MANILA, Philippines – Among the 70,000 attendees at this year’s Metro Manila Pride March on June 29 were 5 drag queens who looked out on to the largely young crowd and called them their apos (grandchildren).
The queens are part of the Golden Gays, a group of senior drag impersonators in Metro Manila. The group was founded in 1975 by LGBT activist Justo Justo, who opened the Home for the Golden Gays, a haven for homeless elderly gays in Manila.
The group not only provides a home for homeless gays, but also allows members to earn a little extra income through their drag performances. Cesar de Guzman, Justin Gonzales, Ruel Mendiola, Rolando Enciso, and Jose Ramirez Jr – also known as Didith Reyes, Sharon Cuneta, Lola Cherry Pie, Maganda, and Neneng Bagsik – are among the group’s drag impersonators.
Some of them, like Jose, Justin, and Ruel, had been performing drag for most of their lives, while others discovered it more recently – Cesar, for instance, had only started performing in drag some 4 or 5 years ago. He is currently 62 years old.
On the day of Pride, the 5 queens started early, and were sitting in the make-up chairs by 10 am. They don’t normally get their makeup done by other people, they said. But this was a special occasion.
As they got ready, each of them spoke of the struggles they had to go through as gay men – especially as gay men growing up in the Philippines in more unforgiving times. Cesar casually recalled how his own father hated him for being gay. Justin shared that he once got his wig pulled off by a stranger who teased him for being gay.
“Kailangan nakahanda ka sa ganyan…kailangan palaban ka rin, hindi pwedeng gaganunin lang kami diba (You need to be ready for stuff like that. You need to be ready to fight. You can’t allow them to do that to you),” he said matter-of-factly.
Ruel added that he had to live with his siblings even if one of them refused to accept him – he said he just wanted to prove that he is gay, but that doesn’t mean he is a bad person.
“Kahit papaano, nilalabanan ko, kasi kahit ganito ako, hindi ako perwisyo sa inyo, kasi hindi naman ako adik, hindi ako lasinggero, hindi ako naninigarilyo. Tumutulong naman ako. Hindi ako pasaway na bakla,” he said.
(Somehow, I fight against it, because even if I’m this way, I’m not a danger to anybody, I’m not an addict, I’m not an alcoholic. I don’t smoke. I help out. I’m not a hard-headed gay man.)
Eventually, he said they accepted him, to the point that they would ask him to perform in drag at family Christmas parties.
More than being a means to supplement their income, drag is also a refuge for the Golden Gays.
Rolando, whose drag name is Maganda, would smile shyly in his plainclothes, but in full makeup, he beamed.
When asked what he feels whenever he sees himself fully made up, he said “Mayroon din pala akong ganda (I have beauty too).”
In full makeup and costume, the queens are visions. And whatever semblance of them being self-effacing or shy before had completely vanished, serving looks as they posed through a mini photo shoot, wove through the thick crowds at the Pride parade venue, and stood atop their unicorn-bedecked float when the parade finally started.
Even as it rained, the 5 Golden Gays blew kisses to the crowd and greeted everyone a happy pride – no doubt buoyed by the cheers they got from the younger LGBTQ+ generation, whose acceptance and respect they were so grateful for.
“Napaka-overwhelming naman samin, talagang makikita mo sa kanila ang paggalang sa aming mga Golden Gay (It’s so overwhelming for us, you can really see how they respect us Golden Gays),” Justin said.
Ruel noted that this Pride March was bigger than the last one they went to in Luneta in 2016 – even if the weather was terrible.
He said: “Kahit umuulan, masama man ang panahon, talagang bigkis bigkis tayong mga LGBT (Even with the rain and the bad weather, we really came together as LGBTs).” – Rappler.com
Video by Naoki Mengua, editing by Emerald Hidalgo