Filipino and gay in Greece

Miles Viernes
Being openly gay in a country which still frowns upon public displays of same-sex affection has not hindered them from working

EVERY INCH A WOMAN. Bambie in Athens. Photo by Miles Viernes

ATHENS, Greece – Bambie in her pretty Filipiniana gown stood out among the other Reynas at the Santacruzan parade. 

The crown on her head matched the glow of her sweet, almost angelic face. She moved and glided as a royalty does, attracting the gaze of everyone. One could almost hear the “ahhs” and “ohhs” as she walked around  Zappeon gymnasium, site the of the 2012 Santacruzan in this city.

Bambie, who looks, talks and moves every inch a woman, is a transgender. Born in Sto. Tomas, Batangas, her real name is Diosdado  Mangampo, Jr. Five years earlier in 2008, she was crowned Ms. Gay Philippines- Greece. It was the first and last Ms. Gay Philippines- Greece pageant.

Nine years old pa lang ako, alam ko na bakla ako,” Bambie said. (When I was 9 years old, I already knew I was gay.) “ Mahilig akong sumayaw at kumanta.” ( I loved to dance and sing.) She was 19 when she had her first boyfriend. They lived together for about a year and 3 months. “All my boyfriends are younger than me.” 

Bambie underwent a major operation to augment  her breast. She also considered undergoing a sex operation but decided against it at the last minute.  “I asked for a sign from God,” she narrated. “May  pera na ako noon for the operation, pero  dahil sa isang insidente na di inaasahan, di ko na itinuloy.” (I had enough money then for the operation, but because of an unforeseen event, I decided not to go through with it.)

She looked at me misty eyed. “I have no regrets,” she quickly added.

Diosa in Athens

Bambie is one of the Filipino gays working in Greece. Two years ago she founded “Diosa,” an association of gays in Athens where she is acting president. With the help of its members, the first Mr. and Ms. Philippines- Greece was held in 2011 at the Danaos Theater in Athens. The following year, the pageant was held at the Athinaion Theater.

Before she came to Athens, she was with a dance group which performed in various television shows such as the GMA Supershow of Kuya Germs on Channel 7. She also worked as an entertainer in Japan until 2006 when Japanese companies stopped hiring entertainers from the Philippines.

As an all- around hairstylist and makeup artist, she has earned the loyalty not only of Filipino customers but also Greeks, Indonesians, Pakistanis and Chinese. Sometimes she gets part-time jobs as an event organizer for beauty pageants and talent searches in Greece. 

Bambie now lives comfortably and happily with her partner of more than 15 years, Juhn Jon Logronio.They have an adopted son, Jhuntine Brylle Logronio.

Bambie comes from a poor family. Her experiences and struggles growing up in her social milieu gave her the strength and determination to enhance her status in life. “Ang aking  hangarin sa buhay ay makatulong sa mga magulang ko at mga mahal ko sa buhay,” she said. (My purpose in life is to help my parents and loved ones.) “ she said. Her father died when he was run over by a train. From then on, her resolve to help her mother became stronger. “Lahat ng mga achievements ko sa buhay ay iniaalay ko sa aking ina at sa aking partner at anak. (I dedicate all my achievements in life to my mother, partner and son.)” 

A house and lot in Batangas and an SUV are just some of the properties she has acquired through hard work. According to Bambie, it was relatively easy to earn substantial income before the economic crisis in Greece. “Ngayon, kaunti na ang nagpapagupit,” she lamented. “Nagtitipid na sila.” (Now, there are fewer customers. They’re trying to save.)

Last year, a documentary about her life, produced and directed by Eliana Abravanel, was shown at the 15th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival. Titled Roughcut, the documentary features  Bambie as an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) working in Greece: her life experiences, sacrifices and achievements. It was also shown at the Danaos Theater here.

“Roughcut is a story about identity and choices, manipulative families, underlying racism and the sacrifices we have to make to feel like we belong. But is also a celebration of life and the joyful struggles to make ends meet, even if nothing seems to be going our way,” said Abravanel, a Greek visual artist and filmmaker, in an online description of the film.  Roughcut is her first full-length documentary. 

Thriving gay culture

The Filipino gay community in Athens is a small group of bakla, transgender and tomboy. But there are also a number of closeted gays who have married and are now living with their families in the city. Most of the baklas are hairstylists and beauticians, while the tomboys work as kasambahays.

There are no laws in Greece which prohibit same-sex sexual contact. In fact, ancient Greece and its territories had a thriving gay culture.

Although there has been big progress towards acceptance and tolerance of LGBTs in Greece, conservative social mores still hold considerable influence. And the Orthodox church has denounced homosexuality as a sin and “defect of human nature.”

FROM CLEANER TO HAIRSTYLIST. Reggie Mateo arrived in Greece in 2005. Photo by Miles Viernes

Reggie Mateo is another transgender working as a hairstylist in Athens. She entered Greece in 2005 through her sister who helped her obtain a work permit.  She first worked as a cleaner in a yatch. In 2010, the company went bankrupt and she found herself jobless. Fortunately, she learned the art of hairstyling from her sister and has since been working freelance.

Reggie hails from San Jose, Hagonoy, Bulacan. She comes from a big family of 8: 5 males and 3 girls. She supports her family and regularly sends money for their household and other needs.

Like Bambie, Reggie looks every inch a woman. She has enhanced her breast by taking hormones. However, she does not plan to undergo sex change. 

Reggie has never experienced any discrimination in Athens owing to her sexuality. She moves freely and is able to perform her everyday chores like all ordinary worker in the city. 

At 32 yrs old, she now enjoys living alone. “Iniiwan ko na ang mga guys,” she declared. (I have given up on men.) “Mag-iipon ako para makabili rin ako ng house and lot in the future.” (I want to save for the future and hopefully buy a house and lot, too.)

Father’s advice

DESIGNER. Vicon Viana makes good in Greece. Photo by Miles Viernes

Three years ago, the Philippine Embassy marked Independence Day at the embassy premises. The embassy grounds were transformed into an elegant showroom of Filipino culture. The guests were impressed with the unique Philippine–themed decorations and the exhibit of Filipino arts and craft. The overall concept and interior design were done by Vicon Viana in coordination with Embassy  staff. 

Vicon is one of the Filipino gays who has made it good in Athens. His services as an all- around  hair/make-up stylist and interior designer are in demand among the OFWs and Greeks especially during important events such as Independence Day, Santacruzan, beauty pageants and other events sponsored by the Filipino community. When the Philippine Embassy held its diplomatic reception in 2012 at the Ledra Marriott Hotel, he was again called to assist in the design and layout of the foyer leading to the reception area.

Vicon is an AB Mass Communication graduate from the AMA Computer College. Before he came to Greece, Vicon was  Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) Councilor for two terms in Barangay North Bay Blvd South, one of the 18 barangays of Navotas City. In 2004, he obtained a student visa to study at the Worldwide Studies where he finished a Mass Food Production course. Then he worked at a Greek coffee shop, Il Gatto Café.

As a freelance stylist, he now receives customers at his salon. In one of the Ms. Philippines-Greece pageants, he mentored and styled one of the contestants.

As early as when he was 9, Vicon realized he was “different,” as he was fond of making paper dolls. Luckily for him, his parents accepted him for what he is. His father did not ostracize him but advised him to behave, earn and keep the respect of his peers, friends and everyone he would come in contact with. Vicon followed his father’s advice as he entered college. It’s been one of his guiding principles until today.

Lagi kong iniisip ang bilin ng aking ama,” he said. (I always think of the advice of my father.)  he said. “Dito sa Greece, maraming Pinoy na naiinggit sa mga kapwa Pinoy na nakakaangat sa buhay. Hindi ko sila iniintindi.” (Here in Greece there are many Pinoys who are envious of others who have improved their status in life. I don’t mind them.)” 

At  present, he is supporting Allan Paul Perdiguerra  who has been chosen to be one of the contestants of The Voice Greece. He offered his services and assistance for free.

Vicon has been in a relationship with a Filipino for 3 years now. 

Courage to come out

FEWER CUSTOMERS. The crisis in Greece leaves Allan Carayag with few customers. Photo by Miles Viernes

At 9, Allan Carayag already knew he was gay. His playmates were girls and his crushes were boys. But he hid this from his parents. “Nahihiya at natatakot ako noon,” he called. (I was ashamed and afraid.). Oftentimes he wished that he would be transformed overnight from a “bakla to a tunay na lalake.” But that did not happen. When he reached high school, he gathered enough courage to come out.

Allan is the youngest of a family of two girls and one boy. “Minsan naisip ko ang kabaklaan ko ay dahil lumaki  ako sa piling ng dalawang babaeng kapatid ko,” he said. ( Sometimes I think I am gay because I grew up with two sisters.)

Allan graduated from the Batangas State University with a Bachelor of Science in Education degree. He also completed Cosmetology from Ricky Reyes. In 2007 he entered Greece with a working visa he obtained with the help of his sister already working in Athens.

Like Bambie and Reggie, Allan is also a popular hair and make-up artist in Athens. However, due to the economic crisis, there are fewer customers now. Many OFWs already returned to the Philippines for good.  In addition to her salon, he provides home service. And like other OFWs, he sends money to sustain the needs of his father.

He has had 4  lovers but never lived with any of them. At present, he is not in a relationship. “Pa-fling, fling na lang,” he said.

Allan has visited many tourist spots in Athens and  some islands in Greece.  According to him, there are many gay bars in Athens, like in the Gazi area. And he can feel or sense if one is homosexual. Lesbians are more open than Greek gays, he observes. “Marami sa kanila ay hindi pa lumalantad sa lipunan,” he said. (Many of them have not come out.)

Embassy worker

PART TIME. Perla Maningding cleans the Philippine embassy in Greece. Photo by Miles Viernes 

I see her everyday at the Philippine embassy at around 11 am. Sometimes I see her on the road walking to the embassy as I drive out for errands. I would wave at her, and she would smile, her right hand holding a mobile pressed to her ear. There was something in the way she moves and talks that indicated she must be one of the tomboys working in Athens.

I finally had the chance to talk to her during her free time. She said she has a girlfriend who is separated from her husband. Although they are not living together, they have a workable arrangement of spending quality time together.   

Perla Maningding works at the embassy as part-time janitress. She has been employed there for 7 years receiving salary on a per hour basis. Prior to this, she has done various jobs for Greek employers, such as car washing, taking care of a special child, and cleaning houses and offices. Before the economic crisis, she used to clean the second and third floors of another  office for 800 euros a month. But with the crisis, she cleans the second floor only with a much-reduced salary.  

Perla has been working in Athens for about 24 years. In addition to sending money to her family back  home, Perla has acquired a condominium at The Fort and a house and lot at the Cielito Subdivision in Caloocan. “Madalas pag winter sumasakit ang katawan ko,” she said. (Often during winter my body aches.) “Pero kailangang kumayod.” (But I have to work.)

Gay Pride

There are LGBT associations in Athens, Thessaloniki, Lesbos and Mykonos. Athens Pride, a LGBT parade has been held annually since 2005.  Thessaloniki had its own Gay Pride parade in 2012. But I have not seen many local gay or lesbian on the streets or in any of the places in Greece I have visited, save for one or two. Maybe I have not been that observant.

Bambie, Reggie, Vicon, Allan and Perla are just a few of the OFWs who are making good in Athens. Being openly gay in a country which still frowns upon public displays of same-sex affection has not  hindered them  from working, providing services to our kababayans and other nationalities. They all declared that they have never experienced or felt in any way discriminated against by the locals. In fact, they have earned their trust and loyalty.

In the face of opposition of gay rights in other countries, and in spite of the rigid conservatism of the Greek Orthodox Church, the openly gay OFWs in Greece  continue to be a source of inspiration for  our kababayans  and models for other LGBTs who have yet to come out in the open. –