MEGA EXCLUSIVE: Michelle Dee Comes Out As Bisexual

MEGA EXCLUSIVE: Michelle Dee Comes Out As Bisexual


The newly crowned Miss Universe Philippines tells MEGA: “When somebody takes away your story, then you should take control of that narrative.”

For Michelle Marquez Dee, it’s all about timing. The newly crowned Miss Universe Philippines 2023 took her time to join her first national pageant. That was back in 2019, at age 24, and still dealing with the expectation of following in someone’s “very, very big footsteps.” After all, her mother Melanie Marquez won Miss International in 1979 before joining show business as an actress and, at one point, a film producer.

RELATED: Here’s How Michelle Dee Trained to Win Miss Universe Philippines

Blazer by BALMAIN

While Michelle, who’s also an actress, was crowned Miss World Philippines 2019 and represented the country in the competition held in London, England that same year, she didn’t get to, in her words, “maximize” her reign as the COVID-19 pandemic happened in early 2020, and “the whole world stopped.”

In 2022, Michelle “saw the opportunity to join again a beauty pageant to rekindle my passion to create a platform for change,” and this time, it was the Miss Universe Philippines. Unfortunately, she lost the competition. The series of events that happened following that loss made her consider those months “the hardest months of my life.” For instance, her parents got into separate accidents just a day apart, so she had to oversee two households. She then later got help from her older sister Maxine Dee in taking care of their siblings, especially of their two brothers on their mother’s side, Mazenne and Adam, who are on the autism spectrum. Until today, she is still the primary caregiver of Mazenne and Adam. 

“After that loss in Miss Universe Philippines” Michelle says of her missing the mark in the pageant won by fashion model Celeste Cortesi, “I told Celeste I’d joined again because I didn’t want to live in regret. I knew where I screwed up and lacked.” She then explains, “Pageantry is much bigger than myself. There are so many aspects.”

Michelle personally sees pageantry as an extensive and effective platform “to create positive change” and push for her advocacy of autism awareness. “It’s a life-long mission for me because of my two autistic siblings,” she points out.

Days before filing her application for Miss Universe Philippines 2023, Michelle got offered by her mother network, GMA-7, a part in the action-adventure series Mga Lihim ni Urduja. She was overjoyed because the character of Freya, a modern-day assassin and the most trusted warrior of their team, came close to her dream role. It was something she’s been waiting for since she debuted in 2019.

She says she couldn’t decide between joining the pageant or acting in the series, so she took on both responsibilities—and pulled them off. After Mga Lihim ni Urduja wrapped up on May 5, she got to prepare well for the pageant’s coronation night held a little over a week later, on May 13.

Blazer by BALMAIN

This time around, Michelle performed well in the competition, from the national costume to the swimsuit, evening gown, and all the way to the final question-and-answer portion.

To the question, “What is the best that we can offer to the rest of the world?” and its follow-up, “Why do you consider it so?” Makati City’s bet replied: “But I firmly believe that the best natural resource that the Philippines is us Filipinos. We are the true heart and soul of the Philippines with the way we are hospitable, with the warm smiles… And we are the reason why the world keeps coming back for more. No matter where the universe takes me, I’ll always be proud to call the Philippines my home. And no matter what happens I will always be proud to call myself Pinoy.”

The queen tells her story

“When I won, I expected it, first and foremost,” Michelle says, referring to the backlash she received in the aftermath of the competition. She talks to MEGA in an exclusive interview a week later. “You have fans with specific bets. Am I affected by the backlash? No. I only listen to people whose opinions matter. So I was good at locking the noise. I gave 360 percent to make sure I gave a flawless performance.” At the same time, she rues, “It’s just sad that they’re attacking my friends who are just congratulating me.”

As the 28-year-old beauty queen-actress-entrepreneur looks back on her childhood, she seems primed for the pressures she’s now dealing with. At a young age, she experienced the consequences of being in a broken family. Just like her mom Melanie, her dad Derek Dee also had a stint in show business as an actor in action movies but has since focused on running his own business ventures.

During the process of separation, Melanie moved her family to the United States to keep the children away from the prying eyes of the public and the press. It was in the United States where Melanie remarried to Adam Lawyer, an American lawyer who owns a ranch in the state of Utah. Melanie and Adam would later have their own children: Abraham and Adam Jr. She has a total of six children: Manuelito (whose father is actor-turned-politician Lito Lapid), Mazenne (from her relationship with an Arabian sheik), Maxine, Michelle, Abraham, and Adam Jr.

Full look by GUCCI

Michelle recalls having a “wonderful childhood” in “a small town in Utah,” where she found her love for nature and sports (basketball, volleyball, taekwondo, swimming, to name a few). By the time she was around 10, she and her family moved back to the Philippines, where she nurtured her love for the creative arts, like photography, editing, media creation, etc. She thus grew up to be with much self-awareness, being “madiskarte,” and, according to her, a lot more mature than her peers.

Around that time, while she was attending an all-girls school in Makati City, she had photos uploaded on social media showing how she looked like back then: a regular high schooler who’s heavily into sports, with short, barely combed hair, carefree poses, and rugged appearance. Then, she decided to archive those photos as she entered college and had a makeover. Unfortunately, those photos suddenly resurfaced, suspiciously, right after the Miss Universe Philippines 2023 coronation night. 

“It was one of those nene-days photos,” Michelle tells us. “I don’t know if I’m annoyed that I was so boyish or the fact that, ‘Oh, my god! That’s not my aesthetic or branding now. Ang layo!’” 

She goes on explaining, “This is a phase in my life that I’ve worked to keep in the past just because I feel that it doesn’t represent who I am now—the short hair, the sense of style, nene look, all of that. When I decided to rebrand myself entering college, I had already archived all of that.”

What’s even more frustrating was that when these photos resurfaced, comments about her gender flooded social media. With a shrug, Michelle gives a “confirmation rather than a revelation” of her gender identity, which she says is an “open secret.” Her close friends knew, while her family had an “inkling.”

She declares, “I definitely identify myself as bisexual. I’ve identified with that for as long as I can remember. I’m attracted to all forms of beauty, all shapes and sizes.”

She adds that growing up with empowered and strong individuals, like her mom, also made an impact on her. “My mom would say, ‘O, anak, when I was young, I had five girlfriends.’ She’d teased me sometimes because I had a very boyish demeanor. I liked doing sports; my sister did ballet. So I grew up in an environment where we’d appreciate pogi, maganda.” 

Top by HELIOT EMIL from CUL DE SAC, Trench coat by COS, and Bodysuit (used as a bottom) by PATTON

One time, during a random conversation with her mother, Melanie would tell her, “You know, anak, for your girlfriend, she’d better be prettier than you.” Another time, Melanie asked her, “That girl you introduced to me, is she your girlfriend?” When Michelle said no, Melanie replied, “Buti na lang, ’cause she doesn’t meet the standards.”

As she shares these memories with fondness in her voice, Michelle also points out, “I was getting positive feedback by just being myself. I never had to identify myself. I never had to quote, unquote come out. I was never really confronted about it by my parents or people who matter. When I get into a relationship, the first thing I will tell that person is ‘Okay, let’s get this out of the way.’ And then you can decide if you want to date me.’”

The struggle for her came only because she knew she was a public figure. “Although my parents really gave me free reins to self-express, choose my wardrobe, choose everything, I felt that because I had such high-profile parents, I had to conform with societal standards,” she admits. “I understood the responsibility of being the child of that and this. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t hurting anyone else’s or my parents’ reputation, despite the fact that my parents never told me it was wrong. That struggle ended in maybe high school. It has long passed.” 

In college, Michelle lived in a separate home, independent from her parents. “I was making decisions for myself, so I can stand by my decisions more strongly. But, you know, everything I do has the purest intentions. I’m not perfect, but I try not to harm anyone.”

Left: Knit tank top by GUCCI, Pants with zipper detail by HELIOT EMIL from CUL DE SAC, and Shoes by MANGO. Right: Top by HELIOT EMIL from CUL DE SAC and Trench coat by COS

With everything she has been through, her identity has never been a topic that she felt she needed to discuss with anyone. But when asked, she would, at least most of the time, just say she’s bisexual. In the end, her gender is really no one’s business but hers. 

“It was never an issue because I felt—and I still feel like—I’m so much more than how I identify myself,” Michelle adds. “I have so much more to offer the world and the universe than how I identify myself. This is also the reason why I chose not to come out despite the pressure to come out during the competition.”

She admits to being advised to talk about her gender before winning the crown. “I said, ‘No.’ I joined the pageant because this is much greater than myself. This is not about me. This is about the cause I’m fighting, advocating for: autism awareness. That’s my main goal. My identity is not what I want to be remembered for. I felt like coming out during the competition would shock everyone, and cloud everyone’s judgment. I also wanted to do that within my own timeline, and it wasn’t the right time. Because I want all of my focus and everyone’s focus to be on all the good causes.”

After careful thought, she finally decided that now is the right time.  

“I want to come out with this story because I know that those photos were spread with malicious intent— to kind of distract me, make me feel I’m not worthy of the crown,” she explains.

“I acknowledge that it was so malicious that I felt—and this applies to everyone—when somebody takes away your story, then you should take control of that narrative. Turn it around and make it an empowering story.

“So that’s what I’m doing. I feel that it’s so important when somebody tries to knock you down and use your past against you. We all have to realize that we’ve come such a long way to just let our past define us. Again, how old was I? That was 2014, and it’s 2023.” 

Halter top by BALMAIN, Pants by MUGLER H&M, and shoes by GUCCI

She then adds, with her easygoing, blatant–and a bit sarcastic—sense of humor: “I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I think the only crime was my sense of style back then.”

Ultimately, she says, this is one of the ways she can inspire people who have felt that their story has been taken away from them: “Be more empowered and do not let other people control your life, your narrative. Own who you really are and have that self-worth and confidence to control your life. If you try to take that away, I’ll take it back. It boils down to respecting people and spreading love and spreading light. There’s too much hate in the world. Let’s make a conscious effort to make this a better world. 

“I’ve been an advocate for LGBTQIA+ for as long as I can remember. Even before coming out, I’ve been attending pride marches. I have too many friends and best friends in the community. I’ve been a loud and proud ally. It’s just that I never gave a confirmation.”

When recalling the first time she liked a girl, Michelle says the experience was “weird.” She was in either Grade 5 or 6. She and her family had just moved back to the Philippines, and she became close to a family friend. 

“We were out of town, and then we had to leave early, so that family friend got left behind,” she recalls. “I wanted to spend more time with her, and I couldn’t. I was crying. Was it my love for our friendship or attraction? It was confusing. Who really knows the concept of love at 12 years old? Nobody, really.” Then again, she remembered having those familiar butterflies in her stomach for her first male celebrity crush: Ben Adams of the British-Norwegian boy band A1. “I was like, ‘Okay, it was the same kind of feeling.’ It was an ‘aha!’ moment.”

Cutout dress by BLUMARINE from CUL DE SAC

Michelle has since been in a few relationships, but none of them has been introduced to her parents. “That’s not a product of shame, but I think because none of them lasted long enough,” she clarifies, laughing—again with her sense of humor that shows itself carelessly and quite often.  

Currently, she’s single and focused on manifesting for a win in the Miss Universe competition in El Salvador later this year. “I’m just going to continue to train, train, train, manifest it, and put in the work. Hopefully that pays off because I know I have the qualities to be the transformational leader that the organization needs, and I know I can use this platform as a force for good. I hope the Filipinos see that. I will do my best to raise our country’s flag loud and proud.”

What does she envision after this story comes out? We ask. “What I expect is a phone call from my family,” she chuckles. Then she says she’d definitely have a long conversation with them before this is published. 

Photography DOC MARLON
Creative Direction NICOLE ALMERO
Beauty Direction AGOO AZCUNA-BENGZON, assisted by MIA CASTRO


Fashion Assistants BITHIA REYES and RAYA AÑASCO
Video Production REGINA ACERON
Videography JR RAMIREZ

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