"When I became a fashion model I felt that I had finally achieved the dream that I always wanted since I was a young child," said Filipino-born model Geena Rocero, in her Ted Talk last March.
Over the course of that 10-minute talk, Rocero came out professionally as transgender for the first time in her nearly decade-long career. "I was assigned boy at birth based on my genitalia," she told the audience. "For the last nine years, some of my neighbors, some of my friends, even my agent didn't know about my history. Because of my success, I never had the courage to tell my story."
On Tuesday, we caught up with Rocero behind the scenes at New York Fashion Week, shortly after her 2:00 p.m. call time for that evening's Carmen Marc Valvo show, where she would walk in a black cocktail dress and a red pleated gown.
Rocero moved to the United States at age 17 in the early 2000s, when surgery was required for Americans who wished to change their names and gender markers. At age 19, she underwent surgery in Thailand.
A trans beauty pageant contestant from the age of 15, Rocero was officially "discovered" by a fashion photographer at a Lower East Side restaurant at the age of 21. Last year, she founded Gender Proud, a nonprofit that produces stories about the trans experience in order to "elevate transgender justice and equality."
While a crew of stylists painted on thick eyeliner and combed back her hair, Rocero told us, "For a long time I was just a model." Now, "I want to produce content that talks about what it means to be trans and gender non-conforming."
"The dream that I've had to be the woman that I am... here I am."
Video by Jessica Leibowitz.