Filipina, Transgender Model & Activist Geena Rocero: Life of the Party
by Mark Daniel Snyder, Communications Manager
Geena Rocero loves life and her warmth, inspirational spirit and high energy was felt the moment she walked into Gap Inc. Headquarters to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. She was dancing, singing, and made a connection with everyone she met. She credits her Filipino culture and her accepting parents for her jovial spirit. “There’s always a party going on in the Philippines, from the cities to the mountains,” she said, “And being welcomed is embedded in the communities.”
Today, Rocero is an accomplished model, artist, producer, and activist who also happens to be transgender. Her journey has been shared around the world through her advocacy in partnership with the United Nations Free & Equal Campaign, which Gap Inc. also partners with during LGBTQ Pride, and her incredible 2014 TED Talk in which she came out publicly as a transgender woman, someone who was raised as a boy but has long identified in her heart and soul to be the woman she is today.
Looking fierce in a Gap denim jacket and jeans paired with an Athleta Pride themed T-Shirt, Rocero shared stories from her childhood with the Gap Inc. Community. At the age of 5 she was already an aspiring model. “I would wear a t-shirt on my head or bath towel and sashay down the street, pretending it was my hair,” she said. “The tiny alley was my runway!”
In her teen years, Rocero got involved in beauty pageants featuring transgender women. Pageants are a popular national pastime throughout the Philippines. “It’s like our super bowl,” she laughed. And as she racked up the wins and became more assured in her identity, she began to think about what was next. After some coaxing from her mom, and realizing she could legally change her gender to female – something not yet possible in the Philippines, she decided to take the plunge and move to the United States.
Here, she was discovered by a talent scout and began her modeling career. She was not open about her transgender identity for the first few years, but with each higher profile job, she worried more about being outed. So, she decided to “go big or go home” by coming out in a TED Talk and subsequently, countless media interviews. From there, she began using her platform to advocate for transgender equality around the world. “I recognize my privilege,” she said, noting the high rates of violence and discrimination experienced by transgender women of color. “I want to bring others along with me.”
Often finding herself to be the only transwoman and sometimes only person of color in the room amongst decision and policy makers, she said she realized the importance of “opening doors for others” and ensuring that multiple stories are told, as she can’t represent everyone. That’s one reason why she started her production company, which recently had a film on MTV.
That people can hold multiple identities and experience more than one thing at once is a common thread in Geena’s wisdom. She noted how in the Philippines transgender people are very visible and intertwined in the culture yet have few rights while in the USA she experienced the opposite – legal access to health care and name change, for example, but less cultural visibility.
When we asked Geena how our brands could be more inclusive of trans people and women of color as a company, she said, "Hire trans people. Hire people of color. Give people access by giving them jobs." She discussed how having those folks work behind the scenes on your makeup, lighting, production, and beyond makes the entire situation more comfortable for models from those backgrounds and uplevels the authenticity of your efforts to be more inclusive.
Rocero also said more companies should help educate the public using stories through advertising campaigns like Gap’s new Pride campaign that shows the complexity and nuance of transgender and nonbinary lives. Because, as she said, “authenticity can’t lie.”
Geena's Secret Adobo Recipe
Geena loves to cook and mentioned that it is common in Filipino culture to share enough food at parties for the guests to take some home so they can continue the celebration.
Here are her essential ingredients to her chicken adobo recipe she shared with us: dark meat chicken, soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, bay leaf, ginger, coconut milk, lots of black pepper and enjoy with some rice. Want to add some crunch? Add some string beans.
“Make a lot, it gets better every day it marinates!” - Geena Rocero