By David Haldane
July 5, 2018
If she could just find a decent pair of high ones, Miss Caridad believed, she might have a shot at winning. So, Ivy, my sweet and generous wife, lent her a pair that we thought might fit the bill. And that’s how we ended up spending three hours last year rooting for the new Miss Gay Pilar.
When it was all over, our throats were sore from cheering.
In the interest of full disclosure, let me say at the outset that I am not a huge fan of gay rights. The libertarian in me, of course, believes that what consenting adults do in the privacy of their own bedrooms is nobody’s business but their own. Yet I am still conservative enough to wince when, as happened recently in the U.S., a same-sex couple sues a baker for refusing to decorate their wedding cake. And when public-school districts in California require employees to refer to students by their preferred gender pronouns rather than the ones with which they were born, well, I practically throw a tantrum.
That said, it was with some eagerness and a great deal of curiosity that I attended last year’s annual Miss Gay Pilar Universe pageant on Siargao Island. Pilar is not a big town. But with each of its fifteen barangays represented by a separate male contestant decked out in full female beauty-queen regalia, well, the event took on a hugeness all its own.
For starters, it happened in a large community gymnasium before a standing-room-only crowd. Having never attended a gay beauty pageant, I had no expectations. But once the thing got started, I found myself in a fairly familiar territory; it was an almost blow-by-blow parody of the more famous Miss Universe pageant I’d been watching on TV for years.
For those less culturally endowed, let me quickly summarize; just as in the larger heterosexual event, Miss Gay Pilar Universe contestants were judged prancing about in evening gowns, bathing suits, and ethnic regional costumes. They were also asked to exhibit their talents and answer pointed personal questions. And, as in the more famous contest, their performances in all those categories were judged by a panel of local dignitaries including the town’s popular female mayor.
In fact, she’s an open lesbian fond of wearing fancy white barongs with slick black slacks at local weddings. And therein lay the evening’s most delicious irony; what I was watching, I realized with a smile, was a woman pretending to be a man judging a bunch of men pretending to be women.
But here’s the puzzling part; how does that happen in a predominantly Catholic country favoring traditional family values? It is truly a dilemma because, as everyone knows, Church dogma on the matter is quite clear; homosexual behavior of any stripe is considered a mortal sin. And yet in the Philippines, even in the smallest provincial town, it is not only tolerated but frequently celebrated. And the same people who claim to be good Catholics on Friday, apparently feel no contradiction in loudly rooting for their favorite gay Miss Universe contestant on Saturday night.
To some extent this happens everywhere; people of all religious stripes don’t always live in complete accordance with the beliefs they allegedly espouse. But there’s something particularly charming about the innocence and enthusiasm with which it happens in the Philippines. Perhaps it’s the absence of any accompanying debate regarding the behavior, the simple tendency to enjoy, without judgment, something seen primarily as entertainment. And, of course, as many have said, this is a culture imbued with a natural sense of acceptance and friendliness towards, not only strangers but the strange.
Ultimately, I think, the charm of the Miss Gay Pilar Universe pageant lies simply in its unlikelihood; that, like so many other things in this intriguing country, it’s a contradiction that logic can’t explain.
Miss Caridad didn’t win the gay Pilar fest of 2017, despite my wife’s truly stunning high heels. In truth, though, it didn’t matter; for me, it was the most enjoyable evening in years.
A former Los Angeles Times staff writer and winner of a 2018 Golden Mike award in radio broadcast journalism, David Haldane fell in love with the Philippines on his first visit there in 2003. A few visits later, he also fell in love with the beautiful young Filipina to whom he is now married and, with whom, he has returned many times. David has written extensively about his experiences in the Philippines for several publications including Orange Coast and Islands Magazine. Today he and Ivy, along with their eight-year-old son, Isaac, divide their time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Surigao City, Philippines. His award-winning memoir, Nazis & Nudists, recounts, among other things, the courtship of Ivy and finding a place to call home. For David that turned out to be at the tip of a peninsula marking the gateway to Mindanao where he and Ivy are building their dream home next to a lighthouse overlooking the sea. This blog is the ongoing chronicle of that adventure.