Beyond bakla: Trinidad Escobar's liberating exploration of queer sensuality and identities
Trinidad Escobar’s love for storytelling began as early as six years old when they penned a myriad of short stories into the pages of their college-ruled notebooks. Writing provided a creative outlet for the shy yet imaginative child and a place of refuge where their thoughts and ideas could take flight. Today, they are an accomplished cartoonist and poet in the comics world with pieces featured in publications like the New Yorker and The Washington Post.
Born in the Philippines and adopted by distant relatives in the United States, Escobar moved to Northern California, where their artistic journey first took shape with the help of the Pilipino Youth Coalition (PYC) in San Jose. PYC played a critical role in Escobar’s life, not only serving as their primary source of education in the arts but also as a lifeline that prevented them from the allure and potential pitfalls of gang involvement.
“I was put in that program because I was getting affiliated. It was during a time in California when Filipinos were looking for a community. In the nineties, there could be 10 Filipino gangs in San Jose, so it was easy to fall into that kind of life,” Escobar said.
Escobar went on to study Creative Writing at San Francisco State University and later earned two Master of Fine Arts degrees — one in Poetry from Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics and the second in Comics from California College of the Arts. Filipino and queer identity are core tenets of Escobar’s work. As a queer non-binary cartoonist and poet, they draw inspiration from their personal experiences and various comic book artists, including multiracial Filipino American cartoonist Lynda Barry.
“Lynda Barry is special because she’s Filipina. She writes about her mother and growing up in Seattle with diverse and multiracial kids and queer people,” Escobar said.
The representation Escobar sees in figures like Barry has influenced them to write in ways that reflect their authentic self. They value the freedom to explore sexuality and erotica through art and create vibrant, entertaining poems and comics.
Among Escobar’s work is Arrive in My Hands, a graphic novel of erotic comics, and poetic compositions such as “Filipina Beauty Queen #1,” “Filipinx Beauty Queen #2,” and “trinidad #1” that employ humor to expose awkward interactions natural of human sexuality.
“Bakla,” an article previously published by The Nib in 2019, explores the relationship between queerness and Filipino cultural identity. “‘Bakla’ is often used as a slur, but the word has its roots in indigenous language and culture and a time when Queer identities were revered,” Escobar wrote. “The word ‘bakla’ is used differently given the context and circumstance. Usually, it is used to describe people with femme-presenting characteristics. It is not used as often to describe masculine women or trans men. However, ‘bakla’ is still an umbrella identity because it does not simply mean gay or trans. At the same time, many Filipino Americans identify with the term because of its non-Western connotations.”
Escobar has made a profound impact on queer Asian readers through their Patreon service, instilling a new sense of confidence that empowers people to celebrate their sensuality and fully embrace the natural and human aspects of themselves without shame.
“I get a lot of messages from “masc,” (referring to those who present masculine traits, regardless of gender identity) queer, and trans people. They’ll tell me how they feel invisible most of the time or who they are isn’t attractive or sexy. I get to see this intimate stuff that goes on with people after they read my work, and that’s really special to me,” Escobar said.
Sharing this type of content online is not without its struggles. Escobar activated the privacy setting on their Instagram account after receiving negative feedback from an audience within the Filipino community that maintains a vehement opposition against the exploration of sexuality and queerness.
“Filipino people have been my greatest readers, and they’ve also been my biggest critics,” Escobar said. “I’m grateful for the critics. But another part of myself reminds me that I don’t do things for straight, cisgender people.”
Escobar, undeterred and fueled with a desire to create, has a plethora of works currently in production. They intend to build an online digital space called Happy Hardcore Bookstore for unpublished erotica and plan to release “Of Sea and Venom” this year. Set in the 1500s, the queer pre-colonial story takes place in an alternate San Francisco Bay Area and the Philippines that are ruled by matriarchal families who rebel against a white man and his pirates attempting to settle on their lands.
In addition to their forthcoming projects, Escobar extends valuable guidance to those eager to embark on their own artistic journeys.
“If folks are trying to pursue creative work and there are no models for what they’re doing, or they feel weird and odd, or like they don’t fit into anything — they’re on the right track,” Escobar said. “Use that wandering feeling as a compass and a sign that you really are on the right path.”