David Haldane .
IN the end, it was a question of heels.
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 rooting for a potential 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 or, more specifically, what the gay rights movement has become. The libertarian in me, of course, believes that what consenting adults do in the privacy of their own bedrooms – or, to some extent, even in public – is nobody’s business but their own. Yet I am still conservative enough to wince when, as has happened in the US, a same-sex couple sues a baker for refusing to decorate their wedding cake. Or when public schools in California, my home state, teach five-year-old children that their “fluid” gender is a matter of choice rather than biology. It’s the kind of thinking, I believe, leading the charge towards a new Dark Age with America way out in front.
That said, it was with some eagerness and a great deal of curiosity that I attended the most recent Miss Gay Pilar Universe Pageant on Siargao Island. Pilar is not a big town. But with each of its 15 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. Once the thing got started, however, I found myself on fairly familiar ground; it was an almost blow-by-blow parody of the more famous Miss Universe pageants 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 ostensibly 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, despite some recent press claims alleging widespread intolerance, homosexuality is, in fact, not only tolerated but frequently celebrated even in the smallest provincial town. And the same people who claim to be good Catholics on Friday, apparently feel no contradiction in loudly cheering 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 morality of 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 lay simply in its unlikelihood; that, like so many other things in my intriguing new homeland, it’s a contradiction that logic can’t explain.
Miss Caridad didn’t win the gay Pilar fest, 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.
(David Haldane, a former Los Angeles Times staff writer, is an award-winning American journalist, author and radio broadcaster who recently moved to Surigao City with his Filipino wife and their eight-year-old son. This column tells the unfolding story of that adventure.)