MANILA (UPDATED) - Geena Rocero, a Filipino-American fashion model and activist, came out as a transgender on Monday to help individuals such as her to freely and legally define their sexual identities.
Speaking in front of an audience at a TED conference, Rocero explained the need to raise transgender visibility, and how she envisioned a world where everyone is free to choose whether they are male or female.
Rocero said she knew she was different since she was five years old, when she would drape T-shirts over her head as a make-believe wig.
"My mom asked me, 'How come you always wear that T-shirt on your head?' I said, 'Mom -- this is my hair. I'm a girl," she recalled.
At the age of 15, Rocero began joining gay beauty pageants in the Philippines, with the support of her family and friends. She proudly shared that it became a full-time job during her teen years.
"That moment changed my life. Not a lot of people could say that your first job is a pageant queen for transgender born but I'll take it," she quipped.
But a call from her mother, who told her that moving to the U.S. would enable her to change her name and gender marker, convinced Rocero to leave her dream pageant life behind.
"That's what all I needed to hear," she said.
Rocero immediately underwent the necessary surgery in Thailand at 19, became a U.S. citizen, and had her gender marker changed from male to female.
She remembered staring at her California driver's license, realizing that she was holding in her hand the ticket to achieving her dreams in becoming a professional model in New York.
"That was a powerful moment, I mean for some people, their IDs are a license to drive or even to get a drink. But for me, that was my license to live. To feel dignified," she said.
But Rocero still harbored fears and was reluctant to come out as transgender to her colleagues. She explained that the fear did not stem from shame but because of "how the world treats those that wish to break free."
Rocero then closed out her speech explaining the need for a movement such as her campaign, Gender Proud, in helping to change perceptions about transgender people.
"This very moment is my real coming out. I can no longer live my truth for and by myself. I want to do my best to help others live their truth without shame and terror," she said.
"My deepest truth allowed me to accept who I am, will you?"