In January 2021, Sassa Gurl posed a question.
“My question of the day is: Why is there no queer endorser of Red Horse (a Filipino beer brand) when we’re the ones who spend for drinking sessions and can even outdrink the men who are weak shit?” Sassa Gurl asked in Filipino, and in jest, before cheekily singing along to “Good Days” by Sza, in a video she posted on TikTok.
Sassa Gurl, who identifies as a trans woman, is a 25-year-old Filipino TikTok star with over 4.5 million followers on the platform. She’s known for her no-filter takes on life and culture in the Philippines, as well as her comedic skits about everyday Filipino scenarios—from classroom shenanigans and neighborhood gossip to encounters with jeepney drivers and corner store characters. Her videos regularly get millions of views, hundreds of thousands of likes, and hundreds if not thousands of comments.
“Lots of people say that they got famous by accident, that their content got noticed by accident. Me, no. I planned all of this, and I did everything that I could to get noticed by people,” Sassa Gurl told VICE, adding, more seriously, that what caught her off guard was the extent to which she became famous, and just how many people actually watch and relate to her videos.
Earlier this month, the TikTok star became known for something she admitted she thought about but didn’t think was possible—she became the face of a local liquor brand’s calendar. Sassa Gurl, a transgender woman, became a calendar girl.
It had been a year since she posted that video asking a beer brand why it didn’t have queer brand endorsers, when a different alcohol brand—White Castle Whisky—announced it was looking for its next calendar model. Sassa’s fans, lovingly called “‘nak shits,” which literally translates to “shit sons and daughters,” were quick to remember the video and encourage her to join the contest.
Liquor calendars are sort of a staple in Philippine drinking culture. They’re large shiny posters with barely legible months and numbers on one side and a sexualized It Girl, normally in a bikini, on the other. They come with cheap liquor bottles and hang on the walls of corner stores, garages, and kitchens for the yearning gaze of men around the country—at least until the next year’s calendar, with a new It Girl in a bikini, comes out.
In the past, White Castle Whisky followed this same format. But just last year, the brand broke the norm and put a popular food content creator on its calendar. Said content creator was also a man. “Of course, it’s a new era, brothers,” the brand wrote.
According to the brand’s call-out for the 2022 calendar model, people of all genders were welcome to join the contest. All aspiring models had to do was upload a photo of themselves edited into a White Castle Whisky calendar. Winners were to be selected based on their posts’ likes and shares, and the creativity of their calendar. Sassa Gurl made a crude edit of herself in a White Castle Whisky calendar and submitted it alongside other entries from around the country.
Since she’s known for her comedy, Sassa Gurl said she took a comedic approach to her calendar girl entry, too. She captioned her photo: “Us bakla (queer people) always cover the drinks but you girls are on the calendars?”
When she saw that White Castle Whisky messaged her on Instagram, Sassa Gurl said she thought it was going to ask her to delete her post because it was too silly. But the brand actually messaged to let her know that she won the contest.
She was publicly announced the winner on January 14, with two versions of the brand’s 2022 calendar—one of Sassa Gurl in a tight red dress, holding a glass and a bottle of the whisky, and another of her in a blue swimsuit. We can only surmise how the brand actually chose its winner, but Sassa Gurl’s personality, her poignant critique of the other liquor brand, and her millions of “shit sons and daughters,” could have guaranteed her the top spot.
Sassa Gurl herself shared photos of the calendar on Twitter, saying: “They listened to us, bakla!”
Liquors tend to be hyper-masculine brands, Sassa Gurl said, so she didn’t expect a popular one like White Castle Whisky to take a swing at making a member of the LGBTQ community its brand endorser, because doing so might lead to lower sales and disappointment from the men in their markets.
“Most of the time it’s people like tricycle drivers and construction workers who buy these liquors,” said Sassa Gurl. “But I realized that they’re not the only market. There are also the gay people, and other people.”
Indeed, many took to social media to celebrate Sassa Gurl’s win.
“There are lots of reactions on social media… I can’t deny that there were many who came before me who were LGBT and fought for rights and representation,” Sassa Gurl said. “But I think I gave my fair share in representing in mainstream media, and people say this is another glass ceiling that’s been broken. It’s another heteronormative thing that’s been successfully entered by LGBT representation. Comments like this are some of my favorites.”
Of course, other comments have not been so kind. Sassa Gurl remembers one that says something along the lines of White Castle Whisky making the right choice for its calendar girl, because it would take drinking a lot of alcohol for someone to see her as beautiful. One Twitter user said Sassa Gurl was a poor choice when a “Filipina transsexual beauty” who is “serious” and “not laughable” could have done the job. Another person said that they wished it was 2023 already.
“My god. It’s just one year of you not ogling at a calendar girl, and you can’t even give that up?” Sassa Gurl asked, laughing.
She expected these mixed reactions, Sassa Gurl said, if only because having a transgender woman like her on a calendar—especially a liquor brand’s calendar—is still so unusual.
“Usually, calendar girls are objectified, turned into fantasies by men. But this time, it’s a statement that doesn’t serve the male gaze. It’s a progressive step for representation in the mainstream media,” Sassa Gurl explained. “How are you going to jerk off now?”
For Sassa Gurl, it’s always been about authenticity.
“I realized that being authentic is such a big investment in yourself. That’s where you can explore your potential, especially when you’re really doing you. That’s where you explore what you can do,” she said.
“I value authenticity because it gives me—number one—happiness for myself, because I get to be who I really am, and also, for other people—they appreciate it too, because they like it when you tell the truth. They don’t like being fooled, play-timed, or treated with a plastic attitude. Who wants that?”
Everybody has parts of themselves they may be scared to show others, Sassa Gurl said, but that fear is only a sign that what a person is about to show is fresh, and therefore, worth showing.
She added that what she wants her calendar to do is widen the scope of other people’s thoughts and dreams—to not have them limited by things like gender or looks. She said that she hopes this stint encourages not just the LGBTQ community, but also other marginalized groups to keep dreaming and not lose hope. She also hopes that the discussions around her being a calendar girl helps other people understand the struggles and realities of those in the LGBTQ community, and that those critics come to realize that the people in the community are good people.
“It’s a good start for 2022—the fight goes on.”
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