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By Arnel Ramos

The show was more interested in tackling a transwoman’s filial relationships and romantic dilemmas. And it is just fine because in the end, a minor step is still a step towards enlightening the uninformed, the Ignorant, the hustlers and the bigots among us, that love knows no gender, age, race, orientation.

Image: Facebook account (Destiny Rose) www.facebook.com/GMADestinyRose

Make no mistake about it. It is not the best soap to come out in quite a while. And it doesn’t profess to be.  It is not as sprawling as TV5’s erstwhile Babaeng Hampaslupa or generation-spanning as ABS-CBN’s Walang Hanggan. It is nowhere near as majestic as the Peque Gallaga/Lore Reyes-directed series of yore Cebu and Davao. It is not even the least bit as nuanced as muted, minimalist foreign counterparts like Mad Men.

But then Destiny Rose, which takes its final bow this week got it where it matters most – the heart.

Oh no, the story of a transwoman who ends up with a “fairy tale” dilemma – that of having to choose between two men, the one she pines for and/or the one who accepts her for everything that she was, is, and could be – did not start out without its share of pitfalls.

Hampered by teleserye conventions, Destiny Rose has its share of stock characters. Ask for it and the soap has it. From kontrabidas, led by the screen mother and daughter Jackie Lou Blanco and Katrina Halili, to English-savvy villainess as exemplified by Irma Adlawan’s character. The matiising ina (Manilyn Reynes), the weepy elder sister (Sheena Halili), and to the disapproving father (Joko Diaz).

The earlier part of the story supposedly took place in Tacloban which was badly hit by Typhoon Yolanda. No one in the series, however, bothered to wear a Visayan accent throughout the show’s entire run. Joey, the pre-op Destiny Rose, was portrayed as a weakling who would put up with torment from Halili and Blanco ceaselessly. Contrary to most young gay boys who have a strong support group while discovering their “uniqueness,” Joey was bereft of young beki friends to confide in and champion him.

Image: i10s.com

It is really when the show deals with the love triangle involving Destiny, Gabriel (Fabio Ide), and Vince (Jeric Gonzales) that viewers find something to relate to. Even swoon over. In the show’s penultimate week leading to its conclusion, Vince finally confesses his true feelings for his childhood friend Joey (now renamed Destiny). You must understand that Vince’s feelings for Destiny blossomed naturally. He has always been Joey’s knight in shining armor and the urge to protect his friend has always come easy.                                                             

“Baka hindi si Gabriel ang lalaki para sa ‘yo na lagi kang sinasaktan. Baka may ibang nakatadhana sa ‘yo. Yung tanggap ka at hindi ka sasaktan kailanman,” Vince tells Destiny and you believe the young man mainly because GMA star search winner Jeric Gonzales fits the role of a probinsyano who has small dreams, believes in the intrinsic value of honest labor, puts premium on friendship that dated back to one’s childhood. He is unassuming and loyal and protective and right from the start did not treat Joey with derision. He did not label Joey as “kakaiba.”  He saw through his kababata’s surface and fell for the beautiful soul that resided right beneath the queer veneer. You know that they might not become lovers for real but they have something deeper than that. They would always have each other’s back.

As the transwoman who learns to fight back, Ken Chan grew into the role. His first few months as Joey would make you cringe at how he employed this screeching voice that was more annoying than moving. Clearly, Ken was left to his meager resources and understandably overwhelmed by the complexity of the character. While he is no Felicity Huffman who limned the part of Bree, a pre-op transsexual in 2005’s Transamerica, it worked to Ken Chan’s advantage that he is basically a tyro and this, Destiny Rose was his most important break, a role that would either make or break him. And so, there is a gleeful desperation about Chan’s portrayal that sometimes works and at times bombs.

When it falters, it fails big time. But when it works, your eyes will glisten with tears. Like when Michael de Mesa as Destiny’s fairy godmother-ish mentor tells his protégé: “Hanga ako sa tapang mo dahil nu’ng meron akong pagkakataong gawin ang ginawa mo, natakot ako,” or when Destiny confides to Vince: “Nagmumukha akong naghahabol kay Gabriel. Mali eh. Hindi dapat. Ako lang ang nasasaktan.”

Just don’t mind the obvious failure to make Destiny look like a real woman (the lead star’s big arms, for once), and instead focus on how Ken Chan captures Joey-aka-Destiny’s feminine heart. The womanly gait. The adoring gazes she throws at her beloved (played by Fabio Ide). The tiny voice. These are contradictions in the character’s outward manifestations and gestures that Chan nails with nary a doubt.

The show’s finale is somewhat a letdown primarily because Destiny ended up with the man she’s dreamt of all her life. And Vince, the one true male friend, goes back into the shadows, finding happiness in loving Destiny from afar, in silence. Still, it cannot be denied that the chemistry between Destiny and Vince is more palpable. More electric.

Cynics can accuse Destiny Rose of turning the journey of a transwoman into an illusory experience. But then hopeless romantics who, despite the pain that love brings believe that there is always someone fated to love us and look through us to see the beauty in our spirit can always argue that cynicism will not get you anywhere.

Destiny Rose could have treaded on other paths, to explore the darker, grittier aspects of transwomen, ala-the indie flick Quick Change. But that is like Bagets if it had been directed by the meg man originally tapped to helm that Maryo J. Delos Reyes classic, Ishmael Bernal. It should be free flowing and spontaneous. It should shun labels.

It should be pure and yet complex. As paradoxes are. Like itself.

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