Pride in pomp: Redefining the status quo through gay pageantry

Gay pageantry is more than a spectacle of beauty and talent; these contestants represent a loving community of queer people hoping to be embraced by the Filipino society.

A hallmark of the world of pageantry is that it shines the spotlight on candidates’ talents and personal advocacies through the celebration of beauty; but it is no secret that the LGBTQ+ community has elevated these events to awe-evoking heights. The community has fought tooth and nail to be where they are now, earning them every right to proudly proclaim who they are onstage. 

Gay pageants do more than just showcase the candidates’ physical allure and charm; they give queens the reverence they deserve. 

Redefining the beauty queen

When it comes to preparations for gay and transgender pageantries, there is little to no difference from that of its traditional, all-female counterpart. Candidate screening, deliberations, auditions, and rehearsals all play a part in the production and execution of these events along with the familiar costume, gown, swimsuit, and Q&A segments a queen must undergo before being crowned.

However, there are some who say that such gay pageants feed into the narrative that gay men are tolerated for entertainment rather than it being an avenue for their full acceptance; while there are still those who believe pageants are shallow and superficial—simply a common ground for the commodification of beauty and merely an ostentatious showcase of glamor. But for event organizer Marvey Bastida Cano and Cebu’s Queen of Minglanilla 2021 Angel Cabaluna, it means so much more than that. According to Cano, one misconception lies in the pageant prize. She discloses, “Hindi nila alam [na] ‘pag nagjojoin ‘yung isang contestant, lalo na ‘pag big show, alkansi na siya, dai. 

From the cost of cosmetic procedures to extravagant clothes, hair and makeup, shoes, and accessories, all of these are mostly shouldered by the contestants themselves. But more often than not, the winning prize hardly covers half of the actual money spent in preparation for the contest.

(They don’t know that when a contestant joins, especially when it’s a big show, it’s a loss.)

The motivation behind joining gay pageants is driven by the movement that allows the queer community to be seen, heard, and respected as a group of people living confidently and authentic to themselves, making all preparational expenses—no matter how costly—worth it. Cano explains that they hold these pageants “because we want our voices [to be] heard…so that our advocacies [and] ang among gipangandoy ang among gipangayo sa [local government unit (LGU)] mapadunggan ‘sad.”

(…so that our advocacies, efforts, and pleas to the LGU will be heard.)

Sharing the same sentiments, Cabaluna mentions that her hopes of impacting the lives of those who look up to her keeps her motivated. “I enjoy influencing others, especially the [younger] generation. They need to show who they are,” she shares with a smile. “They should not be afraid [of] showing the real them.”

Holding gay and transgender pageantries can change the general notion of what makes a woman, which breaks barriers for the LGBTQ+ community to pursue their glamorous and artistic passions in support of their identities. According to Cabaluna, by standing confidently under the spotlight and in front of hundreds of people, queens like her are able to present themselves to society and cement their rightful place. She brightly comments, “I’m very happy because majority [of] Filipinos are now [more] accepting [of the] LGBTQ+ community and that’s because of pageantry.” 

Building its foundations 

Behind all the charm and artistry that the world of gay pageantry so proudly flaunts—and rightfully so—stands the undeniable history of unjust hate and discrimination. Cano adopts a more serious and quiet tone as she relays how she was treated when she came out years ago. “Lahat ng diskriminasyon sa buong mundo, na-experience ko na…wala naman kang ginagawa…sampalin ka sa mukha,” she shared somberly. Cano confesses that she has even experienced this discrimination at the hands of her family, as they could never get over the “shame” that they felt over her true identity. 

(I have experienced all discrimination in the world…even if you didn’t do anything wrong…you would still get slapped in the face.)

Perhaps the most harrowing experience that she ever witnessed in her career was when a gay pageant contestant was forced offstage by their own father, as the latter burned their hair and garment. “I grew up with that kind of [scene], grabe talaga ‘yung mga discrimination…so that is why we struggle every day to promote the pageant,” Cano emphasizes. 

But the veteran pageant organizer quickly makes it known that, if anything, these experiences have only fueled the fire behind her passion to uphold the beauty of her community. She says wistfully, “I dreamt that someday, the discrimination would stop…I don’t want the new generation of today to [experience what I did].” Cano then posits more excitedly that it’s a future that is slowly being realized, as she notes that queer people are now more openly accepted than before. 

Cabaluna doubles down on Cano’s sentiments with an enthusiastic and optimistic tone. She quips that what inspires her to keep competing in these pageants is her love for fostering connections with her co-contestants and using these opportunities to spread love within the community. “We can enjoy [ourselves] onstage…we don’t feel the competition at all [because] that’s your sisterhood,” she conveys cheerily. 

Taking the center stage

Gay pageants have opened up a lot of opportunities for the LGBTQ+ community and increased their visibility in society. “Filipinos [are] slowly [seeing] Filipino gay pageants as [a pageant] with [a] purpose,” Cano comments. For people in the industry, life in pageantry does not end after the glorious night; it only marks the start of a queen’s meaningful reign, which includes activities such as community involvement and the realization of the winner’s advocacies. 

As a result, Filipinos today are gradually accepting gay pageants as something more meaningful. “Unlike before na tawa [lang tayo] nang tawa,” she opines. Both Cano and Cabaluna are optimistic that this slow progress will be a breakaway from people’s stigmatization of gay pageantry, irreversibly altering the general public’s attitude and view of it. 

(Unlike before when we would just laugh about it.)

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