Transgender model Geena Rocero has opened up about her decision to finally come clean with her birth gender during a powerful TED talk in March, 12 years into her career as a successful lingerie model.
"I carried the paranoia [of being found out] with me every day," the 30-year-old New York-based model tells Glamour, explaining that in part, she wanted to beat the "salacious gossip pages" who could discover her secret at any time; a secret that even her own modeling agency didn't know.
"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."
Two minutes into her generic TED speech about being "true" to oneself, Miss Rocero broke the news: "I was assigned a boy at birth based on the appearance of my genitalia."
Despite her fears that the truth could ruin her career, Miss Rocero's TED talk earned her a standing ovation, over two million online views, and widespread positive attention.
The commitment to go public struck her while she was in Tulum, Mexico, on her 30th birthday last year. "I don't give a damn anymore. I'm ready to share my full journey as a woman," she told her boyfriend at the time.
Her agent at Next Management, Rob Gerad, was "stunned" when he heard the news, having had "no idea" his model had been born a boy, but gives her "a lot of credit" for her brave public announcement.
Miss Rocero was born to a working-class family in the Manila region of the Philippines, and never once felt either like a boy or a gay boy. Fortunately - unlike so many others, she points out - she not only had the unwavering support of both parents from a young age, but she lived in a part of the world where the transgender community thrives.
Still, Miss Rocero went to a Catholic school and was required to wear a boys uniform - which she altered to at least fit her in a more feminine way - and was still teased and insulted on occasion.
At the age of 15, Miss Rocero was encouraged to compete in a prestigious transgender pageant, and came second. She went on to win many more, and used her earnings to buy hormones that helped her grow breasts and adopt more womanly attributes; in spite of her fears for the drugs' safety.
She was 17 when she moved to the US to join her mother in San Francisco. To her enormous delight, the move meant she could change her name and identify as a 'female' on immigration records.
Receiving her female driver's license was a moment she will never forget. "Getting that license, to me, was a license to live," she recalls.
Not long afterwards, Miss Rocero had her sexual reassignment surgery, which she says rendered her "perfect down there", and moved to New York to fulfill her dream of becoming a model.
"When I became a model I thought I had finally achieved the dream that I had always wanted since I was little," she said in her TED talk. "My outside self finally matched my inner self."
Her slender, balanced proportions found her much work with lingerie brands - an "ultimate validation" of her femininity, she says - and she went on to model for clients including Macy's.
Crucially, moving to a new city as a new woman meant Miss Rocero could make new friends without disclosing any details of her old self.
"If someone had asked, I would have told them," she says. "It wasn't about passing as a woman, about 'nobody can tell.' It was about expressing my unique femininity."
She did make sure to inform men who she was in relationships with, which prompted mixed responses.
One man, upon being told, drove Miss Rocero home in silence before simply remarking that her "big knees" should have given her away.
Another much more serious boyfriend, however, reacted by hugging her and thanking her for her courage. That relationship later dissolved because the pair were at "different phases" in their lives.
It was a different, more recent boyfriend, who prompted her to share her story with the world as they sat on the beach in Mexico together.
After the TED talk, Miss Rocero co-founded Gender Proud; a global awareness campaign that fights for transgender rights. According to her, 89per cent of people in the US currently believe that transgender people deserve the same rights and legal protections as others.
Despite this encouraging statistic, Miss Rocero feels there is still a long way to go - something that parents of transgender children especially need to recognise.
"Having the space to self-identify with a gender we weren't born with is a conversation we should have with parents, with colleges, with friends.
"There is still a lot of work that needs to be done. Parents need to approach a child [during gender self-identity] with curiosity and openness."
Watch the TED talk:
- Daily Mail