Transgender Rights Activist: Innovating The Gender Binary
Model turned activist challenges perceptions about the transgender community
Transgender and innovation are not words that are generally associated with one another, but PSFK 2016 conference speaker Geena Rocero would like to argue otherwise. At our flagship conference in New York, Rocero shared her personal experience as a transgender model turned transgender rights activist navigating a world that forced her to innovate as it tried to deny her of her identity.
Growing up in a very Catholic Filipino culture, it wasn’t until Rocero moved to the United States that she was exposed to the rich history of the transgender rights movement. “Surviving and thriving as a transgender woman—especially as a transgender person of color,” Rocero states, “is innovative in and of itself.” In modern history, the transgender community was forced to share their collective knowledge and resources to stay alive.
Noting the efforts of Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Miss Major as the “mothers of queer liberation,” Rocero expressed gratitude toward the women who came before her that allowed her to stand in front of a crowded auditorium as a proud, transgender woman. Despite the important contributions transgender people like Martine Rotblatt (inventor of SIRIUS radio) and Lynn Conway (noted computer science inventor at IBM), Rocero notes how the narratives surrounding the transgender community are largely based in misunderstanding the “other.”
Rocero’s organization, Gender Proud, is helping the transgender community tell their own narratives. “There is something powerful about transgender people telling our own stories,” says Rocero, “because for the longest time, people spoke on our behalf.” Gender Proud recently worked with Logo TV to create Beautiful As I Want To Be which pairs young transgender people with mentors to follow their dreams. Another project worked with Fusion to create content around what it means to find work as a transgender woman.
Though Rocero notes that progress that has been made citing support from politicians like Loretta Lynch, a JWT Intelligence that showed broad acceptance of transpeople in advertising, and fully realized, complicated transgender characters on TV, she is also aware of the prejudice the transgender community still faces from certain communities.
In the face of these challenges, Rocero applauds society for innovating around the gender binary to accept gender on a spectrum. Though supportive of campaigns that promote gender equality, “when we talk about gender equality or women’s empowerment and don’t include transgender voices,” Rocero explains, “those campaigns become part of the problem because they reinforce rigid binary.” As the transgender rights movement continues to press forward, Rocero hopes the broader society will accept the realities around gender and gender identity.