He said, she said with Paolo Ballesteros
Cate de Leon (The Philippine Star) - July 13, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - In a showbiz culture where people clamor for confirmation of an artista’s sexuality, Paolo Ballesteros is a tease. And from his knowing smile, you get the feeling that he is not the one who is confused. Paolo knows who he is. He acts and speaks however he wishes to in public.  He even gives giveaway answers sometimes, but if you try to solidify it further, he will playfully retreat and deny it to your face.

Following a string of convincingly played transvestite roles, winning a drag pageant on Eat Bulaga, and more recently, Instagram photos where he transformed himself into the likes of Anne Hathaway, Angelina Jolie, and Mariah Carey with his own makeup skills, Paolo has been hounded for an explanation. And all he has to say is this, “Wala akong tinatago. Kung anong makikita niyo, yun na. Ngayon kung magtatanong kayo kung bakla ako, sasabihin ko hindi. Bahala na kayong malito. (I’m not hiding anything. What you see is what you get. Now if you’re asking if I’m gay, I’ll say no. It’s up to you to be confused.)”

You would think cross-dressing would be such a big jump for a hunky, handsome guy like Paolo, especially in a society that considers the image of masculinity to be so fragile and easily broken. But when you ask him about it, it becomes clear that while he’s aware of the current gender norms, he’s been bred in the kind of world that never considered such things to be a big deal. Even for his tranny antics on the noontime show Eat Bulaga, people only laugh and compliment him on how beautiful he looks.

Family background

He tells us about his family background. A descendant of National Artist Fernando Amorsolo, he grew up having a tomboy for an ate and an artist/painter for a dad, a dad who loved to paint flowers and would sometimes come home with an orchid tucked behind his ear. Then, of course, there is the becky-dominated world of showbiz. Now at 30, he says that he never saw anything wrong growing up and working in such an environment, and therefore isn’t afraid to play the kind of roles many a man would shy away from.

As an actor, he wants people to switch on the TV and see different forms of him — especially when it comes to the physical aspect, which is the first thing he looks forward to altering. He enjoys his transformations and every opportunity to fill in different shoes — hence, his new Instagram hobby. This is also why he didn’t mind eventually getting niched into gay and transvestite roles, when people started noticing what a beautiful girl he made. “Maraming characters na pwedeng gawin. Merong maarteng bakla, supladang bakla. (There are a lot of characters that can be portrayed. There are fussy gays, prissy gays.)”

While Paolo certainly has the air of someone who is sure of himself, unlike strong LGBT advocates who present a solid identity and fight for it, he considers himself to still be in the stage of discovery. When asked if he feels like a woman trapped in a man’s body, he answers, “Siguro, at feeling ko yung woman na yun beauty queen. Diva slash beauty queen. Ganun kalala. (Maybe, and perhaps a woman who’s a beauty queen. It’s that serious.)”

But when I ask him if he misses being hunky, he also answers in the affirmative. He says he can’t wait to hit the gym and bulk up, but currently can’t since he’s doing a lot of girly roles, especially for Super Sireyna. He has to check his schedule, he says.

Even his new fetish for turning himself into hot female celebrities was something he never saw coming. He promised there would be more Instagram photos to look forward to, and this time he’d be turning himself into male celebrities.

Tinge of frustration

There’s a tinge of frustration right after the interview. I felt like I wasn’t able to get anything concrete. Here was a person who insisted on shifting from one spectrum to another. I felt like I failed to catch him. But then I figured, what is there to pin down? Aren’t we all constantly evolving and discovering ourselves? Aren’t we all living, breathing paradoxes? Didn’t he truly show himself to me? I felt no trace of the tension that comes with being contrived or having to put up a front. Paolo was casual, unscripted, and open.

Is it possible I was too busy looking for something that fit into the compartments I knew of, instead of paying attention to his actual person? In fact, wouldn’t that have been the simpler way to “pin him down” so to speak. To just take him as was and not invent things to be confused about?

Maybe instead of trying to catch Paolo, we should consider that he has a thing or two to teach us about living in the process, about surrendering to the opposite poles of who you are, if that’s the case, and not being so uptight about what label you fall under. And maybe that’s why he doesn’t have the patience to keep explaining, confirming, and denying himself to the public. He authentically lives out who he is, and if you’re open to who that could possibly be and are truly paying attention, that should be enough.

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Tweet the author @catedeleon



Produced by DAVID MILAN


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