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Issa Pressman: Rise Above

When we planned this shoot, we knew we wanted to make a statement: that it’s no longer just a man’s world. Nor is it just a woman’s world. It’s now a world where people of varied sexualities and gender identities exist, and we will no longer be silent; we will no longer be powerless. I was most excited for this layout specifically because it felt like such a power move to portray both masculinity and femininity in front of a recognizable symbol for cis men: the male urinal. What I did not anticipate, though, was for this to mean something more in the months to proceed after this shoot.

Since August this year, the comfort room issue has become much bigger for LGBTQ+ individuals in the Philippines. Comfort rooms are no longer just a place to relieve yourself, but a symbol of a place in this world which the LGBTQ+ community is staking its claim on.

Issa Pressman donning modern Daenerys Targaryen-esque regalia (a majestic dress made of blue sweater material which drapes over one arm like a cape, ear jewelry, and half-blonde hair pulled back in twists and braids), radiating strength and confidence, and poised in front of a urinal no longer just feels like an “F.U.” to masculine and feminine dichotomies of gender expectations. It feels even more of a power move now; it’s as if she’s reclaiming power from a world that puts men and masculinity on a pedestal, and looks down on women and queer people.

It’s fitting how this layout ended up being the cover for this last story where Issa talks about her past, and her attitude towards life with the same strength and confidence. Read more about how she has reclaimed herself from her past insecurities, her message to people struggling to find themselves, as well as her attitude towards life, her art, and the people around her, and how she plans to continue to rise above—like Daenerys on Drogon, soaring through the skies of Westeros.

Moving onto more personal things: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in life, or your personal mantra, and how have you applied it?

Just be yourself. You’ll be comfortable, and then you’ll be more confident. Because honestly, before, I was a very insecure kid. Like if there’s this pretty girl and she’s wearing a clip, tomorrow I’ll also wear a clip. I was like that. Or if my crush has a

crush on another girl, I’ll say bad stuff about that girl. I was that girl before, until one day, I was like, “This isn’t helping myself in any way.” I’m just creating this negative thing inside of me, until I met real friends. Honestly, it’s good to choose your friends. If you’re smart enough to choose your own friends, you should, because you get to know how to surround yourself with positive energy, with good people. If you think that person isn’t doing well for you, then you tell them, but then if it doesn’t change, then maybe create distance if you feel like there’s negativity around them. That’s how I did it for myself, you know?

I did also go through that college-high school drama where I was hated by my best friend. So I was like, “Oh, okay. I need to find real people who actually accept me if I change, or if I choose this kind of path and who won’t judge me.” And by creating that positive energy, you just become an extra positive person as well.

What did you learn about yourself after finding yourself in that process? Who is Issa Pressman now?

Issa’s just a more genuine and honest girl. One main reason I tell my friends why I stopped showbusiness even before I really got into it is because—showbusiness right now, they have a particular way, you know? If for example, you haven’t slept the whole day and if you haven’t eaten, and then you just snap a little bit, people are going to take that against you. They’re going to be like, “You have no right to do that, kasi hindi ka sikat.” But I’m like, “Where’s the justice in that? But what if you’re really tired?” It’s my personality that if I’m tired, I’ll tell you in a proper way like, “Yo, wait. Maybe we need a break,” or whatever. Or if they keep taking pictures of my sister, I’m like, “Hey, you guys could ask permission. She’ll say yes. Just don’t do it discreetly.” And I’ll be honest. I can’t hide my feelings.

As I said before, I was very insecure, so I always had to find a path that would make me gain more likes. What would make me gain more comments? More followers? How would I be known to more people? There’s a particular way and to be honest, it’s the mainstream way, right? More people will like you if you take the mainstream path, and that’s not a negative thing. Sometimes, that makes you more money. But then, for me, I just give more importance to quality over quantity. Even if I know that if I do this video in a particular way where I would gain more likes and more views, if I have my own way of making it more artistic, more honest to my own art, then I would do that. Even if just ten people will see it. Because at the end of the day, even if I get 1,000 views but only two people actually appreciate it, it’s nothing compared to just having 10 views, but these 10 people really relate to you, right?

What can you say to those people who are struggling to find themselves, whether it’s in terms of sexuality or self-expression? What can you suggest to help them become more confident in themselves?

I think it’s to be more careless. But also, be more responsible. I’m not saying careless—as in pabaya. Careless because you just have to not be so conscious, but then responsible by not stepping on anyone. Being responsible is being smart about your movements, and not looking down on anyone else. And then—put yourself on top. You are your own priority above anyone else. Don’t think of what they might think. I mean, I know some people can be like, “Oh, they might not like me,” or whatever, but then if you embrace yourself and be your own self, people are going to admire you for you. The “you” is going to come out, you know?

But then, we can’t deny the fact that for some people, it’s hard for them to find this because of their environment, and how close-minded it can be.


For those people, in particular, what can you say? It’s just being more vocal, you know? You just need communication. Not to explain yourself. Not to orient someone of who you are. It’s not that. It’s just so that you build a better connection, and then you try to open up their minds. There’s no harm in trying. If it still doesn’t work, then just do you! But if you build a better connection with everyone and they become more open-minded, it’s your way of creating a better world for everyone else in the future. Wala naman mawawala eh. Since you’re a very multi-faceted artist yourself, how has your art shaped you? Or how has your identity and your relationship to your art affected your artwork? I guess it’s more like a, “You tell me,” type of thing. I can’t really say what particular art I’m into, or what I want do, or what I want to show you. It’s just
naturally how you see me every day. That’s my art of life, you know? My Instagram, the way I talk, the way I dress; that’s my art. It’s not planned, it’s not scripted, it just naturally comes out of me, so I can’t really label it, in a sense.

Are there any personal practices you do to keep yourself centered, and to keep yourself inspired?

Recently, I’ve been doing yoga! I’ve just been doing it at home. When I started, other people were like, “Oh, yoga! It makes your soul dadada….”, but when I started, I was getting bored. But then, it’s true when you find an actual center, and you find peace, and you breathe. It’s good to meditate. It’s a way to recharge you. I’m starting to apply that when I’m panicking, or when I’m dealing with stuff. You need to breathe. Stop and breathe. You need to find this way of breathing in all of the good energy, but when you exhale you breathe out all of the bad ones, and you feel it, and then just give it ten seconds. Just breathe then relax, and then you get back on track.

If you have to give your younger self advice—you from 5 or 10 years ago—what would you tell her?

I would tell myself to be closer to your dad. Because it’s only recently that I’ve been very sweet with my dad. It’s crazy how time passes pala talaga, and my dad is 90. I have no time to waste. Like if I have to be close, be close. If I could’ve started younger, I would, and it’s crazy. It’s so scary when you put something on a calendar and you become so excited like, “It’s six months away!” My best friend, when she got married, I was like “Ooh, I’m going to be Maid of Honor,” and marked it on my calendar, and that was like 8 or 7 months away, and now they’re going to celebrate their anniversary soon. It’s crazy how time just goes by. If I could’ve told myself to be closer to my dad earlier, I would. But it’s never too late to start. I did it a couple of years back, and now I’m happy.

After looking back, now we look forward—what does the future have in store for Issa Pressman?

Let’s see! Maybe more music, because I’m getting into it little by little. Because it has always been a hobby. I love singing, but I would only sing in my bathroom. (laughs) I wouldn’t even sing in friends’ karaoke, but I really want to! I have that feeling. And because it’s something that I find myself wanting to do, maybe I should explore it a little bit more. Also, definitely getting back to art, because I stopped for a long, long while. Then hopefully more travels, because I love how in one place, you leave a piece of you, but you gain another. That’s how it is for me. There are feelings, memories, attitudes, or traits that I just drop there—and then I learn from something or somewhere in that country, and then I come home a different person.

Want to look back at Issa’s other cover stories on Calyxta? Check them out below:

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Cover Story By: Shawn Landayan  

Assisted By: Julia Benito

Art Direction: Margaux Cortez

Editorial Interns: Alec Alquiroz and Sam Nubla

Editor-at-Large: Gretchen Gatan

Videographer: Ryan Tizon

Photographer: Erwin Canlas (Shot on Film)

Makeup: Mikka Marcaida

Hair: Joseph Fantone

Styling: Flo Trinidad