Sexy celebrity calendars by liquor brands have ingrained themselves into Filipino culture—partly at least. It has wormed its way into becoming a prop in sets and a detail in local literature. We can’t deny that these calendars have been inviting us to objectify calendar girls and boys for years.
What would it mean then if a brand gets a comedic celebrity like Sassa Gurl as its calendar model? Is it inviting us to laugh—and should we find offense in that? Or should we take it as a good sign that members of the LGBTQ+ community are now able to land these types of gigs?
Comedian and social media star Sassa Gurl first announced that she’s White Castle’s 2022 calendar gurl on Jan. 14. She shared photos of two versions of the calendar: one where she wore a blue one-piece swimsuit and the other of her in a red nightgown. With a beautiful, flowing wig on, she’s feeling her oats while doing some hot gurl poses. “Nagbunga na ang pagpapainom natin mga bakla! Para to sa mga baklang umaawra sa inuman at nazezero, eto na tayo na ang naka-booking sa calendar gurl 🏳️🌈” Sassa Gurl wrote in the caption.
The liquor brand started its search for a new calendar model back in November. Part of its guidelines read: “Open to all genders! Si Ninong Ry nga naging calendar model, ikaw pa kaya? With ‘pleasing’ personality. Tignan natin ang kulit mo sa inuman o sa pagpose!”
In Sassa Gurl’s winning entry, she wore a two-piece bikini with a crochet bralette. The photo is a good look into why Sassa Gurl is claimed by the baklang kanal community. Scout describes the baklang kanal as “loud, unbothered and [makalat].” Existing way before Twitter owned it, the term was initially used to describe rural and poor gays who were then turned into comic relief in popular Pinoy media.
So what was the brand’s intention when they conceptualized Sassa Gurl’s calendar shoot? When funny food vlogger Ryan “Ninong Ry” Morales Reyes announced that he was the brand’s 2021 calendar boy, he wrote, “Break the norm, mga brodie!” Although the calendars weren’t completely stripped of a humorous vibe, both models’ words seem to imply that they found the opportunity empowering.
Still, Sassa Gurl’s shoot met a bit of flak. On Twitter this weekend, a Filipina trans writer claimed that it was “transphobic” because it seemed to have been made in jest and, purposely or not, invited ridicule. She went on to criticize the shoot’s “crude femininity” which she said worked against the reclamation of transsexuality she identified with.
One of those who posed counterarguments is bakla poet and activist March A.L. They claimed that the writer’s tweets are based on Western queer concepts that disregard local LGBTQ+ narratives and marginalize bakla in doing so. “Gurl is neither a gay man or transgender/transsexual woman (both Western identities inapplicable to the vast majority of gender-variant Filipinos). What [some fail] to grasp is that the vast majority of bakla or ‘transfeminine’ people in the Philippines are like Sassa Gurl and don’t simply aim to be laughed at. Only a minority have the desire or privilege to undergo gender-affirming medical intervention such as hormone replacement therapy to conform to Western transmedicalist conceptions of womanhood and transness. [Do some people] seriously believe that this vast majority of non-medically-transitioning bakla are the oppressors in our choice to exist and represent ourselves without conforming to these Western standards of trans/womanhood, when we remain among the most oppressed and job-denied sectors in Filipino society, relegated to the lowest ends of the economy, and even prostitution? While I view White Castle Whisky’s calendar photoshoots as deeply objectifying and patriarchal, it is anti-feminist to blame women and bakla for living in a society which forces us to solely objectifying venues as our only modes of self-expression and representation, instead of blaming the patriarchal society itself in the first place.”
Charot. on a serious note ang laban para sa pantay na karapatan and representasyon ay di natatapos sa kalendaryo, at marami pang petsa ang 2022 para lumaban!!!!
For Sassa Gurl’s part, it seems that she must have read some of the negative comments. On Facebook, it also received a number of homophobic and transphobic comments. “Okay na yun te! shot nalang natin yan tumatagal ikot,” she wrote in a cryptic response on Twitter. “Charot. On a serious note, ang laban para sa pantay na karapatan and representasyon ay di natatapos sa kalendaryo, at marami pang petsa ang 2022 para lumaban!”
Maybe we’re too caught up in the different strands of invalidation that exist within our community that we’re forgetting the bigger fight for equality and representation we are facing together.