Model and Trans Advocate Geena Rocero on Fighting Institutionalized Transphobia

For years, fashion model and trans advocate Geena Rocero says not even her closest friends or co-workers knew about her journey as a transgender woman. It wasn’t until her 30th birthday that she says she reached a place, personally and professionally, where she felt she could share her story.

“I wasn’t ready to talk about my full journey into womanhood, as a transgender woman, a year ago. I wasn’t ready two years ago, three years ago,” Rocero said. She publicly came out as a trans woman during a 10-minute TED2014 talk in Vancouver earlier this year. “But now, this full coming out that’s happened, I feel like I’m letting people into this full journey.”

At the age of 15, Rocero began her career as a model, participating in beauty pageants across the Philippines. In 2001, she moved to the United States and began to building her portfolio with some of the top modeling agencies in the country.

Geena Rocero

Her talk, titled “Why I Must Come Out,” has received more than 1.7 million views online. Now, Rocero is using her fame to promote the advocacy campaign Gender Proud. The campaign aims to bring global attention to gender marker legislation that would allow trans people the opportunity to self-identify on legal documents.

“Literally when I look at my ID, that very moment when I saw ‘Geena,’ with two “e’s,” and “F” in the gender marker, it changed my life,” Rocero said. “There’s a sense of validation that you feel as an individual, as a human being, as a person who wants to live a very productive life.”

Rocero was able to change her name and gender marker in all her legal documents when she was granted permission to move to the United States, but others in her situation are not so fortunate.

According to a recent study from the National Center for Transgender Equality, 41 percent of trans respondents nationwide reported living without an ID that matches their gender identity. Making matter worse, 90 percent of trans individuals say they have experienced harassment or discrimination while at work. Rocero says having legal documents that match your gender identity evens the playing field for the trans community in the workforce.

“It is one of the most basic thing that you want to have. To apply for a job without being asked constantly ‘who you really are,'” Rocero said.

She says she hopes her campaign will ultimately lead to her becoming the first transgender ambassador for the United Nations.

“I will like to be able to talk about sexual orientation and gender identity issues,” explained Rocero. “I want to be able to talk about that the same way we talk about gender empowerment, access to health, access to things that make you a productive human being. I dream of that.”