A burned, dilapidated house is being renovated in one of the streets of Pasay. What used to be filled with laughter, singing, and playful banters is now empty of its tenants, only occupied by the workers rebuilding the destroyed house. This used to be the home of the Golden Gays, a group of old gays brought together by their now deceased founder, Councilor Justo Justo.
The merciless fire engulfed the home of the Golden Gays and took with it not only their makeup, wigs, gowns, and numerous awards, but also their treasured photo albums that captured years of precious, priceless memories.
Hidden in living colors
Colorful wigs on their receding hairlines, glossy red lips, sparkling gowns, and confronted by blinding camera flashes—that’s when the lolas are at their happiest. As cross dressing reflects their vibrant characters, it as well fills their elixir of youth.
“We feel as if the whole world stops, and our aging also stops. [Cross dressing] delays our aging process,” says Ramon “Mon” Busa, the president of the Golden Gays. Mon has taken it on his shoulders to continue the legacy of Councilor JJ (Justo Justo), the founder of the Home for the Golden Gays, after his death in 2012.
Underneath the colorful costumes, however, lies the struggles of these homeless queens to stay on their feet without a permanent place. The City Hall has told them there is no available space for them and their countless attempts to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) were ignored because they were told support was only given to “regular” males and females.
“Do we no longer have the right to be happy, or at least, to live in comfort just because we’re gays?” Mon expressed in dismay.
Even with the odds of their daily lives, and the non-acceptance of society, they remain hopeful. Mon says that perhaps it’s because the sexual orientation of gays are different. They always have their way to convert the difficulties into something funny. Whenever they get together, every story crackles and pops with humor.
“It’s like a teleserye which has a hilarious ending,” he added. That’s how the show goes on, undeterred by life’s harsh hand.
“We are like a broomstick formed by different battles and experiences of people with different traits,” Mon metaphorically said. It is their past that made them strong enough to sweep away all the challenges that come their way, stories that are hidden underneath the vibrant makeup and have yet to be told.
A place to call home
The Golden Gays accommodates more than 50 different lolas, but because of the fire, some have decided to return to their homes and families in other cities. This is the story of Frederico Ramasamy and Evangeline Reyes, now known as Lola Rica and Lola Myla.
Frederico “Rica” Ramasamy was born and raised in Zamboanga City. Rica spent a huge chunk of his childhood working odd jobs such as selling goods at school and carrying boxes at the neighborhood palengke (wet market). He also fondly remembers how he was very active in dance contests at school and how those contests became the catalyst to awaken something inside him.
“Noong grade six na ako, madalas kasi may mga sayawan. Nakikita ko yung mga babaeng naka–lipstick at mga suot nilang mga palda (When I was in grade six, there was a lot of dancing events. I saw the girls with lipsticks and in skirts),” Rica says as he gestures to his legs and face, mimicking the lipstick and skirts the girls used to put on. His exposure to those things sparked his curiosity and recalls putting on his sister’s clothes and lipstick on, basking in the moment, only to be interrupted by his mother.
His parents were not at all pleased. “I was slapped and cursed at by my own mother,” he shares in Filipino, with tears in his eyes. “She then told my father. When he came home, I felt the chair hit my back.”
Rica explains that his mother wrote to his two sisters living in Manila and asked them to take him in because she was getting angrier as the days went by. “My mother explained to my older sisters that she couldn’t stand to see me being gay. [She said] it would be best if I was away from her.”
Even up to this day, the idea that his family never understood him reduces him to tears. “Hindi ko nakamtan ang pagmamahal ng magulang at magkakapatid na kumpleto, hindi katulad ng iba (I wasn’t able to get the love from my parents and siblings, unlike other people).” He tearfully explains. “Ang discrimination sa akin nagsimula talaga sa loob ng bahay (The discrimination I felt really started at home).”
Once he reached Manila, he began to loosen up a little. He cites what a friend had once said: That he shouldn’t hide what he was feeling.
He was kicked out from school by his teachers since he was always absent. Instead of going to school, he went to visit the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and lumbered around the metropolis, from the boulevard, to Luneta and Sta. Cruz, and back again.
A few days later, as he was sweeping around the house, he heard his mother’s voice. His excitement, however, was greeted by yet another round of slaps and curses. “Sabi niya, ‘Lumayas ka dito sa bahay! Hindi ka kailangan dito! Lumayas ka, umalis ka!’ (She said, ‘Get out of this house! You are not needed here! Get out, leave!’).”
His mother got all his things and threw them outside, with him following suit. As the door slammed shut, tears fell on his cheeks. Lola Rica then spent the next seven years living under a tree in CCP. It wasn’t until the policemen came that he had to flee; he had no clear destination in mind when he ran, only the thought that he had to escape. Feeling hopeless, he considered going back home.
He was a split second away from deciding to do so when an unfamiliar voice call out to him. “He told me, ‘Hoy, bakla! Where do you go home?’”
Rica remembers saying he doesn’t go home. He had no idea that what the stranger would say next would change his life forever. “He told me, ‘You have a home. Come with me.’” The stranger happened to be Councilor JJ, and it was him who adopted Lola Rica in the Home for the Golden Gays.
Finding your purpose
As for Lola Myla, being gay didn’t come with as much discrimination. “I find strength in my beauty,” says Myla in mixed Filipino and English.
Lola Myla, also known as Evangeline Reyes, wasn’t originally a part of the Golden Gays and he didn’t intend to join. “Para na akong paralyzed if sumali ako (It’s like I would be paralyzed if I joined),” he said.
He worked as the make-up artist of the lolas, but eventually joined the group when they could no longer pay for his services. As he also aged, he grew tired of working. “I joined because I am already lazy to work. When I became one of them, I no longer have to think of my daily needs because everything was already provided,” he added.
He fell in love with the group he previously refused to join. “Ang mga bagay na hindi ko nakita sa pamilya ko, nahanap ko dito (The things that my family wasn’t able to give me, I found it here),” he expressed, “Kaya binigay ko na ang buhay ko dito sa Golden Gays (That’s why I chose to give my life here in the Home for the Golden Gays).”
Holding on together
The best thing about being a Golden Gay, says Lola Rica, is that he is finally able to express himself without fair. Amidst the struggles they faced growing up, from discrimination to financial worries, the Golden Gays have found each other—and each other is all they’ve got.
Lola Rica says, “We’re happy because we respect one another. That’s what we’re taught. We should all love one another because no one else is going to help us but ourselves because society looks at us differently.”
“Life must go on no matter what.”