Cover Angie in a Jan Garcia gown. The couple wear Mei Diamond Jewelry necklace and rings

Angie and Joey Mead King had to learn about life’s never-ending curveballs the hard way, but together, there was nothing they couldn’t overcome

“Do you want to dance?” Ian asked Joey. “Yeah, you can dance—over there,” she answered, flatly turning him down. It was 2006, and not even the heady atmosphere of the Embassy club in BGC could spark romance between the pair. At that moment, neither could imagine they would spend the rest of their lives together, making incredible strides, the most significant of which would be Ian’s transition to Angie.

Despite the initial rebuff, Ian was persistent. “I asked her out on a date on February 15, which is the day we celebrate our anniversary,” Angie says. They shared a meal and two bottles of wine at People’s Palace. Joey was taking a break from dating and had little interest in getting involved with a younger man—Angie is five years Joey’s junior. But they hit it off and ended the night with a kiss—or rather two. “[The first one] was okay,” Angie says with a laugh. “So, she asked for another one.” The next day, Joey flew to Singapore, where she lived at the time, working as a model and host. The date had all the indications of a one-off. “[But] I woke up the morning after and thought, ‘I can’t lose this connection,’ so I booked a ticket and flew to see her that very weekend,” Angie adds.

The two would have what can only be described as a whirlwind romance: a few weeks after their first encounter, they took a vacation together. Angie says, “After eight days in Boracay, she didn’t fly home, and I asked her to move in with me—that fast.”

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Transitions

Angie and Joey posed effortlessly at the Tatler cover shoot; it was obvious to the team and other onlookers how in love they were. It was nothing grand or pompous: the energy of the simple pats on the back and the way they kept laughing together and cheering each other between set-ups electrified the room. Angie also gave her model wife a run for her money, rocking every outfit and look she donned. It’s hard to imagine that she was once afraid to be herself, crippled by the trappings of societal obligation, in particular, family reputation.

Angie’s family is well-known for their successful hospitality chain that brought to life the popular Victoria Court properties, several branches of which are now rebranded as Hotel Ava. That prominence had long prevented Angie from being open about her true identity. “I always thought I’d be happy alone,” she says. “The struggle, the fear, the burden of family image … it [coming out] didn’t seem like a possibility.”

A few months into their relationship, Angie shared that she fancied wearing women’s underwear. To find that Joey was not shocked about (and supported) her cross-dressing experiments encouraged Angie to explore her womanhood which at the time saw its peak in donning wigs, dresses and wearing make-up. The couple attended Pride parades in the US and dressed up for night outs in Europe, but home was a different story: it was back to the closet for Angie, quite literally. When things evolved from playing dress-up to Angie truly considering transition, their relationship started to falter. “We had four years of ‘are we gonna break up?’ We were fighting; it was toxic. The relationship began to tank,” Angie revealed. Eventually, she came out to her closest family and friends during a small gathering. It was made known that Angie is short for Angelina, a name chosen based on the couple’s shared love of actress Angelina Jolie while also paying homage to Angelo King, Angie’s grandfather. At this point, Joey felt relieved to no longer be the sole carrier of this secret. Yet, despite this significant step, things continued to take a toll.

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In her memoir, Runway Model, she recounted, “I could not say anything. I did not feel anything either. There was no shock, anger, or sadness.” Such was her experience when Angie finally started hormone treatments to transition. A decision prompted by Angie’s father Archie King’s four-month hospitalisation in Germany and sealed by fate with his sudden passing in a helicopter crash in 2015.

Joey revealed that her relationship with Archie and Angie’s step-mum Ling-ling was initially complicated. “[They] were not too happy about our decision to get married, but I was grateful to see them at our reception,” she wrote in her book. This animosity was overcome by Joey’s steadfast support of Angie, which came to brighter light during Archie’s recovery in Germany. Joey wrote to her father-in-law about how much she appreciated and admired his strength, even comparing him to martial artist Bruce Lee. As she finished reading the letter, he mouthed back the words, “I love you, too.” From then on, Joey noted, it became easier to call him Dad and that Angie would begin brewing her courage towards self-acceptance.

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But as Angie became more comfortable with herself and her place in the world, Joey began to experience feelings of abandonment, turning to excessive drinking. One night, she drank herself into a stupor and crashed their car; Angie would see the damage the next morning. She also became standoffish towards friends and eventually found herself in a pattern of resentment and meanness. “I was swinging on an emotional pendulum of passive-aggressiveness because Angie was finding her courage without my help.” Realising she needed support, she signed up for The Hoffman Process, an eight-day programme focused on holistic healing and development. It was a life-changing experience and inadvertently prepared her for what came next.

Coming Out

“I was outed by Instagram,” Angie says. “Maybe because my two accounts [@hailtothe_king and @angiemeadking] were logged in on the same phone, registering the same IP, Instagram sent out a notification to my followers, revealing my second, then-secret account.” Group chats were atwitter, screenshots were being circulated, and Angie felt crippled, faced so suddenly with a moment she had been expecting (and dreading) all her life. “F*@k it—open the account,” Joey said. So, Angie did.

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While mentally preparing her escape plan of leaving the Philippines, closing business, and starting up elsewhere, Angie was shocked to receive more messages of love than hate. “There was very little resistance,” she says. “Even in the office, they said, ‘Mabait naman si Sir Ian [Sir Ian is a good person)], we’ll accept.’ I’m curious to know what we did differently. The statistic I’ve read on forums and books is that around 95 per cent of trans women lose friends, family, their jobs—everything. But here we are, and we weren’t ridiculed.”

As the Tatler shoot wrapped, Joey shared her thoughts on marriage, and how lacking in stereotypes their relationship is. “Just as a citizen of the world, living as a partner and spouse, I’m so in awe of how this has panned out for me,” she says. “Nine years ago, I was still stuck in the roadblock of categorising titles and gender roles … this was the programming, the upbringing … to shed that and break the boundaries of what societal norms were mind-blowing. [Angie and I] have no gender roles,” she explains. “The biggest compliment is that she chose me,” Joey says, looking earnestly at her wife. “Well, you look better than 80 per cent of [people on] the planet; you’re genetically gifted,” Angie playfully responds.

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Angie and Joey’s story of a shared struggle remains a revelation of what two humans in love are capable of when facing strife
Dorynna Untivero
Together, Angie and Joey are breaking barriers. Their secret? Being true to themselves, putting love and pride above all
Dorynna Untivero

Love Wins

Having conquered personal battles and hurdles, Angie and Joey now face a more public, perhaps, more significant, challenge. “The SOGIE [Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression] Equality Bill is one of the longest-running bills that have not been passed because the rule-makers are all on the opposite end of the spectrum,” Angie says. “They don’t understand it; they feel like it crosses over to their rights when, in reality, it doesn’t. It’s a protection for anyone who might be different from the binary male-female description.” The first version of the bill was filed in 2016 by the late Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Akbayan Representative Etta Rosales, now sponsored and lobbied by Senator Risa Hontiveros; it continues to receive deep scrutiny and resistance.

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Despite that ongoing legal obstacle to equality and full acceptance, Angie and Joey’s story of a shared struggle remains a revelation of what two humans in love are capable of when facing strife. Angie, who has received endless questions from strangers and friends on how they make it work, had this to impart, “I broke it down to Joey like this: If you wake up tomorrow and you like what you see, then let’s stay together. The day you wake up and say ‘Ayoko na’ [I don’t want this anymore], we’ll break up.” Years later, that day has not come, and both remain committed to being partners, above labels and beyond perceptions. “You learn self-love when you learn about boundaries. Anj and I—we’ve both gone on our own journeys,” Joey says. “You [have to] look into a relationship and try to find if there is something that is still joyful and beautiful.”

Although Angie and Joey are in a much better place than they were years ago, as individuals and spouses, Joey stresses that their relationship is an ongoing evolution. To all who say they are “couple goals”, she is quick to underscore the fact that they’re taking things a day at a time, one new experience after another, each discovery after the next. It’s not by any means a fairy tale, but both women remain eager to enjoy their journey, grabbing opportunities with a new zest for freedom. From flirting on the dancefloor to facing unfathomable burdens, The Kings are stronger than ever. Together, Angie and Joey are breaking barriers. Their secret? Being true to themselves, putting love and pride above all.

Read also: 10 Safe Queer Spaces in the Philippines

This story was originally published in Tatler Philippines August 2022 issue. It is available in all leading bookstores, and downloadable from Zinio, Magzter, and Pressreader.

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  • PhotographyBJ Pascual
  • HairRenz Pangilinan
  • Make-UpPia Reyes
  • StylingEldzs Mejia
  • Stylist's AssistantParis Roxas and Carl Alberto
  • LocationShangri-La at the Fort, Manila
  • ProductionIsabel Martel Francisco
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