Fil-Am model makes mission to advance rights of transgender people

By Don Tagala, ABS-CBN North America Bureau
May 6, 2014

NEW YORK – Born with the DNA for great looks, flawless skin, an infectious smile, and a hot body fit for a supermodel, Geena Rocero made her mark in New York’s fashion industry.

“When I look at this picture at that time, I felt like, Geena, you’ve done it, you’ve made it, you have arrived. But this past October I realized that I’m only just beginning,” Rocero said as she showed the audience at “TED Talk” one of her supermodel photos.

Signed to Next Models, the Filipina beauty has worked for Rimmel Cosmetics, Hanes, and other fashion and beauty companies worldwide.

Even with a spectacular career, the Filipina supermodel kept a big part of her life a secret, until her big reveal at the TED Talk in Vancouver, Canada recently.

“I was assigned boy at birth based on the appearance of my genitalia,” Rocero said. “I remember when I was five years old in the Philippines, walking around our house. I would always wear this t-shirt in my head and my mom asked me how come you always wear that t-shirt.”

“I said — Mom, this is my hair. I’m a girl.”

Born and raised in Guadalupe in Makati, Philippines, she began competing in beauty pageants at the age of 15.

She came to the US when she was 17. Her modeling career began after she was discovered by a fashion photographer at a Lower East Side restaurant in New York at 21.

Balitang America caught up with Geena last Saturday, during her talk at New York’s “Next Day Better” – the Filipino-American version of TED Talk.

“I felt like a girl, but nobody really knew what that was,” she said.

“I hope people will have a chance to better understand what that meant because it’s very important, you know, to show that sometimes our gender assignment at birth doesn’t really match who we are,” Rocero said. “So people should be allowed to express that and to identify to the gender that we really feel like that match who they are.”

For nine years Rocero says she had to keep her past a secret out of fear and shame.

Globally, there is no universal right to change one’s gender marker on identifying documents without having to undergo sex-reassignment surgeries.

“There was also an unfortunate fear of shame. I was really ashamed of that part of myself and I realized that there was no reason to be ashamed of that,” Rocero said. “It should be politically recognized. I think transgender people and gender variant people like inter-sex people should be allowed to change their name and gender marker in their documents without being forced to go through surgeries.”

Rocero says coming out was not only life changing and healing for herself, but it’s also a chance to tell her powerful story to help other transgender people like her live life without fear and shame.

Rocero said, “I felt like I’m not hiding anything anymore, with this platform I now have with Gender Proud. I just want to have a conversation with people about what it really means to be a transgender person.”

Rocero says she’s a dreamer.

Together with Gender Proud – an advocacy and awareness group she created to advance the rights of all transgender individuals – her next big step is to advocate for policy changes around that world that would fight for transgender rights and equality.

Click here for more information on Gender Proud

“As much as I talk about policy and progressive approach into how we could make change, I’m also a story teller. I will use art in any way I can to change the world, tell the story. Because at the end of the day, art really breaks down barriers and it really leads people to understand better. It opens up conversation,” Rocero said.

You may contact Don Tagala at don_tagala@abs-cbn.com for more information.

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