Geena Rocero: 'Why I must come out'

Last updated 10:57 02/04/2014

TOP MODEL: Even her agent didn't know that Geena Rocero was considered a boy when first born.

HER TRUE IDENTITY: Rocero says that when she moved to the US and was allowed to change her ID so that she was identified as a woman it was like a "license to live".

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This Monday was International Transgender Day of Visibility. It was also the day that top model Geena Rocero decided to come out as transgender during a live-streamed TED talk. 

Born in Manila, Rocero moved to New York in 2005 to pursue modelling - she signed to Next Models, worked with Rimmel Cosmetics, Hanes and many other brands, but her fellow models and her agent didn't know about a big part of her identity.

"For the last nine years, some of my neighbours, some of my friends, colleagues, even my agent did not know about my history," she explained in her TED Talk.

"This is called a reveal, here is mine. I was assigned boy at birth based on the appearance of my genitalia.   

"I remember when I was five years old in the Philippines ... I would always wear a t-shirt on my head, and my mum asked me, 'why do you always wear a t-shirt on your head?' and I said, 'mum, this is my hair, I'm a girl. I knew then how to self identify."

Rocero goes on to explain that gender is "fluid, complex, mysterious" and that humiliation in her home country over the fact that she couldn't change her official gender marker is what ultimately lead her to move to the United States. 

"A personal turning point came in 2005, a year before I became a U.S. citizen, when I was travelling through Tokyo," the 33-year-old model told CNN. "Back then, I still had my Philippines passport and my former male gender marker, but I presented as a woman. I was taken into the immigration office at the airport and questioned for hours about my identity. I have friends in the Philippines - where there is no law that allows them to change their name and marker - that have these experiences every time they travel. It's dehumanising.

"When I first moved to the United States to work as a model, and I finally had the opportunity to change my name and gender marker, I felt as though my outside self finally matched my inner truth."

She called her new ID her "license to live". 

Rocero has decided to come out as transgender in such a public forum partly because she's just launched Gender Proud, an organisation that aims to stop people being humiliated in the way Rocero was when questioned at the airport. Gender Proud is pushing for more progressive policy around the world that will change the fact that "globally, there is not yet a universal right to change one's gender without having to first undergo surgery." 

Good on you Geena, we hope to see much more of Gender Proud, as well as much more of you gracing the pages of fashion mags and campaigns. 


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