Meet 33-year old Filipino Rene Mayo.
If you find Rene’s handsome mug familiar, that’s probably because you might have seen him gyrating his way into international stardom when his dance cover of Psy’s smash hit ‘Gentlemen’ went viral online, racking up over a million views within a short space of time.
That single video propelled him into social media superstardom. And with over 100,000 followers across Facebook and Instagram, Rene Mayo is one of the most popular gay influencers in the world.
But despite his formidable online following, not much is known about the man himself. From his humble beginnings in a small coastal Filipino province to the carefree life he currently enjoys in the land down under, this is Rene’s story.
Born in Busuanga situated in the Filipino province of Palawan, Rene grew up with two older siblings.
Free from the hustle and bustle of the bigger cities, Rene’s hometown was a small tight-knit community where everyone pretty much knew everyone. Much of his formative years were spent outdoors, often engaging in activities such as swimming.
Growing up, Rene never experienced any attraction to members of the opposite sex. His attraction to men however, started very young.
I felt attracted to men when I was very young. Like when I was 7 years old.
My first crush was my neighbour. He liked to play basketball so I would play basketball with him to spend time with him even though I can’t play basketball.
Unlike most other queer youths however, his sexuality didn’t become a point of contention. For Rene, his homosexuality was something that he never gave much thought to.
But despite his nonchalant attitude about his sexuality, Rene kept mum about his sexual orientation.
Philippines is a very religious country. Culture in the Philippines is quite conservative. They will make fun of you if you are gay.
Luckily for Rene, he was spared from the homophobic bullying that many of his more effeminate friends faced. There was only one serious homophobic incident that Rene encountered. But it was an incident that remains clearly etched in his mind up till today.
I was called ‘gay’ in second grade. Being called ‘gay’ is very offensive in Filipino culture.
I was super hurt and offended and I started crying in the streets. Thankfully, my friends who came out of the school came to comfort me.
It wasn’t until Rene was in his third year of college in Manila that he started to identify himself as gay. It was also then that he got into his first gay relationship.
My first boyfriend was a few years older than me. I met him on the bus.
He brought his first boyfriend back to meet his family. And although he introduced his boyfriend to his family as just a friend, nobody in his family was fooled. But nobody made a fuss over his sexuality either.
His family was surprisingly liberal. And over the years, it became clear that his family are accepting of Rene’s sexuality despite the fact that he never came out directly to any of them. In fact just recently in 2014, Rene’s mum even accompanied him to a gay pride parade in Taipei!
In 2011, Rene took a leap of faith by flying to Singapore in search of greener pastures.
Within a month, he managed to secure a sales position in retail store. While working there, a colleague showed him a dance cover of ‘Gentlemen’ performed by a woman. Inspired by the cover and egged on by his colleagues, Rene decided to make his own dance cover for fun.
When I uploaded that video, I didn’t know that it would go so viral. It was supposed to be just a challenge.
After posting the video, I went to sleep. When I woke up, my phone was flooded with messages. I went to watch a movie with my friend and throughout the movie, my phone kept on vibrating with notifications until it died.
The attention that Rene received from the overwhelming popularity of the video was unprecedented. He would get asked to perform his dance in clubs and bars and random strangers would come up to him on the streets to talk to him about the video.
Eventually, the attention got too much and Rene took down the video as it was straining his relationship with his then boyfriend. He even deleted Instagram in an effort to lie low.
Despite his social media hiatus, Rene’s online following did not diminish. Popular with advertisers and brands alike, Rene has modelled for the likes of New Urban Male and appeared on magazine covers like IFitness! He even once had his face plastered across a giant billboard in Manilla!
Currently based in Sydney where he works as a Practice Administrator in a law firm, Rene’s life now is a lot more laid back as compared to before.
An avid party animal back during his younger years, Rene used to hit the clubs every single week. Nowadays, he spends most of his time along the beautiful beaches of Sydney with his boyfriend.
I don’t have much friends here. So I am with my boyfriend most of the time.
Passionate about photography, Rene actually has his own photography Facebook page! He’s also a proud Apple fan boy and candidly reveals to being once obsessed over Mariah Carey and Celine Dion.
I used to like and obsess over Mariah and Celine! I used to collect albums from them.
I still patronise them by downloading their albums on Spotify. Although I prefer house music now.
Rene has very kindly taken time out of his busy schedule to answer our Q&A so read on to find out more about him!
1. How was your first coming out experience like?
I didn’t really go through the process of coming out. It’s like my family knows about it. We just don’t really talk about it.
The first friend I told was a female friend during my third year of college. She figured it out because gay people would just come up to talk to me.
2. How did your family respond to your sexuality?
They were open about it. I am very close to my mum. She would ask about my boyfriends, who I am with etc.
I once brought her to a gay club in Manilla because she said she wanted to go out and I didn’t know where else to bring her. She never asked directly if the club was gay. She doesn’t care as long as she is having fun.
3. What advice do you have for gay people still hiding in the closet?
As long as they are happy, it’s fine to be in the closet. They don’t have to come out. People should respect their decision as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.
4. What do you think is the biggest misconception straight people have about the gay community?
Straight people think that in all gay relationships, there is always a male and a female role.
But that is not true. It’s not always like that.
5. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Just do what you do as long as you don’t hurt anyone. Enjoy life
Once again, Dear Straight People would like to thank Rene Mayo for sharing his story with us.
If you would like to keep up to date with how Rene is doing, you can connect with him through Facebook and Instagram via @rene_mayo.
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