Transgender Supermodel Is Using Art To Change The World

Model and activist Geena Rocero discusses how to elevate global transgender awareness why she decided to come out on the TED stage.

On the TED stage this year in Vancouver, many new ideas were revealed and explained. For speaker and model Geena Rocero, her time on stage was a lot more personal. During the twelve years previous, Rocero had been making a name for herself as an internationally-renowned fashion and swimsuit model, but in honor of International Transgender Day of Visibility, Rocero came out on stage as having been assigned the male gender at birth based on her genitalia, and having undergone a transformation into the woman she is today.

Gender Proud, Rocero’s current awareness and advocacy platform, is trying to focus on achieving a less stringent gender recognition law, making it easier for people to change their gender in the eyes of the law. “We’re trying to create a global, unified messaging, why it’s important for countries all over the world to have a gender recognition law that would allow transgender, and gender‑variant people as well, intersex people, to be able to change name and gender marker on your documents without being forced to go through surgeries, or forced sterilizations, or other dehumanizing barriers,” said Rocero in an interview at the PSFK offices last week. “There are only a handful of countries that allow you to do that.”

The organization is currently very targeted, focusing on countries (where they partner with AllOUT.org) that have “tipping points” on gender recognition law, whether that means it’s being presented in congress, or legislation, etc. “Anything,” Rocero comments, “that lets us to partner up with local organizations and really, truly understand the different cultural nuance and become sensitive to the needs of the activist groups that are on the ground, and think about how we could develop resources, listen to the activist and organizations to help craft a strategy on what kind of messaging they would like to put out, whether it be a social media campaign, or an all-out on‑the‑ground members push when there’s a court hearing or a rally.” At its core, Gender Proud’s mission statement is to “advance the rights of all transgender individuals.”

Rocero believes strongly that having a name and gender marker that matches a person’s identity rather than their assigned sex, is a key component to allowing transgender individuals to lead a more humane life. “It allows people to dream. It allows people to have a sense of validation, to feel a sense of dignity,” she says. As well, it allows people easier access to healthcare, fewer questions when they cross borders, and the freedom not to have to answer incredibly personal questions whenever they show identification with a gender marker that doesn’t match their outward appearance.

“Before I became a US citizen in 2006,” Rocero recounts, “I still had my Philippine passport with my male name and gender marker, traveling from New York to Tokyo, going through the immigration, the next thing I know, I’m inside the immigration office being questioned because I didn’t match my documents.”

This experience was just one of many that spurred Rocero to take on the cause as her own. “I’m here to explain. I’m here to educate people. Ask me any question, and as long as someone’s not being rude about it then I will have a conversation with them. That’s how you learn. That’s how I learn. There are no wrong questions.”

Currently, Gender Proud is running a campaign on Indiegogo to “elevate transgender visibility” and fund local activist movements. They are halfway to their funding goal with 18 days left to go. Donors can win a lunch with Rocero herself, and TED speakers Cameron Sinclair and Raghava KK.

“It’s a big task, but this is my life’s purpose,” Rocero admits. “This is what I’m doing now, maybe for the rest of my life. I’m always going to be an artist and storyteller, and I will use art in any way I can to change the world.”

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