English-Video.net comment policy

The comment field is common to all languages

Let's write in your language and use "Google Translate" together

Please refer to informative community guidelines on TED.com

TED2014

Geena Rocero: Why I must come out

Filmed
Views 3,153,707

When fashion model Geena Rocero first saw a photo of herself in a bikini, "I thought ... you have arrived!" As she reveals, that's because she was born with the gender assignment "boy." In this moving talk, Rocero tells the story of becoming who she always knew she was.

- Model and activist
Geena Rocero is a professional model for fashion and beauty companies around the world. And she uses her platform to share a powerful story. Full bio

The world makes you something that you're not,
00:13
but you know inside what you are,
00:18
and that question burns in your heart:
00:20
How will you become that?
00:23
I may be somewhat unique in this,
00:26
but I am not alone,
00:29
not alone at all.
00:31
So when I became a fashion model,
00:34
I felt that I'd finally achieved the dream
00:36
that I'd always wanted since I was a young child.
00:38
My outside self finally matched my inner truth,
00:41
my inner self.
00:45
For complicated reasons which I'll get to later,
00:47
when I look at this picture,
00:52
at that time I felt like, Geena, you've done it,
00:55
you've made it,
00:57
you have arrived.
00:58
But this past October,
01:01
I realized that I'm only just beginning.
01:04
All of us are put in boxes by our family,
01:08
by our religion,
01:13
by our society,
01:14
our moment in history,
01:16
even our own bodies.
01:19
Some people have the courage to break free,
01:21
not to accept the limitations imposed by
01:24
the color of their skin
01:26
or by the beliefs of those that surround them.
01:28
Those people are always the threat
01:32
to the status quo,
01:34
to what is considered acceptable.
01:35
In my case, for the last nine years,
01:39
some of my neighbors,
01:45
some of my friends, colleagues, even my agent,
01:47
did not know about my history.
01:50
I think, in mystery, this is called the reveal.
01:52
Here is mine.
01:56
I was assigned boy at birth
02:00
based on the appearance of my genitalia.
02:03
I remember when I was five years old
02:06
in the Philippines walking around our house,
02:08
I would always wear this t-shirt on my head.
02:10
And my mom asked me,
02:13
"How come you always wear
that t-shirt on your head?"
02:15
I said, "Mom, this is my hair. I'm a girl."
02:18
I knew then how to self-identify.
02:23
Gender has always been considered a fact,
02:27
immutable,
02:32
but we now know it's actually more fluid,
02:34
complex and mysterious.
02:37
Because of my success, I never had the courage
02:41
to share my story,
02:44
not because I thought what I am is wrong,
02:46
but because of how the world treats those of us
02:49
who wish to break free.
02:52
Every day,
02:55
I am so grateful because I am a woman.
02:57
I have a mom and dad and family
03:01
who accepted me for who I am.
03:04
Many are not so fortunate.
03:07
There's a long tradition in Asian culture
03:12
that celebrates the fluid mystery of gender.
03:14
There is a Buddhist goddess of compassion.
03:18
There is a Hindu goddess, hijra goddess.
03:21
So when I was eight years old,
03:25
I was at a fiesta in the Philippines celebrating
03:27
these mysteries.
03:30
I was in front of the stage,
03:32
and I remember, out comes this beautiful woman
03:34
right in front of me,
03:37
and I remember that moment something hit me:
03:39
That is the kind of woman I would like to be.
03:41
So when I was 15 years old,
03:45
still dressing as a boy,
03:47
I met this woman named T.L.
03:49
She is a transgender beauty pageant manager.
03:51
That night she asked me,
03:55
"How come you are not joining the beauty pageant?"
03:56
She convinced me that if I joined
03:59
that she would take care of the registration fee
04:01
and the garments,
04:05
and that night,
04:06
I won best in swimsuit
04:08
and best in long gown
04:11
and placed second runner up
04:12
among 40-plus candidates.
04:14
That moment changed my life.
04:17
All of a sudden, I was introduced
04:20
to the world of beauty pageants.
04:22
Not a lot of people could say that your first job
04:25
is a pageant queen for transgender women,
04:27
but I'll take it.
04:29
So from 15 to 17 years old, I joined
04:32
the most prestigious pageant
04:34
to the pageant where it's at
the back of the truck, literally,
04:37
or sometimes it would be a
pavement next to a rice field,
04:41
and when it rains --
04:45
it rains a lot in the Philippines --
04:46
the organizers would have to move it
04:49
inside someone's house.
04:51
I also experienced the goodness of strangers,
04:55
especially when we would travel
04:57
in remote provinces in the Philippines.
04:58
But most importantly, I met
05:01
some of my best friends in that community.
05:03
In 2001,
05:06
my mom, who had moved to San Francisco,
05:08
called me and told me that my
green card petition came through,
05:11
that I could now move to the United States.
05:14
I resisted it.
05:18
I told my mom, "Mom, I'm having fun.
05:19
I'm here with my friends,
05:21
I love traveling, being a beauty pageant queen."
05:22
But then two weeks later she called me, she said,
05:26
"Did you know that if you move to the United States
05:29
you could change your name and gender marker?"
05:31
That was all I needed to hear.
05:35
My mom also told me to put two E's
05:38
in the spelling of my name.
05:39
She also came with me when I had my surgery
05:42
in Thailand at 19 years old.
05:44
It's interesting, in some of the
most rural cities in Thailand,
05:47
they perform some of the most prestigious,
05:50
safe and sophisticated surgery.
05:54
At that time in the United States,
05:58
you needed to have surgery
06:00
before you could change your
name and gender marker.
06:01
So in 2001, I moved to San Francisco,
06:04
and I remember looking at
my California driver's license
06:09
with the name Geena
06:13
and gender marker F.
06:15
That was a powerful moment.
06:17
For some people,
06:20
their I.D. is their license to drive
06:22
or even to get a drink,
06:24
but for me, that was my license to live,
06:26
to feel dignified.
06:30
All of a sudden, my fears were minimized.
06:32
I felt that I could conquer my dream
06:35
and move to New York and be a model.
06:37
Many are not so fortunate.
06:41
I think of this woman named Ayla Nettles.
06:45
She's from New York, she's a young woman
06:48
who was courageously living her truth,
06:50
but hatred ended her life.
06:53
For most of my community,
06:56
this is the reality in which we live.
06:58
Our suicide rate is nine times higher
07:01
than that of the general population.
07:04
Every November 20,
07:06
we have a global vigil
07:08
for Transgender Day of Remembrance.
07:10
I'm here at this stage
07:14
because it's a long history of people who fought
07:15
and stood up for injustice.
07:18
This is Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.
07:20
Today, this very moment,
07:26
is my real coming out.
07:28
I could no longer live my truth
07:31
for and by myself.
07:34
I want to do my best to help others
07:37
live their truth without shame and terror.
07:39
I am here, exposed,
07:44
so that one day there will never be a need
07:48
for a November 20 vigil.
07:51
My deepest truth allowed me to accept who I am.
07:55
Will you?
08:01
Thank you very much.
08:03
(Applause)
08:05
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause)
08:08
Kathryn Schulz: Geena, one quick question for you.
08:14
I'm wondering what you would say,
08:16
especially to parents,
08:18
but in a more broad way, to friends,
08:20
to family, to anyone who finds themselves
08:22
encountering a child or a person
08:24
who is struggling with and uncomfortable with
08:26
a gender that's being assigned them,
08:28
what might you say
08:30
to the family members of that person
08:32
to help them become good and caring and kind
08:34
family members to them?
08:36
Geena Rocero: Sure. Well,
first, really, I'm so blessed.
08:38
The support system, with my mom especially,
08:40
and my family, that in itself
08:43
is just so powerful.
08:45
I remember every time I would coach
08:47
young trans women, I would mentor them,
08:49
and sometimes when they would call me
08:52
and tell me that their parents can't accept it,
08:54
I would pick up that phone call and tell my mom,
08:56
"Mom, can you call this woman?"
08:58
And sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, so —
09:00
But it's just, gender identity
09:03
is in the core of our being, right?
09:07
I mean, we're all assigned gender at birth,
09:09
so what I'm trying to do
09:13
is to have this conversation that
09:15
sometimes that gender assignment doesn't match,
09:17
and there should be a space
09:20
that would allow people to self-identify,
09:22
and that's a conversation that we should have
09:25
with parents, with colleagues.
09:27
The transgender movement,
09:30
it's at the very beginning,
09:31
to compare to how the gay movement started.
09:34
There's still a lot of work that needs to be done.
09:37
There should be an understanding.
09:39
There should be a space of curiosity
09:41
and asking questions,
09:43
and I hope all of you guys will be my allies.
09:45
KS: Thank you. That was so lovely.
GR: Thank you.
09:48
(Applause)
09:50

▲Back to top

About the speaker:

Geena Rocero - Model and activist
Geena Rocero is a professional model for fashion and beauty companies around the world. And she uses her platform to share a powerful story.

Why you should listen

As Cameron Russell puts it, professional models are people who have won the genetic lottery, born with the DNA for long legs, great skin and dazzling smiles. The advertising industry presents these gorgeous folks as idealized versions of ourselves to sell us clothes, makeup, cars. But behind the fabulousness, there's always an interesting story.

Born in Manila, Geena Rocero moved to New York in 2005 to pursue a modeling career. Signed to Next Models, she has worked with Rimmel Cosmetics, Hanes, and many other fashion and beauty companies. Through her own experience into womanhood, she realized her bigger purpose in life was to share her journey and work towards justice and beauty.

More profile about the speaker
Geena Rocero | Speaker | TED.com