Move over, Shawn Mendes! Photographer BJ Pascual is coming for your gig.
On the day of Metro Manila Pride, the lensman behind our Kathryn Bernardo cover dropped a photo of himself in a denim jacket and white briefs. Nope, this wasn’t just another picture of BJ on Instagram. This was BJ in an ad for Calvin Klein.
“Everything happened so fast!” he says when probed on how the project came about. He was in Tel Aviv for the week-long celebration of Pride when CK approached him to be one of their first Filipino collaborators.
Right when it was offered to him, BJ already had the now Tokyo-based photographer Regine David in mind. “I feel like Regine’s work constantly pushes society’s view of masculinity and that’s why she was top of mind when I booked this project,” he says. More than just another ad for a brand, BJ took this opportunity to make a statement about being femme.
“Society in general, and even the gay community puts so much of a premium on being masc, and that being femme makes you less”
Underwear ads are often fronted by straight men with overtly masculine traits. BJ’s first memory of the CK underwear ads features Baywatch’s Michael Bergin in white boxer briefs. “His body was buff and hard (characteristics of male models at the time), but the light and the way he was positioned made the image sensual but soft at the same time,” BJ recalls. Then, in recent years, we’ve seen Justin Bieber, A$AP Rocky, Noah Centineo, Shawn Mendes, and the problematic Mark Wahlberg front CK ads.
This concept of masculinity is prevalent even in the gay community. In a 2017 article, Dazed cites a survey from Attitude magazine which found that 71 percent of 5,000 gay men were turned off by feminine qualities. Meanwhile, 41 percent of respondents thought femme gays gave the gay community a bad name. Abroad, there are Grindr users who also put “no fats, no femmes, no Asians” on their profiles as if masc4masc is the only way to engage.
“Society in general, and even the gay community puts so much of a premium on being masc, and that being femme makes you less,” BJ says. “How many times have you heard ‘Ang gwapo niya kaso malambot!’ or iterations of that?”
BJ took this opportunity to show that men, straight or gay, shouldn’t just remain inside that conventional box. That effeminate men can also represent something that used to be attributed exclusively to mascs. “I do think it’s great that such an iconic underwear brand, which people would usually associate with a very ‘masculine’ view of being sexy, would also allow an effeminate gay guy to represent them,” he says. “I guess the message I wanted to get across is that there’s nothing wrong with being femme.”
In the video shot by Paco Raterta, whom BJ calls a genius, the photographer mentions the feminine traits he was insulted for: too gay, too soft, sissy.
“When I was very young, I was probably seven or eight, I remember overhearing my uncles saying that I’m probably gay in a very derogatory way. It happened a lot as I grew older. In my teenage years, I just chose to keep quiet and not interact with people so they wouldn’t notice I’m gay,” he says.
“It happened gradually,” BJ says of his nonconformity, “but the turning point was when I got my first pair of heeled boots for a Bowie halloween costume in New York. The year was 2015 or 2016. I know it sounds so cheesy but walking around NYC in those boots made me feel so confident and free. And the rest is heelstory.”
But what is so wrong about being femme? Why can’t men, even those who identify as queer like BJ Pascual, celebrate their femininity? Arbitrary social norms box individuals, but to subscribe to such outdated ideals only limits individuals from expressing themselves. Life isn’t a binary as BJ discovered.
Does his lola approve of this project, though? She has yet to see the photographs for the ad. “When I told her before I left for Japan, she was surprised. ‘Bakit ikaw?’” he says. But BJ is excited to show her the photos this weekend. For now, BJ will “sissy that walk in his Calvins.”
Check out the official photos below:
Photography by Regine David
Grooming by Omar Ermita