Earlier than Geena Rocero took the stage in entrance of a whole lot of onlookers at Could’s Summit at Sea, a multidisciplinary symposium aboard a cruise ship, she landed in Florida. It was an unsettling feeling for this mannequin and main transgender activist. In spite of everything, to be transgender in Florida at this time is to be “erased,” as Rocero says, referring to a just lately signed Florida regulation that bans gender-affirming healthcare to minors.
However that didn’t cease her from arriving in Florida and boarding the ship on the Port of Miami, forward of the discharge of her memoir, Horse Barbie. The truth is, it fueled her. “To position my physique in a state that fairly actually desires to erase me in all of my existence, it’s essentially the most highly effective means to withstand and affirm myself,” Rocero says. “It’s somewhat ironic, however I thought of it an honor to launch the cruise from Florida and inform my story to an area filled with thought leaders.”
It’s the newest impediment in a lifetime’s price of indignation that Rocero has overcome as a transgender lady, which she remembers in 25 heartfelt chapters in Horse Barbie. The memoir’s pages are stuffed with tales of her journey from residing as a femme boy in Catholic-heavy Philippines to successful a trans magnificence pageant at age 15, to immigrating to the USA with a feminine gender marker on her paperwork, to changing into a extremely sought mannequin in New York Metropolis who appeared on journal covers and in a John Legend music video. Rocero additionally captures one other important element: the immense worry she felt in retaining her trans historical past a secret within the cutthroat vogue business.
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For eight years, Rocero stored her story hidden from business professionals—till she couldn’t take it anymore. In 2014, on maybe one of many world’s largest phases, she got here out throughout a TED Speak, the clip of which has almost 3.7 million views. Since then, Rocero has spoken on the White Home in entrance of President Barack Obama and located new careers as an Emmy-nominated director and producer.
Rocero spoke with ELLE.com over the cellphone about what it meant to have a completely accepting household, together with her hypermasculine father; her intense worry of being outed; and the way Horse Barbie can function an anthem cry for trans youth.
Who did you write this e book for?
I’d wish to suppose that I’m writing to an individual who’s trying to find one thing, particularly if you’re on the tip of that quest, or questioning tales or expectations from our society. Whether or not it’s somebody who comes from a non secular background or has household that doesn’t settle for them, or somebody who’s questioning themselves and asking what they needed to do of their inside lives. They don’t have the identical story as me—mine is a really singular journey—but they’re discovering their very own genuine self.
However actually, deep down, I feel I wrote this e book for a particular particular person: a younger trans Filipina lady who’s a part of the worldwide diaspora. Should you don’t really feel linked and don’t see your individual humanity, I hope you discover some semblance of affirmation and self-value within the pages of this memoir.
Your story has touched so many lives because you got here out publicly as transgender in 2014. Why was it necessary to additionally share it in memoir kind?
Once I determined to write down this e book, my common thought course of round it was that sure, my story has been within the public consciousness, from the TED Speak, via my work with the Gender Proud advocacy group, conferences on the White Home and with President Barack Obama. But, I knew I needed to honor the artist in me and share the fullness of my life story. I needed to share these greater questions that I used to be asking myself once I was pursuing my very own reality, questions on who I used to be—not simply associated to gender, however as a human being. This e book was my alternative to talk about my genuine self.
At this time, 19 states are banning gender-affirming take care of minors. How can this e book be of worth to them and their allies?
I wrote this e book in the course of the pandemic, however I knew since 2015 that I needed to write down a e book. Coincidentally, we’re at the moment seeing a rise in assaults on trans youth, on Asians and others. On this memoir, I shared unapologetically the fullness of who I’m, the fullness of what drives me, what feeds my curiosity—discovering love, getting a profession, being playful. I feel this could all the time be seen as that. We must always all the time reside full lives. How others try to erase our id, my response is: Have a look at this Horse Barbie, the story of a life that’s full. If there’s an individual who does nonetheless not perceive the transgender group, who doesn’t engage or an adjoining group to the trans group, this e book is a means for them to grasp.
You’ve talked about the lengths you went via to cover your transgender id within the modeling business—carrying tampons to throw off the scent, hiding your neck and Adam’s apple. How scary was the thought of being outed?
I stand on the shoulders of so many previous trans fashions who paved the best way for me. Caroline Cossey—she’s one of the crucial seen trans girls fashions within the Seventies—she gave me a way of risk and in addition a way of warning. I needed to be like her. However her story was taken from her, and he or she was outed in a British tabloid. Our group is affected by tales of trans girls vogue fashions, and the second they have been outed, their careers have been destroyed.
This e book is to honor them. I used to be residing in New York Metropolis throughout a time once I needed to conceal a lot of my private life. Thank God I received via it and was in a position to take management indirectly of my narrative as a result of so many individuals weren’t in a position to.
Let’s discuss in regards to the e book title, Horse Barbie. You’ve rotated a once-mocking title from rival pageant contestants into a private badge of honor. At this time, what does “Horse Barbie” imply to you?
Once I was starting to write down the e book, the primary matters have been trans pageants and Catholicism—you possibly can’t be extra cinematic than that! As I described it, “Horse Barbie” first was a reclamation of an insult, when different contestants would tease me about my lengthy neck and thick lips, and it was additionally a formation of a spirit. When my trans pageant mom, Tigerlily, noticed me on stage, in my elegant gown, she stated, “You really appear to be a Horse Barbie,” this legendary essence and spirit. Once I was in New York Metropolis, when it was actually, actually, actually, actually, actually tough, I needed to remind myself that’s who I used to be. At the least in my thoughts, that spirit is in my thoughts and in my coronary heart.
Once I did my TED Speak in 2014, Horse Barbie got here again. It was my first time giving a speech—I feel we are able to say that this lady likes a giant stage! After which, whereas on that stage, I grew to become Horse Barbie.
Very like you, Filipino historical past is multi-layered: It’s a deeply Catholic nation, however it additionally celebrates transgender pageants and has been labeled as a “gay-friendly nation.” What classes in Filipino tradition and its view of transgender folks stay with you?
It’s necessary to grasp the historical past of the Philippines. In pre-colonial occasions, there have been babaylans, extremely revered mystical healers who have been principally females or feminized males who had relations with different males. Our language, Tagalog, doesn’t even have gender pronouns like “he” or “she.” It wasn’t till Spanish colonization that the thought of heterosexual marriage roles have been thought of a norm.
However at this time, it’s about decolonizing my thoughts. It’s like my ancestors telling me that is the way it ought to all the time be: no onerous and quick guidelines about gender. That’s one motive we have now transgender pageants, due to the resilience of the tradition that we have now to remain true to our roots.
One among my favourite passages in your e book is a second between you and your father, as you stroll into your highschool collectively: “‘There may be nothing incorrect with you,’ he stated. ‘Chin up, anak.’ And with that he nudged me again towards the classroom, his contact as mild as his coronary heart as he guided us down the corridor.” What do you suppose your father, who handed away in 2001, would say about you at this time, about his “bojojoy”?
Ah, you’re going to make me cry. … I hope he is aware of how a lot of a job he performed in me having an early understanding of accessing freedom at such a younger age and be free to be who I’m. Once I was penning this e book, I needed to ask my sisters if there was ever a time that Papa was upset at me for being who I’m. We requested ourselves if it actually did or didn’t occur, if he actually ever was accepting of me. Not certainly one of us might recall a time when he was upset at having a femme boy. He actually accepted me.
This e book is actually the primary time I can honor that position of his. The usually macho and really Catholic and easy-to-anger man didn’t specific these sides at his femme boy. Not as soon as did he query who I’m. I attempted my greatest to elucidate it within the e book, about how he felt demoralized at not being the breadwinner of the home, how he wished he might be allowed to precise his deeper feelings, how he let his hypermasculinity out however wished his gentleness was extra obvious. The way in which he noticed me swaying in my skirt, I wish to suppose that he acknowledged one thing in himself.
It will need to have been affirming to have a supportive household and group. For the remainder of us, how can we higher help our trans buddies, households, and neighbors of their journey to be seen and affirmed?
I lived half of my life within the Philippines, half within the U.S., so I’ve seen how completely different worlds deal with and look at trans folks. Culturally talking, the U.S. and the Philippines are so completely different. Within the Philippines, we have now a phrase—kapwa—it’s a advantage, an ethos. It’s about how your inside self is a mirrored image of your group; it offers the concept you don’t exist as a person, that you’re buttressed by these round you. So it was a shock once I moved to the U.S. and found we’re by ourselves and alone in lots of respects.
Within the TED Speak in 2014, I introduced trans lives into public consciousness and have carried that on via advocacy. For thus lengthy, not less than within the American context, being trans is about being seen. However I’ve realized that it’s not the one true reply, although. Taking that have, taking the grounding of that tradition I used to be raised in, it’s about group, the one a part of who you’re. Being there for each other is so necessary. The truth is, it’s probably crucial factor we are able to do.
This interview has been edited and condensed for readability.
Make-up by Ryanne Cleggett; hair by Gani Millama.
Nila Do Simon is a life-style and tradition author whose items have appeared in Condé Nast Traveler, Vogue.com, Backyard & Gun, Marie Claire, and The New York Instances. The runt in her household, she’s developed an curiosity in highlighting the voices of marginalized people and teams who, like her, can use an extra-loud microphone to be heard over the group.