Sassa Gurl—the TikTok funny gal with nearly 6 million followers or “naksh*ts”—is unapologetically reclaiming her voice, space, and identity online as a “baklang kanal.”
The 26-year-old from Quezon City is known for her comedic skits that take jabs at everyday scenarios and personalities, and sometimes walks the thin line of funny and hurtful.
It seems she is aware of this and proclaims, “I’m so sorry to say pero kung baklang kanal ka hindi ang pagiging politically correct ang una mong iisipin. If that makes sense.”
“Ginagawa ko lang ’yung gusto kong gawin eh. Ni-re-represent ko lang naman ’yung pinaniniwalaan kong ako. Sa pagiging trans,” she explains.
Sassa identifies as a trans woman-slash-baklang kanal who doesn’t always present herself as the generally accepted “feminine” figure—long hair, clear skin, “may suso ka, ganon,” as she describes—on display in popular media and even within the LGBTQIA+ community.
But she doesn’t think she’s particularly subversive though—on the contrary, in real life, there are many others like her. “Parang feeling ko hindi naman siya super big deal or ‘breaking the norm.’ Siguro ‘breaking the norm’ pa kasi hindi masyado nakikita ng tao. Pero kung lumabas ka sa kalye-kalye… hindi lang naman ako na unique na ganito. Alam mo ’yon?”
Sassa can proudly say this now but her unshaking confidence took years to build for herself. She admits that even now she’s still learning to be secure with the duality of her femininity and masculinity, and that’s okay. “The idea na magkakasama pala sila lahat, na femininity and masculinity is fluid in you. At lahat no’n ay ibubuo sa iyo at tatanggapin mo lahat.”
Barbies, paper dolls, and estrogen pills
Born to typical conservative Filipino parents, Sassa, like any other child struggling with their gender identity in a country that’s yet to pass an anti-discrimination bill, questioned if she really was a woman.
She always knew she was attracted to men, and even as a kid she was drawn to more typically feminine activities. “Hindi ako very…[masculine]. ’Yung mga panglaro ko pambabae. Mga typical na mga baklang storya na paano sila naging bakla. Talagang, plakado ako mag ten-twenty noon. Barbie-han na bahay. ’Yung mga papel-papel. ’Yung mga paperdoll ganon.”
But it was in high school when she really started trying to figure out her identity. “Question ko sa sarili ko: ‘Bakla ba talaga ako?’ ‘Bakit minsan gusto ko magpaka-babae in a way na hindi siya joke?’” her questioning was exacerbated by her play acting being a girl (“Sa high school, ’yung mga joke na ‘Ay, girl ako!’”). “Madalas naisip ko noon, joke [lang]. Pero there comes a time na parang bet ko talaga maging babae, ganon.”
Come college, Sassa began to lean towards the idea that maybe she is a woman. Recommended by her more informed gay friends, she began to take estrogen pills. “Yung mga friends ko sabi nila, ‘Gagamitin mo ito: Pill. Micro-pill yan.’” She said that the pills worked stronger when you start taking them young. “Malakas mabugbog ’yan ’pag bagets ka pa. Bagets pa kasi ako noon. Siguro 17 or 16. College ’yun eh.” Her friends told her, “‘Hindi ka titigas diyan,’ ‘Hindi ka magkakaroon ng balahibo.’”
She remembers how she would obsessively look at herself in the mirror for at least eight hours a day. Checking every angle of her face and her body to see if the pills were working. And they did. Cupping her breasts and pointing to them, she exclaims with a grin, “So medyo may bahay!”
However, her dreams of transitioning to the woman she thought she needed to be was cut short when her mom found out. “Na-discover ng nanay ko na nag-pi-pills ako. Tinapon ’yung pills! Ta’s na imbyerna. So siyempre, after noon, hindi na ako gumamit ng pills,” she says.
Despite that, Sassa was able to find her own way. Even if she was unsure of her gender identity, there was one thing she was sure of: That she is and will always be a baklang kanal, and that it was her destiny to become a star.
“Kung hindi ka magiging artista or politiko—’yun lang ang dalawang path na pwede mong piliin na magiging sikat. Ayun, gusto ko maging sikat,” she explains. “Kasi, papansin ako. Attention seeker ako.” Realizing early on that politics wasn’t for her, she began to pursue her dream of becoming an artista.
Sassa the artista
In her first year of college as a communications major, Sassa dropped out to pursue styling as a way to peek into the world of entertainment. She wanted to see firsthand what that world was like. “Gusto ko makita ’yung mga artista. Ano ’yung mga ginagawa nila. Kumbaga, ano ang ginawa ng mga ’to para sumikat. ’Yun ’yung gusto kong malaman.” However, after observing what goes on backstage, she realized it wasn’t the right fit for her. “Sabi ko: ‘Parang ang hirap! Nakakaloka!’ Then, nagkaroon ng vlogging. Sabi ko: Hindi ko na kailangan maging artista. Gusto ko na lang maging sikat.”
With fire and direction, Sassa returned to school and graduated. She then took a call center job so she could afford to buy a secondhand cellphone and start her career as a social media star. Once she bought one, lo and behold, she quit her job. In between laughs, she advises against her decision. “Wag n’yo gagawin ’yon ah! Kasi very wrong ’yun.”
Equipped with a cellphone, Sassa took to Facebook, but she didn’t find fame there yet. Then the pandemic hit and TikTok began to trend. Quarantined and jobless, she began to post on TikTok recreations of personal anecdotes, and the rest is history.
Now, Sassa works as a full-time content creator, collaborating with brands and amassing over 7 million naksh*ts across her social media platforms: One million followers on Facebook, over 400,000 on Twitter, 200,000 and counting on YouTube, more than 160,000 followers on Instagram, and 5.9 million on TikTok as of writing.
It’s safe to say Sassa is well on her way to the life she imagined for herself. And that comes with her recently found resounding confidence with her gender identity.
Doon ako nagkaroon ng lakas ng loob na tama. Trans. Girl. Bilat ako. ’Yun ’yung upbringing ko sa pagiging trans woman ko.
Through her journey to becoming a TikTok star, Sassa was also able to meet someone who would come to validate her as a trans woman. She shares that what started it was Miss Trans Global 2020 winner and content creator Mela Habijan simply asking for her pronouns while they were at a show together. “Tinanong niya sa ’kin: ‘Ano ba ang pronouns mo?’ Tapos sabi ko: ‘She/her kasi gusto ko; girl ako. Parang uncomfortable ako pag tinatawag ako ng he tsaka parang tinatawag ako ng pogi. Gusto ko: Maganda. Fresh.’ Ganon. Tapos, tinanong ni Mela, ‘So trans ka?’ Sabi ko, ‘Hindi ko alam. Pero alam ko feeling ko babae ako.’ Ganon. Tapos sabi niya: ‘Oh, eh babae ka!’”
After that encounter, she felt that “meron na akong validation sa sarili ko.”
“Siguro may isang tao lang dapat mag-validate sa akin. Kasi noon, ’di ba wala nga kasi nag-a-agree sa ’kin na girl ako kasi nga ’yung community namin parang ni-re-reject ’yung idea na kahit mukha kang lalaki pwede ka maging trans. Now, tinanggap ni Mama Mela na buo. Tsaka na-validate niya for me. So, doon ako nagkaroon ng lakas ng loob na tama. Trans. Girl. Bilat ako. ’Yun ’yung upbringing ko sa pagiging trans woman ko.”
“Laki ng thank you ko kay Mama Mela kasi siya ’yung nagsabi sakin,” she says.
Her experience drives home why we need more trans and trans-inclusive figures with public platforms who can help other people questioning their own identity. Being trans is not about whether or not you pass, or how well you can slip into acceptability.
She admits that prior to this conversation with Habijan, she herself was not as informed as she wanted to be on what it meant to be a trans woman. She admits her parents still struggle to understand, but she’s okay with it because she’s validated herself.
“Tingin ko naman dedma sila sa [pagiging] girl ko. ’Wag lang ako uminom ng pills kasi alam mo, matanda na sila.” She explains that her parents’ worry is that taking trans medication would make it difficult for her to have children. “‘Ay, ’wag ’yan, nakakabaog ’yan!’ Siyempre may mga isip pa na bakla ’to. Magkaanak.”
She also noted that her parents do not understand the difference between being trans from being bakla, aside from the medical aspect of transitioning. “Ang alam nila ay bakla lang. Hindi naman trans. Kasi pag nakakita sila ng trans [person] ang tawag nila ay bakla… So iisa lang lahat yon.” Because of that, it leads them to telling her, “’Wag ka na mag ganyan. Magpakabakla ka na lang!’ Kasi, mali sa health.”
“So ayon, ’di ko na sila kino-convince. Hindi ko na in-explain ano ’yung trans at tsaka gay. Hayaan mo na. At least, okay na ako ngayon.”
Reiterating her newfound confidence in herself, she says, “Happy ako… ’yun ’yung essence ng Pride eh. You can be anyone that you want to be. You can be free to be who you are.”
Learning about Pride opened up her view on her identity. If before, she thought whatever was socially accepted was all she could be, thanks to the community and the movement, she now knows better.
“’Yung perspective ko is solid na para sa ’kin,” she says. “I’m happy kasi at least that’s me. Dedma kayo kung hindi n’yo ma-betan.”
This happiness has propelled her to continue to do what she’s doing with as many people as possible through comedy—even with the difficulty of being a trans woman in the Philippines.
What does she want from her naksh*ts? The chance for her to entertain them—and to leave a comment. “Kahit simpleng tawa lang. Aliw na ako doon. At tsaka mag-‘haha’ na lang kayo sa mga post ko. Alam mo ’yon super appreciate ko ’yon.”
Her work is for her own fulfillment, too. “That’s why [kadalasan] my content is free content lang and wala masyadong ads. I’m doing this also for myself, kasi ’pag nakikita ko napapahappy ko ang mga tao nahappy din ako, in a way very selfish din siya. Pero alam mo ’yon, yeah, I deserve it.”
Looking at the bigger picture of Sassa, who’s recently released the song “Lagot!”, perhaps it’s safe to say that she is well on her way to ticking all the boxes she’s dreamt of becoming as a child: sikat and an artista.
Photos by Joseph Pascual Story by Celene Sakurako
Styling by Edlene Cabral Makeup by Pam Robes Hair by Mong Amado Creative direction by Neal Alday, Pammy Orlina, and Nimu Muallam Produced by Zofiya Acosta
Assisted by Amrie Cruz