Though it evokes Julius Caesar’s Ides of March, I.D.E. stands for ILOILO DRAG EXCELLENCE, June being celebrated as Pride Month the world over. I.D.E. is the fledgling collective of Iloilo drag families, led by their marvelous matriarchs: Farrah Berrada, Jaja Collins, Riri Ress, and the very vocal Venus Verosika (VV). Also part of Iloilo Drag Excellence are the mononymous Mama Jeyena and her daughters, Sadusa and Khiana. VV’s own drag children are Urainus Verosika, Naptune Verosika, Marsh Verosika and Scarlet Sugar. In ordinary life, meaning out of drag, VV answers to Roswil, a portmanteau of her loving and accepting parents’ names. She is a 22 year old undergrad at the West Visayas State University, studying to become a MAPE (Music, Art & P.E.) teacher. But on-stage, VV transforms as she towers over her rapt audience in 10” platform shoes. Quoth a drag adage, “The higher the heel, the closer to heaven.”
How these queens must suffer for beauty! Impermeable contoured foam shapes feminine curves, beneath several pairs of glittery nylon pantyhose. The heat they must bear is unimaginable, as electric fans feebly stir the still air of the B Lifestyle Complex’s roofdeck, located along the Diversion Road, in Cuartero, Jaro. At the B, every weekend from June to July, these fierce queens dance, prance, lip-synch and do stand-up comedy for a mixed audience’s delight. We caught their tribute to Disney Princesses on a Saturday. Thankfully, it was GP enough for the two young teenage girls who were with us, though we had to leave early come Cinderella time.
The B which has been proudly flying the rainbow flag since its establishment in 2016, has become a truly safe space for the Iloilo LGBTIQA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer/Questioning, Asexual) community, their friends, followers and fans. Iloilo is visibly awash in the visual arts. Buskers are busting out all over, as well as the usual solo acoustic acts, balladeers and show bands in clubs and such. But there seems not much else going on in the performing arts scene, not even in terms of college drama clubs or LGU theater troupes—or maybe these are just not widely promoted. Thus, the B fills a genuine gap, as a venue for groups like I.D.E. to share their unique talents.
As the long-awaited SOGIE (Sexual Orientation, Gender identity and Expression) Bill languishes, B has also hosted seminars on this, as well as on HIV Awareness and other reproductive health matters which so many Filipino youth need to be educated about. The Philippines still has among the highest rates of teen pregnancy and HIV among the young is rising. The international NGO, Youth Voices Count, represented here by its executive director, the Ilonggo Justin Bionat, who is also an advocate for the Ilonggo LGBTIQA+, is the B’s invaluable partner. Through Justin’s efforts, the 2023 Dinagyang which marked the full reopening of post-pandemic Iloilo tourism, was the first to feature drag performers. I.D.E. was founded soon after.
Iloilo City’s enlightened and progressive mayor Jerry P. Treñas knows that a society’s inclusivity, openness to, and tolerance for all varieties of peaceable humanity is a mark of true democracy, and good for business overall. Think of the proximity of the Bay Area to Silicon Valley, and how the American tech and retail companies (Apple, Amazon, Alphabet or Google and Walmart) continue to be the most profitable worldwide. Thus, in a 2021 post, May. Treñas praised the B’s manager, Roy Betita, for raising the rainbow flag in Iloilo City all year-round. May. Treñas further pointed out that aside from providing employment, “(The B) also offers a safe place to the community and uses the business as an avenue to champion LGBTQ advocacies.”
Venus Verosika is grateful for The B. Roy Betita who is proudly gay himself, gives every performer a decent professional fee. Mr. Betita knows that he himself doesn’t have what it takes to do drag, but has generously placed his entrepreneurial talents and wherewithal in its service. VV recalls another club gig where her professional fee was a can of Mountain Dew. Another time, while performing poolside at a resort, a drunk threatened to dunk her, then physically accosted her. She managed to hurl him into the water first, which earned her the admiring title of Smack-Down Queen. To his credit, the doused drunkard came to his senses and apologized to VV. Generally, Iloilo clubs do not tolerate disrespect or harassment of their LGBTIQA+ customers. Rowdy offenders are escorted out.
Many of the B’s patrons are regulars—mostly clean-cut yet cool millennials unwinding after work, couples on dates and a smattering of families with older children who can appreciate the humor and the artistry of drag. It is a well-behaved crowd which abides by the rules of drag show audience etiquette: Look but don’t touch. And do show your appreciation by applauding, but better yet by tipping, in the venerable drag show tradition. Before the start of the show, the B wait staff can break your big bills into more spreadable 20s and 50s. Share your joy.
Gay pride is not limited for the month of June in Iloilo. Drag shows have been scheduled at the B through all the weekends of July. One anticipates the build-up to October which has been designated as Iloilo’s own Gay Pride month (June is the international commemorative month). This weekend, VV’s hometown of Oton will have its own Express to Impress Pride Parade. Don’t expect the gay abandon of San Francisco, or even the Rio Mardi Gras. The Philippine Catholic Church still cannot separate itself from state or secular affairs, and makes sure that their conservative notions of public fashion decorum prevail. Bawal ang T-back. Meanwhile in this province of fiestas, what a milestone that will be when at the iconic Jaro Fiesta for Candelaria in February, the Ilonggo LGBTIQA+ Community might someday get to show off their own Queen and Princesses–charr!