Clint Holton P. Potestas introduces us to the Queens of Cebu.
The talks have not dwindled at Cary Santiago’s atelier about the shenanigan of the stars—the jitters, the bustle, the rumors?—that has stirred curiosity even among society hawks, rocketing five of Cebu’s “of-the-moment” to instant celebrity status with whatever digital pedagogy: Twit, post, poke, Podcast, upload.
If diplomatic cables ever get leaked and reveal in large part what insiders already know, then an early disclosure will be that Queen is fashion’s newest pageant.
“This is the most prestigious pageant in the Philippines. I’ve already claimed it,” laughs Cary, the famous fashion designer to the stars, as the five victors of the third year of Queen are priming at the dressing room of his atelier for a television interview.
Three years later, Queen—Cebu’s pageant for transvestites—can now pull together the country’s elite. Twitting live from the event at the Grand Ballroom of the Waterfront Hotel and Casino in Lahug, real estate heir Divine Lee and boyfriend, actor Victor Basa, initiated the online trend.
Leading the glam gang, Ms. Spain Bee Urgello, the third Queen Universe installed, sits on the edge of the couch where the RCTV crew angles the interview; his court queues next, roll called in their female alias and their country assignment.
Ms. Greece Irina Glucksberg (Queen International) is rumored to have given out Hermes belts to his fellow candidates. Ms. Russia Alexandra Feodorovna Romanova (Queen World) is a graceful mover. Ms. Thailand Honey Lee (first runner-up) takes pride in dressing-up for the pageant while Ms. Japan Inday Sita Saita, who’s an entertainer in the same country, gleefully bustles about his “getting stronger” romantic relationship of 11 years.
How appropriate! “To protect its beauty,” answered Bee when The Buzz host Boy Abunda asked why the rose has thorns during the pageant night last Nov. 4, Saturday. True enough, it is a tongue-and-cheek phrase that seemingly sums up his real life drama I discover when I share a seat with him. Like vintage, silver screen catfights—Cherrie Gil slapping Sharon Cuneta or the Vilma Santos-Claudine Barreto’s mother-daughter hair-pulling—Bee draws from his very own pain of the past.
“It was a drama you see happening in movies,” he begins, recalling the time when he confronted his family and packed his bag. “I ran away from home because my family did not accept me. I mean, being gay was, at least, OK for them, but to dress like a woman is something they never accepted. When I left, my mom did not even allow me to use her luggage, so I packed my things in a Balikbayan box.”
Bee, the 25-year-old registered nurse who graduated Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Cebu-Banilad, is the only son of a business tycoon. He turned his back on the comfortable life: a house with a helipad in an all-elite neighborhood, an SUV, and designer frocks. In fact, he settled for a two-peso meal.
“I wasn’t happy. The comfortable life was nothing to me,” he goes on. “I did my own laundry, rented a small space, rode a jeepney, and prepared my own meal. I worked in a call center to support myself. There were times when I wanted to go back home, but then again, it goes back to the same question: would I be happy there?”
“There were really times when I wanted to surrender. I was laid off from the company, and I only have a hundred peso in my pocket. I budgeted it to last a week. For one meal, I had a two-peso bread at Anita’s.
‘You can go back, but you have to stop dressing up like a woman,’ my mom told me when I called her. But I gave myself a chance. I searched for a job, and there was a massive hiring in a call center company I read in Sun.Star. I was again employed and decided not to return home.”
And like screen drama, everything ends well. For almost a year now, Bee has reunited with his mother, father, and sister. “It’s a blessing. No matter what happens, we would always be a family. We reconciled during Christmas of 2010. We’ve healed the wounds. I regret running away from home. I’ve recognized my fault. I was too proud that I thought I could do it without them. If only we had a dialogue about the situation, the rift would not have happened.”
True enough, on the pageant night, his mother and sister were in attendance. His parents covered all the expenses for his preparation: the one-on-one catwalk training with beauty titlist Anna Maris Igpit and the flashy designer wardrobe. “I was very nervous. When I came out for the first time on stage in full costume, I immediately searched for them in the audience. I was relieved; nothing compares to the love and support of my family,” he beams.
“After three years, I can see that Queen has really changed society’s view on transvestites. People have become more open to the idea that transvestites can participate in nation building and that, like what this organization hopes to achieve, we can help the less fortunate. It sounds cliché, but I really feel good about visiting charity houses. I don’t know how far this goes, but I want to inspire people with my story—straight, transvestite, kids, or everybody who has been through ups and downs,” Bee goes on.
In the coming months, together with the Clothes for Life Foundation, he will be reaching out to the pageant’s beneficiaries: Little Lambs Children’s Center, Seven Sisters House of Mercy: Home for the Elderly, Sto. Nino Children’s Center, and the Our Lady of Divine Grace Orphanage.
Bee’s involved with a good cause, all right, so I move my question to a more personal conversation—gender reassignment and breast augmentation. “It’s not happening next year or in the next two years, but I’ve never closed my doors for it. I’m yet to think about it,” he explains.
Those men who thrive best in a bustier are no less different or greater than anybody else. Like every human God made, they, too, tell stories and write their own destiny.
Bee, whose beauty stood out that night and who’s blessed with humble beginnings, is above all, very easy to love. But somebody has already taken his heart.
“I am married to my crown,” he smiles, taking it off from his head, and then kissing it like it’s the most adorable child in the room.