when I was still young),” Rica said.
Throughout the years, he struggled to make a living. He even tried to reach out to his other family members, but all of them, just like his mother, shamed him away. He slept on pavements and sustained a living on his own.
After years of living by himself, he discovered the Home for the Golden Gays and joined it. He has been very active member since then.
The happiness he felt in finding a new family was challenged when he received a bad news.
“Noong 2007, nabalitaan ko mula sa isang kapamilya ko na namatay na ang nanay ko. Hindi ko alam kung ano ang gagawin ko noon. Sobrang tagal ko ng hindi siya nakikita, more than 25 years, tapos mababalitaan ko na lang na patay na siya (In 2007, I heard from a family member that my mother passed away. I didn’t know what to do then. I didn’t see them for years, more than 25 years, and then I just suddenly heard that she already died),” Rica tearfully recalled. “Hindi ko talaga alam kung paano ko siya haharapin. Hindi ko man lang siya nakausap bago siya nawala. Sobrang lungkot ko noon (I couldn’t imagine how I would have faced her had I been given the chance. I was not even able to speak with her before she died. I was so sad at that time).”
He thought that when his mother passed away, his family would finally welcome him back, but he was wrong. They continued to hate him, and they even requested him to end all the connections he had with them.
The Home for the Golden Gays became Rica’s life. He stayed there and treated the members as his family.
“Naramdaman ko ang tunay na pagmamahal ng isang kapamilya sa piling ng mga members (of the Golden Gays). Hindi ko ipagpapalit ang kasiyahan na ito (I felt the love of a family from the members of the Golden Gays. Nothing can replace this),” Rica proudly said.
But the comfort and happiness he felt there didn’t last, too. When Justo Justo (known to many as JJ) passed away in 2012, the Home for the Golden Gays closed its doors, the members were asked to vacate the house by the family of JJ.
“Wala kaming choice kung hindi umalis. Sa madaling salita nag-scramble kaming lahat (We didn’t have any choice but to leave. In short, we went our own ways),” Rica said. “Lumipas din ang ilang buwan bago nag-decide si Mon Busa, president of the Home for the Golden Gays, na ituloy ulit ito. Hinanap niya kaming lahat. Sa awa ng Diyos, nabuo niya kaming lahat ulit. Pero hindi na kami sama-sama katulad ng dati (Months passed before Mon Busa, president of the Home for the Golden Gays, decided to re-organize us. He looked for all of the members. In God’s grace, we were all re-organized. But we do not live together as we did in the past).”
After they were sent away, most of the members begged their families to take them back. But Rica didn’t have the same option; he has no one to run back to. He was forced to live on the streets, sleep on sidewalks, and run for cover whenever the rain came.
He was once again homeless.
He depended on the donations the Home for the Golden Gays receives from its sponsors.
Several weeks after, his fate changed, when a barangay official saw him sleeping on the sidewalk.
“Hulog siya ng langit (He is a gift from heaven),” Rica said. “Sa labas lang ako natutulog, sa may kalye. Nakita niya ako tapos kinuha niya ako. Nakiusap siya doon sa may-ari ng isang bulok na apartment para payagan akong patirahin doon. Kahit na sira-sira na ‘yung apartment at butas-butas na ‘yung bubong, malaking pasasalamat ko na doon. At least hindi na ako sa kalye natutulog (I used to sleep on the street. He saw me, and he took me in. He spoke with the owner of one dilapidated apartment to allow me to stay there. Even if that apartment is dilapidated and the roof leaks, I am still thankful. At least I don’t sleep on the street anymore).”
And the goodness of the barangay official didn’t stop there.
“Ginawa akong barangay sweeper ni kapitan (I was employed as a barangay sweeper),” Rica smiled. “Kahit hindi ganun kalaki ang binibigay sa akin sa pagiging barangay sweeper, sobrang laking pasasalamat ko kay kapitan. Binigyan niya ako ng pag-asa (Even if I don’t get paid a lot as a barangay sweeper, I am still thankful. I was given hope).”
Aside from the ample earnings he regularly gets from being a sweeper, Rica continues to be active in various activities of the Home for the Golden Gays – to be with his “family” and to give entertainment to their sponsors. His lifestyle depends on how much he earns from the barangay and on the number of sponsors that would come in a particular month.
TIME TO SHINE
One of the most memorable events for him was when Trippers Philippines sponsored an outreach program, a beauty pageant that highlighted the Golden Gays. It was a beauty pageant like no other, with the contest filled not just with colorful jokes but with emotional narratives. It was a moment for the sunset beauty queens, a parade of the forgotten.
And in the end, the “butterfly in disguise” triumphed among the others. Rica won the title.
On that particular afternoon, the homeless 60-year-old gay street sweeper was the queen.
“Hilig ko talaga kahit noong bata pa ako ang magsuot ng magagandang damit, mga gowns, ang rumampa sa entablado. At my age, kaya ko pa rin ‘yan (Even when I was young, I liked wearing nice clothes, gowns, sashay on sage. At my age, I can still do that),” Rica proudly said.
But it was also a victory for the Golden Gays, not just for Rica. Because for a time, they were remembered.
“Kung bibigyan ako ng pagkakataon na baguhin ang lahat, hahayaan ko na lang na bumalik ako sa ganito, dahil naramdaman ko ang saya at ligaya. Although hindi ako malapit sa mga pamilya ko, kaya ko naman buhayin ang sarili ko. Masaya ako… masaya ako na kapiling ko ang mga Golden Gays (If given the chance to change things, I’d return to when we were together because that was when I felt happy. Although I am not close to my family, I have been able to sustain myself. But I am most happy… when I am with the other Golden Gays),” Rica said.
Then turning political, he appealed to the government to have more tangible efforts for mature aged LGBTQ Filipinos. “Sana dagdagan nila ang pagpapahalaga sa mga LGBTQs. Sana naman ipukaw nila ang paningin at pag-iisip sa amin. Bigyan nila kami ng halaga. Hindi naman kailangan masyado, ‘yung sapat lang para mamuhay kami ng normal (Hopefully government officials start recognizing the worth of LGBTQ people. May the government officials open their minds and eyes about our realities. They have to see our worth. We are not asking for much, just enough to allow us to live normal lives).”