Her story is familiar. Geena Rocero, a former beauty queen from the Philippines, moved to New York nine years ago with big dreams of becoming a model. She was one of the lucky ones. A photographer discovered her and soon Rocero found an agent and steady work as a model.
But she was hiding a secret from many of her friends and co-workers. It was a secret she decided she could no longer keep quiet about. Last October, she came out on one of the world’s biggest stages — at TED Talk.
“For the last nine years, some of my neighbors, some of my colleagues, my friends did not know about my history,” she told the crowd. “I think in a mystery this is called a reveal. Here is mine: I was assigned boy at birth based on the appearance of my genitalia.”
For the first time in many years, Rocero could finally breathe a sigh of relief.
Many had no idea that at 19 before moving to the United States, she underwent sex assignment surgery in Thailand. This meant she could start a new life, in a new country, as a woman and to pursue a career she had been dreaming about since she was a child.
But she said after turning 30, she thought it was the right time to share her secret. She was hoping it would help others like her. Almost overnight after her speech went viral, Rocero became an unofficial spokesperson for transgender men and women around the world. She also founded Gender Proud, a support and advocacy group.
“What we are trying to create is a global unified messaging, why it’s important for countries around the world to adopt gender recognition policy,” Rocero said. “What that means it would allow transgendered people and gendered variant people to change their name and their gender marker without being forced to go through surgeries. Only a handful of countries allow that now.”
To hear more about Rocero’s journey from the Philippines to the United States, watch this month’s episode of CUNY-TV’s Asian American Life. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6W4BA0VXNmE#t=88
Other stories this month:
Shift Beds: Immigrant Housing in Chinatown
An exclusive report on a hidden community of “shift bed” housing in Chinatown, where immigrants rent beds and share one room with four or more people. Reporter Minnie Roh goes inside these arrangements to see how newly arrived immigrant bachelors live and struggle. Her subject is Yun Xiu Huang, a hard-working immigrant who dreams of becoming a U.S. citizen.
Asian American Mental Health and Depression
It’s a little known fact that Asian American women have the highest rates of depression and suicide in the USA. This segment includes the emotional story of Yong Hwa Ha, whose daughter Esther battled depression and committed suicide in 2013. To raise awareness of Asian American mental health, Mr. Hwa started the Esther Ha Foundation. Kyung Yoon reports on this unspoken crisis within the Asian American community with insight from psychotherapist Shinhee Han, Ph.D..