Words by Lara L. Antonio | Photos by Kitkat Pajaro
Jackie Lou Blanco, and her daughter, Rikki Mae Dabao’s true-to-life (albeit positive!) Fun Home story and how they hope it will empower others too
“Holy shit!” Rikki Mae Dabao, daughter to TV and theater actors Jackie Lou Blanco and Ricky Davao, mutters to herself as she drops a cupful of sugar. From across the room, while she sits on the makeshift hair and make-up table, Jackie Lou Blanco mock-patronizingly says, “Mae! What did you do nanaman?”
It is the middle of the day, and we are inside Leona’s Art Café, along Maginhawa, Quezon City. The mother-daughter tandem are on opposite sides of the room: Jackie Lou Blanco fidgets with her phone as she gets her make-up done, and Rikki Mae—well, just dropped a cupful of sugar. Minus the cameras, the lights, (and the makeshift hair and make-up station), it feels like I’ve simply stepped into a conversation between the two of them—like they were out for coffee and pizza, and I just happened to be there to eavesdrop at best.
In truth, we’re here for an interview prompted by Fun Home: the Musical—a musical based on the graphic novel memoir of the same name, the very same one that Atlantis staged last month. To be quite frank, Fun Home is not at all like their lives—it is, in fact, the complete opposite of it. Their relationship is a picture of unconditional love and acceptance, marked by the support of a mother whose love—cliché as it sounds—knows no bounds, holds no judgement.
Like mother, like daughter: Jackie Lou Blanco and Rikki Mae Dabao strike a quirky pose
Lara: Can you talk a little bit more about your journey—how and when did you discover that you were gay?
Rikki Mae: The first time I felt it? Grade three. But at that time, you don’t really know na “oh this is what it’s called.” It’s not something that you really know how to label when you’re growing up. I knew that it was different. In terms of my journey—well, now I’m so open about it, but I did have that moment where I had to accept myself. I was with someone before and I couldn’t really say that ‘I liked this girl. I want a relationship.’ I just couldn’t. I knew my feelings but I couldn’t say it out loud.
Lara: When was that point where you felt the need to verbalize it?
Rikki Mae: It was only in third year high school that I realized… that I was forced to tell my mom.
Jackie Lou: Cause her girlfriend then wanted. She was having problems of her own.
Rikki Mae: She wanted… Parental support. And she knew that my mom is cool. She said, “Can we tell your mom?” And I said, “I don’t want to tell her—why, there’s no need?” But she kept insisting!
Jackie Lou: And then she told me, “Mama can we meet? I have something to tell you.”
Rikki Mae: We met up at Krispy Kreme in Galleria. And I remember we were there for an hour. It took me an hour or more.
Jackie Lou: Mae, I think it was much more! Ang tagal! We were just standing there. I already knew what she was going to tell me. She can tell me anything, so what else could she [say]?
Rikki Mae: And I knew that she knew cause she said, “Mae”—that’s what she calls me—“Mae do you want me to be the one to say it?”
Jackie Lou: I was trying to help her out. Pero, “No,” sabi niya. “I have to do it myself.”
Ricki Mae: For me, it was just a label. I know. Everyone knows. They all know. Why say it? But when you say it, it’s different. It’s something I had to do pala. I didn’t even say the words “I’m gay.” I said, “Ma, this is my girlfriend.” And then she said, “I know.” And then she cried. Because she’s emotional!
Jackie Lou: We were all crying! I think I cried because I didn’t have to wonder. I think I also cried because she was very courageous to do that. I had mixed emotions. I’d always say as parents we have our own dreams for our children. And we do: Okay, after she graduates… dito siya pupunta. Pagtapos nun, magpapakasal siya. Pagkatapos magkakaroon siya ng mga anak. I think I also realized that these are my dreams. This is Rikki Mae. She has her own life and she will make her own story. All of these things were just going through my head.
Rikki Mae Dabao recounts her coming-out story
Lara: When Rik came out, how would you say your relationship has changed prior to that and then after?
Jackie Lou: I don’t think it’s changed drastically. But I think the fact that she has told me just confirmed that she’s comfortable in her own skin. I don’t have to wonder. I don’t have to try and have her wear something, or whatever. It just makes things easier because you already know!
Rikki Mae: I felt like there was a big change. I mean we’ve always had a close relationship, she’s always been cool but when I came out to her—officially—it became easier to talk. I can ask her for advice. For me, it was really a big help. I learned a lot of things. It’s become a shared experience.
As a parent, I always think if we are not gonna support and understand our children, who else will?
– Jackie Lou Blanco
Lara: What about with the rest of your family? How did that affect your relationship with them?
Rikki Mae: My sister, Ara, she’s always known. “I’m not stupid.” That’s what she told me. With my brother, I think he found out the same day… he was the one who was really close-minded about it. With my dad naman…
Jackie Lou: Well, that’s another story there! (laughs)
Rikki Mae: You know with both of them it’s really a journey. Honestly, it’s a blur to me. Now, in my mind—“Oh happy times!” All of it. Growing up. But when we talk about it, I can really see the journey. Of how we’ve grown together, how they’re more accepting. Even me… I’ve become more accepting of myself. Now I say I’m so open, I’m so happy, and I like talking about stuff like this cause I like raising awareness, or helping people raise awareness, but it probably wouldn’t be that way if my parents weren’t so accepting, and supportive.
Jackie Lou: Di mo pwedeng ipilit din. You have to wait, sometimes. It’s a process.
Rikki Mae: Yeah, you have to understand that they might be overwhelmed. According to studies they liken the parents’ reaction to the stages of grief—DABDA: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and then acceptance.
Lara: You mentioned earlier that it is a process—can you talk a little bit more about that?
Jackie Lou: There are still times when I meet certain people—even if I am accepting—that at the back of my mind, you just know they’re gonna judge. Some days, you just don’t want to hear it. I don’t wanna hear them say it—baka awayin ko pa! For sure I will get to that point na eto na ‘to eh, kung hindi niyo gusto i-accept e di bahala na kayo. But it is a process. I think it’s a day-to-day thing. Until you’re totally able to live with all that judgement or worry, diba? It’s still like that and that’s okay.
Lara: On the other, more positive end, were there people who came to you after you went public about your daughter who were very encouraging and supportive of your decision to come about your daughter?
Jackie Lou: Oh yes! Right away. Right away. They would say thank you so much for your support for your daughter… We can see how much you love your daughter. It’s very brave of you. Especially because you’re an actress. And I’ve had a lot, in fact, I showed Rikki Mae—she was a mom—
Rikki Mae: She messaged her on Facebook.
Jackie Lou: She said, “Mahal ko talaga yung anak ko. But I’m having a hard time accepting, how did you do it?” So it’s also an opportunity for me as a parent and as another human being to tell her my journey and maybe make suggestions. You know sabi ko, at the end of the day, your daughter is so many other things. That’s just one part of it. What can you do? It’s all about love. That’s the basic thing. Now, the rest of the other feelings, you deal with it eventually, diba? So I think its nice that I’m able to reach out to other people who are going through the same thing.
Lara: What have you learned about yourself since you came out, and because of this whole journey?
Rikki Mae: It’s important to be yourself. Just in the smallest things. My dad and Mamita—
Jackie Lou: My mom—
Rikki Mae: —used to force me to wear dresses, but it’s really not me. And not just cause of my preferences; it’s not in my personality. In jeans I feel casual and comfortable. I can be kenkoy and goofy. It’s more about knowing who you are—and really making an effort [to do that]. It also helps you build your values, your principles.
Lara: What have you learned about yourself since Rik came out—and having to come to terms with that?
Jackie Lou: That you are not really to pass judgement on anyone, on anyone who has decided to come out, or has not decided to come out. Like I said, yes, as parents, we have dreams for our children. We will always have those. But then I think we should always remember that these are their lives. And they will have other dreams—they will want to go some other way.
Rikki Mae has gone through certain things that I didn’t agree with, and I did tell her about it. But as a parent, I think you can only be there to give advice and just be there whatever happens. We can’t shield our children from getting hurt. They have to make their own mistakes. It’s really all about love, even if maybe there are certain things you don’t agree with—the underlying emotion is always love. If you have an open mind and an open heart I think you will not go wrong.
And of course it is a process. Hindi mo pwedeng ipilit. I cannot tell another parent eh kasi ako ang dali kong natanggap. Di pwede ‘yun. They have their own issues, they have their own story, their own past.
Lara: Any advice for people who are going through the same thing you guys did? For the parents who haven’t completely accepted it… or for someone our age, or even younger or older who has realized that they’re gay and hasn’t yet come to terms with it?
Jackie Lou: For the parents, I think the fact that their children have told them is a blessing. Take it a day at a time. If they have feelings that they still cannot deal with then it’s okay. Like I said, it’s a process. But I think they should feel more blessed that their children have come out. That’s an opportunity for them to also say how they feel. And at least you know where your children are at, diba?
There are many children, not necessarily gay, but because wala silang mapagsabihan about their problems, they either go to a dark place or commit suicide. So if your children are opening their hearts, really just try to think about love. And try not to pass judgement.
As a parent, I always think if we are not gonna support and understand our children, who else will? I will feel worse if somebody else totally accepts my daughter tapos ako hindi. Anong nangyari sakin? Where was I?
It’s so wonderful when your children are able to share your heart cause there are many who will not. You won’t know what they’re going through. And time is really short. When your children have their own lives, they won’t be with you as much. I consider myself lucky because my children, they talk to me. They spend time with me.
When was it ever wrong to love someone?
– Rikki Mae Dabao
Rikki Mae: I’m gonna address it to four people. For the people who have come out and whose parents are already accepting, aside from being grateful, maybe you can do your part by helping those who you know are having a hard time coming out. Pay it forward.
For the ones who aren’t out yet, don’t feel like you have to [come out]. Just remember the first reaction is not always the last. And like what we said, it’s really a process. It may take months, years. Understand that your parents are also coming from a different perspective. Maybe you don’t understand them, and they don’t understand you. It’s all about perspective.
For the ones who have come out but are struggling to come to terms with themselves, or they have come to terms with themselves, but their parents are not okay—just hang in there. Like my mom said, there are people who—because they don’t have the right support group—lose their way. And the worst thing is they take their lives. Try to realize that you’re not at fault. Remember, you’re not doing anything wrong. In the end, you’re just loving. We’re just loving. When was it ever wrong to love someone?
Finally, for the parents whose kids have come out. For the ones who are having a hard time accepting, it’s totally understandable. My only plea would be to please try to open your hearts and listen. It’s already so hard to be yourself in a world where there are a lot of prejudices. Not just about being gay, but anything! There’s a lot of judgement being passed around. You know, I think if you really love your children then you know it’s what your kids need. They’re really gonna hold on to that strength that you give them, even if they don’t realize it. Life is so short. Why are you gonna waste it denying someone who loves you?