On the front of the door of Nectar’s bathroom, the sign reads “we don’t care.” Behind it, 28-year-old Miggoy is putting on the layers that will transform him into Valeria, just in time for the gay nightclub’s annual Santa Cruzan parade.
Miggoy has come a long way to get to this point. He has been joining pageants since he was in high school – male pageants at first, and eventually, drag competitions, even winning one in 2014.
In 2017, he had to box up the yards of tulle, the sequined bodice, and all the other accoutrements that come with his drag queen life when he moved to Kuwait – a country where cross-dressing and homosexuality are punished by police brutality.
Over the past year, he has been working as a hotel receptionist – while putting on the affectations of a socially-accepted straight man whenever he is in public.
With Kuwait observing Ramadan, Miggoy has managed to take a month off to come home – and, by coincidence or fate, is right in time for the LGBT Santacruzan held by Nectar – BGC’s resident gay nightclub – every year.
By 10:30 pm, Miggoy is still the only Santacruzan reyna getting ready for the parade. Having already come in with a full face of makeup, it doesn’t take long for him to complete his transformation. He slips on a voluminous petticoat, squeezes himself into a skintight bodice, puts on the stiff terno sleeves, and drapes royal blue lace across his neck.
Before long, it’s time for his escort to help him wear his crown, an elaborate pearl-embellished creation. In 7-inch heels, Miggoy is too tall for his escort to reach so he gracefully falls to the floor as his tulle gown fluffs up around him.
Done in the corner of the bathroom, Miggoy’s coronation is perfunctory but also magical, and when he gets back up, he is no longer Miggoy, but Valeria.
The night progresses and the crowd piles into Nectar. Most of them are regulars at the club’s Wednesday night gathering – and their familiarity with the place is apparent in the way the way they strut confidently between the tables and waltz in and out of the bathroom like they own the place – which in a way, perhaps they do.
It is an undeniably beautiful crowd, filled with people so assured in their eccentricity.
Towering figures sashay in heels and slinky dresses, and their fierce, unsmiling faces are intimidating, but if you manage to find the courage to smile at them, they will reciprocate, and the point at which their sharp edges soften is a crowning moment in itself.
Many of the patrons are also in drag, because it isn’t just the Santacruzan that is happening that night, but also Nectar’s monthly drag competition – called the Drag Cartel – which has contestants face off in several rounds of lipsync battles before they go on a fliptop-inspired diss-off.
Having come such a long way, Valeria is prepared not only for the Santacruzan, but for the drag cartel too – which is just as well, because by 1130 pm, she is still the lone reyna in attendance, and the organizers decide to cancel the parade.
We expect disappointment or sadness when we approach Valeria – she has, after all, come a long way for this parade. But not even a shadow of dejection crosses her perfectly made-up face when she learns the news.
“Okay naman. Katuwaaan lang (it’s okay, it’s all for fun),” she says casually.
When the club is packed, host Peabo, resplendent in her own floral terno and crown, rouses the crowd and pulls up two willing volunteers to the bar to make out with each other for 10 seconds.
With people considerably excited, Peabo then awards Valeria “Best in Filipiniana” – a title she wins by default. When she is awarded, her dress and her reyna elena elegance finally get their share of the spotlight.
Signalling the begining of the drag competition, Peabo calls on Minty Fresh, the first ever winner of the Drag Cartel All-Stars, who emerges on stage channeling Ariana Grande and lipsynching to “No Tears Left to Cry.”
Amid all the fierceness and competitive confidence, Valeria – who has changed out of her terno and into a short white dress – quietly sidles off to the background. She is eliminated in the first round, as the more theatrical queens move on.
After a heart-stopping performance of Beyonce’s “End of Time” by last month’s winning queen, a contestant nicknamed Cobweb by the host, is named the winner. It’s not a surprise – after all, she spent most of the competition dangling from atop a pole and upstaging the rest with her over-the-top expressions.
Clearly, Cobweb took an aggressive, no-holds-barred approach to win her title – thought it isn’t necessarily a strategy that works for everyone.
Not for Valeria at least, who, when earlier asked what she thinks it takes to win a drag pageant, simply said, “Wala, be true to yourself lang.”
It is a textbook pageant answer, nothing we haven’t heard before – but this time it comes from someone who, after spending the better part of the year manning it up in Kuwait, is finally able to come home, break out the sequins and tulle, and don her crown proudly and freely, even for just a brief and blurry night.
Valeria may not have taken home the prize money or the title of Drag Cartel queen – but there is no denying that that night, she is a winner. – Rappler.com