FIVE years ago, Filipina American model Geena Rocero made a very public confession and came out of her closet in a TED Talk in Vancouver.
“The world makes you something that you’re not — but you know inside what you are,” she proclaimed.
She pointed at a picture of a boy dressed in a traditional Filipino folk dance garb and said that the boy was actually her. In less than 10 minutes, Rocero shared her journey from a pageant contestant in Manila during her teens, moving to the United States in 2005 and getting surgery in Thailand at the age of 19.
This week, Rocero officially became the first transgender Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Playboy Playmate, appearing as the centerfold of the magazine’s Gender & Sexuality issue.
“I am incredibly honored and excited, it is history making. I remember growing up in the Philippines seeing Caroline (Tula) Cossey on Playboy in the 1990s and thinking that I wanted to be like her when I grew up,” she said during the ‘Behind the Lens’ press brunch at the Playboy Playhouse on Thursday, June 20 in New York. “Here I am now, I am a part of the Playboy family. I’m on cloud nine right now.”
Cossey posed for Playboy in 1991 for a solo pictorial and became the magazine’s first transgender women model.
“It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. To be a part of the family, to be associated with such an iconic and progressive brand is such a big honor for me,” Rocero said.
She added, “As the first trans Asian Pacific Islander Playmate, I feel that I’m making it possible for someone to reach for their biggest dreams just like the people who came before me. I also hope that for anyone who’s been deemed ‘other’ to know that what makes you different, is your power, especially the unapologetic expression of your sexuality, gender and the value of your unique perspective.”
Incredibly confident with her own skin, Rocero upped her Pilates training and practice and worked out whenever her schedule permitted because she knew she’d be working with highly qualified photographers and an incredible group of people from Playboy.
The shoot happened in Costa Rica last April where the Playboy team and Rocero spent four days “playing around on the beach barely wearing anything.”
Last week, the magazine’s official Instagram account (@Playboy), with 7.4 million followers, introduced Geena as an August 2019 Playmate and the post has generated almost 59,000 likes and about 250 comments.
“It was just about feeling myself, feeling confident, sensual and loved and I could not have asked for a better place to shoot,” she said. “The beautiful beach reminded me of the Philippines, this one is by the forest which spills onto the beach, which was very lush.”
The Playboy team welcomed, confirmed and celebrated her, something that Rocero said she will cherish for the rest of her life.
In the Gender & Sexuality issue, Rocero wrote about her “strict Catholic upbringing in the Philippines” and being inspired by seeing transgender beauty pageants on national television.
“We spoke English in the Philippines, but when I moved to the United States at 17 and started hanging out with other teenagers, it was a totally different culture,” she explained.
She also shared her hidden talent of making “swimsuits out of natural materials, whether it’s leaves or fruits” and her love of cooking Filipino and Italian food. “Of course, I can make a mean chicken adobo with my eyes closed,” she said.
Rocero is shining a light on trans women and she is just thankful that the offer to do this fell on her lap like manna from heaven.
“If feminism doesn’t include the journey and spectrum of trans womanhood, I don’t want to be part of it. I’m an advocate for transfeminism!” she wrote.
She plans to use this new platform to be more visible and continue fighting for trans rights. Since her viral TED talk in 2014, she co-founded Gender Proud, a media production company that tells stories about the global transgender community.
“Trans people are human beings who deserve respect, they need to be affirmed and celebrated. It is so important to talk about these issues, especially since we are celebrating 50 years of Stonewall Pride,” she told the audience at the talk on Thursday. “It is a great reminder about where we have been and the absolute certainty why we still have so much to do, especially for my trans sisters, particularly the African American, my black trans sisters who are being killed in epic proportions.”
This month alone, five trans women of color have been reported killed, bringing the number to 10 this year.
“Let’s look at those figures and remind ourselves why we need to be more vocal about this and there should be more media reports about it and it affects everybody, their families and their communities,” she added.
Looking at the print copy of Playboy with her photos for the first time was quite a surreal experience for Rocero. Even with the magazine in her hand, there was a moment where she could not believe her eyes.
“I have to speak about Caroline Tula Cossey because that was so critical for me. What a full circle moment, I was this young trans girl living in Manila and dreaming of one day becoming a model like Caroline and to now, be the one hopefully giving that inspiration to young trans girls, not just in the Philippines but all over the world,” she said, wearing a big smile on her face. “Their identities matter, they should pursue who they are. There’s nothing wrong with them, just keep being themselves.”
Playboy Magazine featured its first transgender Playmate, French model Ines Rau, back in 2017.
“I never thought this day would come,” Rocero said. “When I did TEDTalks, it was a significant moment in my life to free myself and express myself truly in the most authentic way and so many opportunities have been given to me after that.”
More than just baring her body, Rocero also bared her soul.
“There’s nothing more powerful than being comfortable in your own skin. There are criticisms saying that it is sexualizing the body. No, it is about ownership of your sexuality. What is more powerful than us human beings in our most natural state of being. We were all born naked,” she said.
For her critics and bashers, Rocero shrugged and said she’d rather focus on her advocacies than think about what others think of her.
“They will always have their opinion. For me, this is a moment of celebration and I know I am surrounded by people who love and celebrate me. When one wins in our community, everybody wins,” she said.