New Year celebrations are pretty standard throughout the Philippines. Families often celebrate together on December 31 with karaoke, fireworks, and lots of San Miguel beer. But in Minalin, Pampanga, a sleepy town about 70 kilometres north of Manila, festivities take a turn. Here, grown straight men wear duster dresses on New Year’s Day, and parade around town while doing their best impression of a woman.
It’s the Aguman Sanduk (Fellowship of the Ladle) festival, a tradition that roots back to the 1930s. At the time, the town was plagued with famine and drought, and the event was a way to entertain and uplift the people. The ladle was meant to symbolise abundant food. The cross-dressing is a little bit harder to explain. It was just really funny, so they kept doing it.
“I’ve been participating in this festival for 71 years,” Lolo Luciano, 71, said, explaining that the annual event is embedded in their town’s tradition. This year, he danced vivaciously in the crowd while wearing a blue bandana around his neck and a white duster with green and purple flowers. Peeking through a ruffled sleeve was a tattoo fit for a tough guy.
What started off as just a small parade now includes inter-village dancing and acting competitions, with some pretending to give birth in a skit performed in front of a crowd. It ends with crowning the Aguman Sanduk Queen, the ugliest cross-dresser of them all.
Aguman Sanduk might just be the straightest, most masculine drag festival in the world. Members of the LGBTQ community are noticeably absent from the spotlight. The first time they joined the parade was in 2011, with a float featuring gay and trans people. While they take part in the street parties today, they’re banned from joining the muse and escort competitions, which are exclusively for straight men.
“Last year, I dressed up, but then removed the duster dress because I felt shy,” Angelo Garcia, an out gay teenager, told VICE.
Gay men and trans women usually only participate in behind the scenes roles, like as makeup artists and designers.
To many, it’s the irony of tough men acting stereotypically feminine that makes the festivities hilarious.
A Minalin resident told VICE: "They’re macho men in women’s clothes."