Long before her TED talk made headlines in March, model Geena Rocero agonized over what it would mean – to her, to her bosses, to her career – if it came out that the gorgeous woman modeling bikinis in fashion mags had started life as a boy.
“There was always that fear: What if people found out? They’d think I’d duped them, and maybe I’d lose my regular clients. It could ruin my career,” Rocero tells Glamour magazine in its September issue. “I carried the paranoia with me every day.”
Rocero, 30, explains that, being born a boy in the Philippines, where the transgender community has a long history in the culture, she loved playing with her Barbie dolls, sewed clothes for them, and, at age 8, tagged along to a transgender beauty pageant.
“I always knew I felt something different,” she says. In junior high, she wore the boys’ uniform of her Catholic school “but I’d have it altered to make the waist tiny and the slacks fitted and a pocket like the girls had.” And while some in the streets hurled gay epithets at her, “I did not feel gay,” she says. “I just felt I was a girl.”
With the support of her parents, Rocero, who relocated to San Francisco at the age of 17 with her mother, underwent her “dream” of sex reassignment surgery not long after settling in the U.S.
“It was like a rebirth. I never enjoyed having sex before, and all of a sudden it felt good. I was much more in touch with my sensuality, and I went crazy exploring it,” she says.
But once she established herself as a successful model and had a couple of relationships under her belt, the truth of her history – and having to edit that history for anyone who got close to her – began to gnaw at her. When a boyfriend asked if she’d ever been in the Girl Scouts, she answered by saying she’d been in the Boy Scouts.
The tipping point came on the dawn of her 30th birthday. When her then boyfriend asked her, “What does 30 mean to you?” Rocero says she decided then and there, “I don’t give a damn anymore. I’m ready to share my full journey as a woman.”
A friend in the know nominated her for a TED talk, and five months later she was on stage sharing the story that would ultimately get two million viewers online.
Her agent at Next Management, Ron Gerard, told Glamour he was shocked by the revelation – “I had no idea. It was like, boom!” he said – but he applauded the woman he represents and has come to know. “I give her a lot of credit for doing what she’s done and taking a stand,” he added.
Today the model is dedicated to Gender Proud, the group she founded to address the violence and discrimination that plagues so many women like her around the world. “I want everyone to understand that transgender women are women,” she says.