THIRD-WORLD BABY I was born and raised in dirty, crowded, polluted Manila. I'm a third-world baby. My dad was a non-practising lawyer and my mum an accountant, they both worked in the civil service. It was a fairly easy childhood, a comfortable life. My mum, however, always wanted a baby girl. She dressed me and my younger brother up as girls on our first birthdays and we had Barbie dolls that she left lying around the house. Our family jokes that we came out of my mum's womb dressed in a tutu. My parents were very accepting of my brother and me being gay. When we were kids they had gay friends and didn't hide them from us. My mum is on a mission to be the saviour of gay boys around the world, to tell their parents, "It's OK."
THE RIGHT MOVES I discovered my passion for performing when I was nine. My dad enrolled me in a judo class. I enjoyed it, but the teacher said, "You are not angry enough!" Why did I need to be angry? I'm a happy person. I asked the school to move me to the dance class. They said, "We have to speak with your parents," and I lied and pretended they already knew and so I got moved to jazz dance class.
I got kicked out of university because I was always either out on a date or rehearsing for a theatre company. So I started working for a TV station, but I decided this was not for me, and went back to dancing. I got a scholarship with Steps Dance Studio (accredited by the Royal Academy of Dance, in London) and a year later, I was offered a scholarship for Ballet Philippines. It sounds prestigious but, financially, it wasn't. I was paid HK$400 a month, not even enough to cover my taxis there and back. So I worked in the PR department of Ballet Philippines in the mornings and rehearsed from 2pm to 10pm each day. In 2005, Hong Kong Disney did a massive recruitment drive in the Philippines. Eleven of us from Ballet Philippines, including four principal dancers, got a contract. That was half the ballet company. My salary went from HK$400 a month to HK$13,500; we couldn't believe it. I was a dancer in the (Festival of the) Lion King (at Hong Kong Disneyland)! I got bored after three months, but I was with Disney for three years. My mum and my dance teachers persuaded me to stay, saying, "A hungry artist is not a happy artist."
WHAT A DRAG My drag career began in 2006, when a friend married a British guy and some of us made a farewell video for him with a drag scene. The gay bar Volume (now in Sheung Wan) had just opened and my friend's new husband had been involved with it. They were looking for an act for one of their VIP nights. Four of us, all Filipino friends from the Lion King (festival), did a show. Evan (Steer) from Volume called me to say everyone loved it and they wanted to make it a regular slot. He gave us a list of names to choose from and everyone agreed Chiquitta was the one for me, because I was the most exotic. When I signed her up on Facebook I had to give a first and last name, so it became La Chiquitta. Soon after, I had my first gig in Macau - a party for Cirque du Soleil - and I had to learn to do my own make-up, fast. They would pay for new costumes, ferry tickets and hotel rooms. They became my favourite clients.
DOUBLE DUTY People sometimes say I sound schizophrenic because I talk about Chiquitta in the third person, because, for me, she is a completely different person. She has a separate Facebook profile, separate Twitter account, Instagram account, even a separate bank account. When La Chiquitta's career was starting to take off in 2007, she was appearing three times a week. She would say yes to every gig and just ask, "Free drinks?" I was so tired. Now we set a standard rate for her and don't do as many club shows, because those are the most exhausting. Hong Kong is not a paradise for gay people, but it's easy to be a drag queen here. The worst comment I've ever heard is, "Woah, I thought she was a girl!" I used to get nasty comments from sex workers in Wan Chai because they probably thought I was competition. But, in 2009, I released my first single, Tranny in the House, and since then I've made friends with some of them. Last year, I decided I was sick of clients requesting that song, so we released another single, Party Responsibly, which is about taking drugs responsibly.
DAMSEL IN DISTRESS Last year I was on the verge of clinical depression. I had just ended a relationship, I was jobless and La Chiquitta was the only thing that saved me. Now I am recovering and I'm dedicated to making Chiquitta's career flourish. I'm taking the back seat as Rye now, Chiquitta has to be rewarded for all her hard work last year. She paid the bills. Rye is really an introvert, more of a homebody, and Chiquitta is the showgirl. Rye cannot perform any show without a rehearsal, whereas Chiquitta just puts on her lashes and she can perform. She is a darling. She can talk to anybody. Rye is bad at making friends and small talk. Chiquitta is the part of me I wish I could be, but cannot.