MMFF 2017 would probably be the only film festival where I gaily binged watch. It wasn’t by chance that I watched "Die Beautiful" with gay friends who at one time or another joined "Miss Gay University" by a gay group who called themselves "Knightingales."
Knights because the group was formed by Ateneans and tingales because they want to have ****els. Gay lingo, you see, has the most ingenious etymologies.
The several pageant scenes in "Die Beautiful" reminded us so much of the drama that would occur month before the pageant and during the Miss Gay University itself.
Most of the core members of Knigtingales were gay, of course, except for "Barbie" and me. (Charisse was fondly called Barbie but she was no Charice.)
The first time I watched their pageant, I complained about the lights and sound and helped out as the lean group running the show lacked production staff. Then I became the drill master.
My role was allegedly to put order in a roomful of chaos. Mine was the last word -- like the one-bag rule, one assistant per candidate, late comers and frequent absentees disqualified, and horror of all horrors, decided on the pageant questions.
The topics were patterned after the popular pageants -- Miss Universe and Miss World. The pageant’s core group discussed the issues and this was the fun part. Talks would be at the basketball court or cheap joints frequented by taxi drivers and those with hangovers.
The discussion would mean longs hours that turned into days and nights (or overnights) of discussing HIV/Aids, Proposition 8, discrimination, same-sex marriage, environmental degradation, cross-dressing, and whatever hit the headlines then.
If there were 21 candidates, there would be 25 questions. No one knew which question they’d get until the pageant night. So each candidate studied all questions and memorized answers which were edited for grammar and checked for pronunciation.
At times when I was dead tired but had to be at the rehearsals, I’d ask a candidate to recite the complete Table of Elements. No one till this day has took on the challenge.
I learned that during the semester when we held the pageant, some candidates "underloaded" to make time for practices that would fall during the activity hour -- 3:40-4:40 MWF. Most would diet weeks before the pageant and save for their costumes and make up.
At first, I didn’t realize what the pageants meant to the candidates. But just like the answers to the pageant questions, I found mine during the long hours I spent being with the Knightingales. The reasons were varied: coming out for the first time, the joy of being a female for a night, showing off. But for most, it was that feeling of being accepted, of being part of a kindred group.
I was kindred, I supposed, because they trusted me with their secrets specially the darkest ones. So from drill master I became the Mother Hen or Mother daf, if you like. At worst times, I was Miss Minchin.
Some of painful narratives I’ve heard were similarly woven into the story of Tricia Echevarria of "Die Beautiful." Like that night when the son of a high ranking military official was beaten by his father several times after finding "girly" stuff among his things. What girly stuff, I asked.
And though severely bruised, he managed to show the red stilettos that he hastily packed among his things before his father could shoot him. In between tears, we laughed and remarked that he’d make Gretchen Barretto proud as he ran away from home "in red stilettos."
As fact is stranger than fiction, the same person also suffered a cracked skull when he came home really drunk and fought with, again, his military officer of a father.
And yes, rape. There were countless stories that till now I would find hard to believe. Like one’s older brother conveniently setting up a gay younger brother with drunk friends in a common sleeping area; or a cousin who turned rough games into something damaging. Yes, there were school athletes too who wanted "extra service" aside from the usual shoulder massage. Or school security guards who knew which nook in the campus provided momentary refuge.
We dreamt of earning enough from the pageant where we could put up enough funds and send gays to college. But there wasn’t always enough. And as soon as they finished college, the dreams would be swallowed by the nightmares of corporate work or the pressure from their perpetually needy families. But what gay wouldn’t answer "world peace" when asked what would be their greatest wish?
As far as I know that is a gay candidate’s dream "ever since he was a little girl."
Thank you for that wonderful question. Bow. In red stilettos.