After keeping her birth gender a secret for years, New York-based model Geena Rocero decided to come out to her friends, her neighbours, and even her modeling agent, who didn't know the truth.

Speaking in front of a large audience for the first TED talk on transgender rights this week, the Philippines-born model opened up about her experience "to help others live without shame and terror".

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"All of us are put into boxes by our families, by our religion, by society," she said.


"But some people have the courage to break free from the beliefs of the people around them."

Miss Rocero added that because of her success, she never had the courage to share what she went through as a young child "because of how the world treats those of us who wish to break free."

Read more: Aucklander Amy Brosnahan will represent transgender women in a beauty competition.

But 13 years after moving to the US, Miss Rocero decided to come out publicly in honor of International Transgender Day of Visibility, calling for better support for the transgender community.

"Every day I am so grateful because I am a woman," she said.

"I was assigned a boy at birth based on the appearance of my genitalia," she added. "I am lucky I have a mum and dad and family who accepted me for who I am. Many are not so fortunate."

Miss Rocero, who moved to San Francisco in 2001 at the age of 17, quickly signed with Next Model Management and has spent 12 years modeling for swimwear and beauty brands.

It was at the age of 15, when she was still dressing as a boy, that Miss Rocero met a transgender beauty pageant manager in the Philippines who encouraged her to enter that year's competition. She came second place.

"When I became a model I thought I had finally achieved the dream that I had always wanted since I was little,' she said. 'My outside self finally matched my inner self."

Moving to the US meant Geena could change her name and identify as a female on immigration records.

"It was my license to live, to feel dignified. I could move to New York City and conquer my dream to be a model."

But Miss Rocero, who has just launched Gender Proud, a global awareness campaign that fights for transgender rights, said there is "still a long way to go" - something that parents of transgender chidren need to regognize.

"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 approach a child [during gender self identity] with curiosity and openness."

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- Daily Mail