February 9, 2009
Robin had a string of very public love affairs, most of them with well-known actresses. Rustom conducted his love life decorously and eventually married a famous beauty, the actress Carmina Villaroel. Some wags later claimed that he only did it because Carmina was the only girl who could match his prettiness.
They were married for several years until, abruptly, Carmina announced their separation and eventual annulment. Despite the inevitable gossip, nobody could get either party to admit to the 'truth.' Instead, all the press got were the standard vague disclaimers of 'incompatibility' and 'it just wasn't meant to be.' Rustom flew to the US where he lived for another few years. When he returned, he sported blonde hair, a slimmer physique (he went through a frenetic bodybuilding phase during his acting star days), and less inhibitions. He entered the Pinoy Big Brother competition and, in one of its highest rating episodes, admitted that he was gay. The news was met with a mixture of cynicism and sympathy. Cynicism, because the news was not exactly surprising. Sympathy, because Rustom's family was well-known for its alpha males, evidenced by Robin.
I met Rustom at the time of his coming out, or rather at the cusp of what he called his 'continuing evolution.' My boss--who was a friend of his landlady--brought him to our office to see how we could help him get started on a website or a blog. We sketched plans of a character that he would like to play, a woman named Gandanghari, which he translates as "the beautiful king." We'd thought of letting this character develop for a while in POC (http://www.thepoc.net), our news website, while we figured out where we were heading. Rustom was very unsure of himself. He didn't know whether he had the skill and confidence to pull Gandanghari off. He was particular about how he looked, how he moved, how his arms seemed so clumsily male. He started taking ballet classes to shape his body, practiced walking around on heeled shoes to balance his posture, before flying to New York to get the necessary solitude he needed in order to 'find' Gandanghari.
Three months later, he swanned into the Ninoy Aquino International Airport wearing a carefully knotted scarf, Dior shades, and red four-inch-heeled boots. His arms were definitely no longer 'clumsy' and he seemed to have magically grown hips. When asked about his identity, he declared that "Rustom is dead." He is now BB Gandanghari. BB, for Binibini (Miss). BB, for Be all that you can be. "A god-fearing lady. Emotionally, mentally, physically, financially."
The entire country went bonkers.
In the month since BB Gandanghari came back, he--or rather, she has been requested to appear on all the covers of the four major showbiz glossy magazines, interviewed in major primetime talkies, won half a million pesos in a game show, spoke about being "naked before God", and asked to host the awards night of the very hip Creative Guild of the Philippines whose theme this year is "Change is good." She has also been the subject of speculation on subjects ranging from a supposed sex change (no, it's au naturel, BB claims) to her love life (BB says she's a 'good girl') to her relationship with her brothers (who manfully swallowed their indignation on national TV and settled for an attitude of stoic forbearance).
People seem endlessly fascinated by BB, whether out of prurient interest (did she or DID she) or genuine curiosity. She exudes a certain powerful mystique in a country that has stereotyped gay people as either flaming queens, comedic diversions, or social rejects. Nobody quite knows what to make of BB. She doesn't pander to the stereotypes. More to the point, she doesn't seem to actually care. She goes to interviews wearing her Dior shades, red lipstick, and very skinny jeans. She nibbles on fruits and sips white wine while she ponders her reflection during photo shoots. BB says she doesn't concern herself with useless existential introspection. Her only goal is to be beautiful. Being all she can be, fabulously.