"I was not born a boy, I was assigned boy at birth," Geena Rocero noted at the start of her TED Talk. "Understanding the difference between the two is crucial to our culture and society moving forward in the way we treat — and talk about — transgender individuals."
On Monday, model and activist Rocero launched her global awareness campaign Gender Proud, timed to coincide with International Transgender Day of Visibility. Gender Proud is committed to helping change the way transgender people are treated, as well as the services they have access to around the world. Her presentation marked the first time that TED had featured a transgender cause on its main stage.
As part of the launch, Rocero gave an inspiring and very personal TED talk in which she spoke about her experience growing up in the Philippines.
"One of my earliest memories is from 5 years old," Rocero said. "I used to drape T-shirts on my head, and would delight in feeling the fabric on my back. My mom asked me, 'Why do you always wear a T-shirt on your head?' I responded, 'It's not a T-shirt, Mom — this is my hair.'"
Rocero notes that in Asian culture, there is a certain "fluidity of gender" that has been around for centuries. But that doesn't mean life for transgender people is easy, and for one big reason: Fluidity is not politically recognized.
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"When I first moved to the United States to work as a model, and I finally had the opportunity to change my name and gender marker, I felt as though my outside self finally matched my inner truth," Rocero continued. "I really felt like I'd made it but, over time, I realized that there's a lot of work that needs to be done and that I was only just beginning."
Gender Proud is partnering with international LGBT organization All Out in order to "identify countries where legislation is at a 'tipping point,' and we plan to funnel resources to on-the-ground activists and organizations working to create change," Rocero said.
"I believe that a more mature and in-depth contemplation of the subject of transgender will be the bridge that leads humanity to a deeper understanding of gender as a whole. This deeper understanding begins with the realization that we live in a culture that assigned us gender at birth and that the appropriate roles and expectations of our gender are defined by our society and our culture."