BJ Pascual Talks About His Coming Out Story Through His Liberating Calvin Klein Ad
BJ Pascual is femme-presenting.
He wears heels, makeup, and leopard-print gloves. He’s soft and effeminate. He’s everything Calvin Klein isn’t—or at least, wasn’t. “When you think of Calvin Klein underwear, you usually think of buff, hypermasculine men in underwear, and I’m far from that,” says the 31-year-old Filipino photographer.
Over Pride week in Tel Aviv early in June, just a little over a week and a half before Metro Manila’s own celebration, BJ got the call. The international brand approached him for a collaboration—one of the first in the country—and gave him the freedom to choose the team he’d be working with for the feature. “Of course I immediately said yes,” he says.
BJ had been out for a long time, both on social media and in his personal life, before officially coming out via a magazine feature in 2016. “I didn’t really think much of it at first,” he says. “But when I started getting messages from people who have read my coming out story—some telling me how they related to my story and some telling me their struggles coming out—that’s when I realized that it isn’t so easy for most of the people in our community, and that’s when I also realized the importance of representation in the media.”
The photographer recognizes the power of irrevocably and unapologetically being oneself, especially as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. “Before coming out, I was very shy and reserved,” he says. “Looking back, it was probably because I didn’t want to be called out for being gay. After coming out, I gradually became more unafraid of expressing myself, and that’s really when I started to thrive, especially creatively.”
“Made me wish I had come out sooner,” he adds.
But there is no space for regret, and so with his Calvin Klein ad—which he describes to be “liberating”—he’s made it his goal to represent another side of the gay community, especially alongside a brand that is famously known for being aggressively macho and virile. “I'm the exact opposite,” BJ says.
And he doesn’t venture into this endeavor alone. For the project, he’d already set his sights on working with the best Filipino creatives in the industry. He shares, “I tapped photographer Regine David and director Paco Raterta.” Regine, despite being based in Tokyo, had been top of BJ’s mind because her work “constantly pushes society’s view of masculinity,” he says.
“It’s the reason everyone flew to Japan to shoot!” BJ exclaims. “Paco is, for lack of a better term, a f*cking genius when it comes to storytelling,” he adds. “I've never worked with anyone like him before. He shot, edited, composed the music, all in three days.” For the shoot’s makeup, BJ approached one of his constant collaborators, Omar Ermita. “I have been a fan of all of their bodies of work and I’m beyond ecstatic they all agreed to do this project!”
Preparing for the shoot hadn’t been easy for BJ—he’d been surrounded by food when he was in Israel—but it wasn’t all that tough either. “I only had one week to prepare for the shoot from the time I found out to the actual shoot dates.”
“But thankfully,” he adds, “I have been trying to maintain my diet aside from working out regularly since the Metro Body shoot last March, so I had to hit the gym hard and be very strict about my diet as soon as I got back from Israel. I also didn’t have any liquids the day of the shoot!”
It was worth it in the end. “The best part of the shoot was when I finally got to drink water at around 6:30 in the evening after not drinking anything the whole day,” he laughs. “The hardest part was when Paco asked me to sprint in those CK boots while it was raining! You see that shot for a split second in the video,” he tells Metro.Style.
So he’s got the physical aspect of the shoot down pat. It’s one thing to be physically prepared, and another to gather enough confidence to show that much skin to a thousand pair of eyes. This time around, the camera is pointing at BJ instead of the other way around. We ask him how that feels, to be the photograph’s subject rather than its taker. “Not a lot of people know it,” he says, “but it takes so much work and energy! Being a photographer still feels more natural to me.”
But BJ’s figured it all out. At least now he has.
“I know it's cliché, but it's really about confidence,” he says. “I used to be afraid to even take my shirt off when I swim. But as soon as I stopped comparing my body to others and that all our bodies are different, I became more comfortable in my own skin. It also helped that I had complete trust in the team. Regine made me extremely comfortable during the shoot, and also I had complete trust in her since I’m a fan of her work.”
Over the video, a voiceover plays. “For years I’ve tried to be more manly, more masc, more macho,” says the narrator.
“But I couldn’t,” the voice continued. “One day I realized those labels were holding me back.”
That voice is BJ's, and the moment he freed himself from the constraints of those labels, life had never been better. BJ wanted his message to come across loud and clear: He says, “Society in general, and even in the gay community, puts so much of a premium on being masc, and that being femme makes you less.”
“Whether you’re masc or femme, hard or soft, whatever you want to call yourself—or not call yourself—you are attractive as long as you are true to yourself,” he says.
Photos courtesy of BJ Pascual