02A5C: Our Love for Rupert Acuña

RIP Rupert Acuña

Metro Manila Community Quarantine - Day 590

Yesterday we lost RD. This morning we woke up to the news that Rupert had passed away as well. I barely felt like I was up to writing about RD yesterday, but I tried. I am not at all prepared to write about the passing of another dear friend so soon, what more what a pillar of the community Rupert is. He is loved by so many and we are all diminished by his passing. 

It still surprises me how Tobie and I got close to Mon and Rupert at O Bar. We always knew they were the owner-operators and we always tried to be respectful when they were around. But one day we stopped being just customers and started to become genuine friends. I many conversations, Tobie and I would joke that obviously he was more like Mon and I was more in tune with Rupert. On the surface, you could cite reasons like how both Tobie and Mon went to DLSU and Rupert and I went to UP. But over time, it became a lot more than that, and I genuinely felt that I had become very close with Rupert.

Don't get me wrong - he can be quite the intimidating figure. Anyone encountering him for the first time at O Bar would be daunted by how ramrod straight he'd stand because of what years of ballet training had inculcated in him. You'd see him survey every aspect of the bar with such scrutiny because he was a tireless perfectionist who would not be able to sit still if a particular vase or other pieces of decor were out of place as the doors to the bar opened. And he had a particular intensity when the drag set would begin and interrupting his concentration would be the worst thing you could do at the bar.

But in all that I saw his passion for elevating drag into a true art form and his dedication to applying what he had learned as a professional artist and imbuing this same discipline on everyone who performed under him. How many other bars can say they had an artistic director part of the team? He's an artistic visionary with high standards that come from a place of love and belief in everyone's potential to become their best selves. The efforts of people like Rupert stressed that O Bar was about the shows and not a bar that just happened to have drag performers. I understood that language because of my own love of theater and other performing arts and over time we established a connection through that shared love for the O Divas. 

I best expressed that love through my photos. What started as a few dozen eventually scaled up to hundreds and even thousands of images per night because the girls deserve to be celebrated for what they achieve. And I feel like Rupert and the rest of the O Bar team recognized that, and that became a point of conversation. I'd do my best to take photos from wherever we ended up sitting while at the Bar but Rupert would always make sure that I had a good spot from which I could take better photos and videos. 

When you get to see past his professional persona, you'd discover what a kind and generous soul he is. His forcefully offering shots to different people at the bar was a sincere statement of love and appreciation - his way of making any first-timer feel welcome at O Bar. This reflected his deep love for the community because he was a man who expressed so much more through his actions than his words. 

I can count the number of times that I've gone to O Bar without Tobie and in all those times I ended up sharing a table with Rupert. I never assumed that I could, but he'd wave me over. There's one distinct time when I remember he told me to stop ordering drinks because I was going to spend the rest of the night drinking with him - he even assigned me a shot glass to be "my" glass for the night, something that had never happened before. And of course, I went home totally hammered, but those tequila shots were his way of showing his love and appreciation for everyone. And I'll never forget that night - or most of the others we've shared. I've gone over all the photos I've taken of Rupert over the years and so many of them immediately reminded me of the stories behind those images. 

The way Mon and Rupert would talk about the philosophy behind O Bar was always inspiring. It was more than just a business - it was a commitment they had made to provide a safe space for members of the community. That's why O Bar Malate stayed open 7 days a week for so long, even after most of the other queer bars had moved on from the area. That's why you could always count on O Bar to be open after Christmas Eve noche buena or after New Year's Eve fireworks because there are so many queer people who don't get to be with their families during the holidays. And these are the sort of things we'd talk about when we'd spend time together at O Bar and you could see the light in his eyes when he looked around the bar and appreciated all that they had accomplished. 

And I think one of the peak points of our friendship is when Tobie and I went as Mon and Rupert for the O Bar Halloween event one year. I was so terrified that he'd take offense at me dressing up as him, but after making me sweat a seconds after first seeing me with my mask, he broke into that big grin of his and immediately called for shots. 

Rupert was a true "Daddy" to so many, but I'll always consider him to be a very dear friend and perhaps even truly family, as heavy as that term can be. Tobie and I had considered losing either Mon or Rupert over the course of this pandemic was a very real possibility since they're part of the higher risk population. But even if we had considered this, we never really thought it would happen. And this morning's news was unbelievable and almost unacceptable. I still don't want to believe it's true.

It's hard to imagine an O Bar without Rupert. It's hard to imagine the O Divas without Rupert's direction. It's hard to imagine a life without Rupert at all. I can't imagine what Mon and the rest of Rupert's family are going through now and I send them all the love I can.

I knew I had truly crossed a threshold when I found the nerve to ask to take his photo while at the bar. It was something I had to work up the nerve to do over the course of my first few years of going to O. There's no logical reason for my trepidation but I felt like I had to earn that right somehow. It became an even bigger deal to me when I could start to take selfies together with Rupert and not feel weird about it. And so many times I'd mark particularly great conversations by asking to take a photo at the end. And when I look at these photos again, I can't help feel the flood of bittersweet emotions. I love the beauty in those moments captured in those images. I hate that I won't be able to take any more photos with such a dear friend.

Tobie and I have talked about the legacy that people like Mon and Rupert have established and what it would take to get anywhere close to that. I hope that we get to live lives that are even a fraction as blessed and generous as what Rupert has managed to do. I hope that we somehow manage to touch the lives of others in a similar way to what Rupert has done. I will never run out of good stories to share and retell but I'm saddened by the fact that won't have new stories to tell together. 

Sir Rupert. Daddy Rupert. Manong Rupert. Rupert.

We love you. We miss you so much. We will honor your life by following in your footsteps as best as we can. I will always raise a glass to you because I will always celebrate you. And you know that I will never refuse a drink offered in your name because I know that it was one of the many ways you expressed your love and friendship for those around you. 

I love you, Rupert. I wish you hadn't left us so soon, but I hope that you are in a truly better place where you get to dance freely and life a new life unburdened by the aches and pains of this mortal plane. 


  1. Mr Rocky Sunico, Marivic Mapili-Vela here. This is a most beautiful tribute to a loving dear friend Rupert Acuna! Thank you so much for sharing. Rupert and I danced together in several pas de deux those many moons ago. We shared incredible, challenging and rewarding days, evenings and years of performances and travels to share our performing art. I, too, still cannot believe he has left this physical world. But I strongly feel that spirit that you aptly describe. Your prose is very much appreciated.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read - I know there's so much more to be said about what a beautiful person Rupert was and I just felt compelled to try to put into words what I was feeling. I'm honored by your visit! Rupert's ballet life always fascinates me and I only wish I had a chance to watch you perform back then.


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