TRANSCRIPT: Translash Podcast Episode 72, ‘Horse Barbie: A Conversation with Geena Rocero’

Imara: Hey there, it’s me Imara. Welcome to the TransLash podcast, a show, where we tell trans stories to save trans lives.

Well, it’s the first day of pride month, a month that is associated both with celebration and protest, but it’s also a time where we can reflect on who we are, how far we’ve come, and where we want to go. But if you’re looking for a way to celebrate outside of the parades and parties that I just mentioned, I would highly recommend picking up a copy of a new must read Memoir Horse Barbie. Horse Barbie is a triumphant and powerful story of survival, love and joy, written by my friend, the history-making model Geena Rocero. I’m so excited to be joined by Geena today, to talk about the book, and her incredible journey from pageants in the Philippines, to the elite modeling world, New York City and beyond.

Now, since Horse Barbie contains plenty of trans joy, we’re just going to jump right into my conversation with Geena to feel it all. I’m so thrilled to be joined by model, public speaker and now author Geena Rocero. Born and raised in the Philippines, Geena has been modeling since she was discovered at 21 years old. She’s been making history in the industry including, as the first trans woman to be named as Playboy Playmate of the Year in 2020. Since first coming out and her iconic 2014 Ted Talk, Geena has given speeches everywhere, from the White House to the United Nations.

She made her directorial debut with caretaker a docu-series about Filipinos in care work, which received four Emmy nominations. Geena is also the founder of Gender Proud, a media production company, that tells stories about trans and gender non-conforming communities across the world. I’m especially excited to talk with you Geena about your Memoir Horse Barbie, which hit bookshelves on May 30th. Thank you so much for joining us.

Geena Rocero: Thank you for having me. I’m so excited to have this conversation. Truly appreciate for having me.

Imara: Thank you. Well, first of all, I just want to say that I can’t wait for the movie, because at nearly 300 pages, you take us on an incredible global journey through so many different aspects of space, and time, and your life, and where we are, and where we’re possibly going. I can’t wait until, hasn’t been optioned yet. Let’s just start with the real. Somebody already calling you?

Geena: Let’s just say we’re in conversation. I think that’s extended. Yes, we’re in conversation. I’m happy to have an incredible team that really sees what this book is about. As you said, when I decided to write Horse Barbie, and looking back in my life, I know that I’ve lived in cinematic life.

Imara: You have done, I can already see some of the scenes including one driving through Italy, but people will have to read it to capture all of those scenes with Lorenzo. First of all, let’s just start with the name, Horse Barbie of course, is provocative. But it also encapsulate it’s the reality of two parts of your identity because as you say in the book, it both came out of a slur, and at the same time is incredibly empowering because it does actually capture the spirit that you always bring to your work. Can you tell us about those two words Horse Barbie, and how you came to have that moniker?

Geena: Horse Barbie. I like that you said it’s a spirit because I really feel like it’s a spirit. I grew up in the Philippines, and we had this very vibrant culture of trans beauty pageants. Little did they know, at 15 years old I met a trans woman named Tiger Lily, and she was also a famous beauty queen maker. She saw me, and she said that I should join trans beauty pageant. I joined, and from 15 to 17, I became the most prominent trans beauty queen in the Philippines, which is a pageant diva, right? I remember what on my very first pageant at 15, I reached the top of the pinnacle of the trans pageant world at such a young age, so quick. I became the most prominent, the diva and you could imagine a competitive industry has a certain feeling.

The competitors, the veterans, the fans started calling me that I look like a horse because of my dark skin, my protruding mouth, and my long neck. They started calling me that, and I remember walking by them backstage, everything, defense with denigrate me with that name and hurt to hear that. But then in my mind, I felt like, what do I do with this? I think one night, my trans mom Tiger Lily, saw me on stage, and she saw the way I pause the elegance and the aura that I was emanating on stage, and she said, you know what, you look like a horse barbie. That’s the beginning of me being called Horse Barbie. It was a name given to me by my trans mom, and I felt it’s that spirit the goddess of horse Barbie that always carried with me from Philippines, all the way to moving to America.

Imara: I’m so glad that we started with the Philippine pageant worlds, because I think it’s a gateway into so many important things about your story. The Philippines is a character in your story. I could vividly describe the alleyway, and the house that you grew up in, the foods that you ate, because of the power of your writing. But the Philippines is a character both as a place of pressure and economic pressure, and poverty, and political pressure. But also at the same time of liberation, with respect to the way that the culture historically has made space for trans and gender non-conforming people, and of course, gay people, and the way in which the pageant world for you was a platform to access to a wider world in the Philippines. I’m wondering if you can talk about the way in which you reflect on this duality of the Philippines as both the place of extreme pressure for you, but also possibility.

Geena: I have a very complicated relationship with my motherland for sure, but certainly, when I was writing this book. I’ve lived half of my life in Philippines, half my life here in America. I always will have that perspective of being born and raised in the Philippines, growing up there. As I mentioned in the book, like in these conversations that we’re having, and even when I share to people, and when they read the book they said, “You mean trans beauty pageant in the Philippines happened during Catholic celebrations?” The American perspective sense, the Western sense would say, “You mean it’s accepted because it’s visible.” I’d like to offer a more nuanced response to that, because in the Philippines, we’ve had a long history of gender fluidity in our culture. In our language, we don’t even have he or she in our language. It’s a gender-neutral language.

Trans and gender non-conforming people play a very crucial role in society in pre-colonial Philippines. They are the spiritual leaders, the advisors to the kings and queens, it’s upheld in our culture. But then 1521 happened, Ferdinand Magellan got to the Philippines, does the beginning of 333 years of Spanish colonization. You can just imagine when they got to the Philippines, and they saw that the spiritual leaders are gender non-conforming people. They’re called the Babila Lakapati, a soldier, so many different names and language how we describe gender non-conformity and gender-fluid people in the Philippines. You can just imagine what they did.

Then for 333 years, we followed the Catholic calendar, meaning, we celebrate so many Catholic patron and saints, and during those celebrations all over the Philippines, it’s part of our culture. And then in 1898, we were purchased by America for 20 million dollars from Spain. We were an American colony for 50 years. We have that forces and influence. It does the confluence and the amalgamation of vibrant transparent culture, that happens usually when we have a fiesta celebration, for example, celebrating Fiesta of St. Peter, in downtown Manhattan. On the fifth day of that celebration that usually falls on a Sunday, the main event for the whole family to watch, it’s the trans beauty pageant. Usually that stage is set right in front, the set of the pageant and the stage is usually right in front of the big churches in the Philippines. When I say that, and people would say that it’s accepted, or because it’s part of the culture. The other side of that is, trans people in the Philippines are culturally visible, but we are not politically recognized.

To this day there are no rights for trans people to change name and gender marker in legal documents, there are no comprehensive anti-discrimination protections. Still to this day, a lot of the trans community and the people that I work with, and my trans family in the Philippines, we still do DIY when it comes to hormones or finding affirming care. There is a country with 105 million population, some things has changed but there’s only a handful of medical establishments that supports under endocrinologist that would provide care for trans people. We have that.

Imara: There’s so many dualities in your book and living in contradictions, that’s one of them. Another contradiction, almost a character in this book is the ongoing tension between the United States and the Philippines. As you described on the one hand, being a place that was a colonizer, that did fight a very brutal war in the Philippines, a very costly one in terms of the local population there. But at the same time, is the place where so many Filipinos, including your mother, came to have a better life in the United States. Also for you, that same contradiction of coming to the United States, exactly as you described where you could legally be recognized as trans, change your gender marker. It’s so many things that you did when you arrived here at the invitation of your mom, but at the same time losing the cultural place that you had in the Philippines as a trans person, which was missing here. I’m wondering if you can just talk a little bit about that. Also that contradiction that exist between the US and the Philippines, and how it manifested for you as a person.

Geena: I describe in the book when I was 17, I was traveling on a back of a bus with my pageant family, doing one lane Mountain Road switchbacks, and then around 3:00 a.m. I got a call from my mom, and she said your green card petition came through, you can now move here. At that moment I was 17 years old, I was again the pageant diva. I actually said no to my mom. I didn’t want to move to the US because I was young. I had that everything, was making money, why would they leave the Philippines? Then few weeks later, she came back and she called me again and she said, “If you move here you could change your name and gender marker on your legal documents.” A policy that still to this day not possible in the Philippines. From the moment she said that, I was like forget everything, I’m moving to America.

In 2001 I got to San Francisco at 17. You could just imagine the culture shock of a blaze. Seeing my F on my gender marker was the affirmation and the freedom, and the validation that I needed, and that I wanted at that time. But then the first question I asked my mom, where are the transmedia pageants, the way that we have it in the Philippines, there’s like there’s no such thing. That that made me sad, as a 17 year old trans Filipina. But then the very first trans representation that I saw on National Television, It’s on that show, Jerry Springer and I saw how trans people were treated, or obviously it was a circus in the way gender is treated.

That was a beginning of shame for me, this is how trans people are treated here. I could be legally recognized but I’m not culturally accepted. That presented the contradiction, I have to say it affected the way I view myself. It dimmed that light that I had. This vibrant trans Filipino beauty queen to, “well, I can’t do that.” I started working in Macy’s and cosmetics. I thought it was a pageant adjacent world, and I met my community of trans Filipinos working there. I went to school, I thought I wanted to be a psychologist. Used to living that life in reality because I have forgotten that big dream that I had, because of seeing how trans people are treated in America.

Imara: One of the things that you described really vividly, is not only the Jerry Springer episode, but the brushes that you and the community, that you had found in San Francisco had with violence either on trips, or people that you knew, or that your community knew were murdered, and that as a survival tool in the United States, one of the practices that you adopted was on being stealth. One of the quotes that you had, that really stood out for me, which embodies kind of this contradiction that we’re talking about, was he said, “I left the Philippines where everyone knew I was trans, only to find myself in the Literal Closet in America.”

Geena: For so long I believe, what America promise of freedom and acceptance, and the dream of what this country promised, and the myth of that story. Then I certainly took it on its head and said, well it’s more complicated than that. I was out and proud in Asia, but here in America, I literally had to go back to the closet and hiding in the closet because there was a possible violence waiting for me right outside that bedroom. That did a lot to myself, but then after many years in San Francisco, I knew in my heart I wanted to pursue a career in the Arts and fashion.

There was a woman named Tula Carolyn Cossey, she was introduced to me by my trans mother Tiger Lily, and she is an icon in the community, her story is like a myth. Remember being shown her newspaper clippings, even in the Philippines. Tula being a fashion model, became sense of possibility at such a young age, and little do they know, a lot of my career trajectory became that trajectory. Talking about contradiction as well. Tula became the sense of possibility for me, but also a sense of caution.

That you could achieve the dream potentially, you could dream about being in fashion, but you better be careful to not share everything about who you are. To hide all the aspects of what makes you a trans person, because the moment you get outed, your career will vanish. Because that’s what every trans woman, trans fashion model when they got out of their career disappearing. But I had a dream. In 2005, I wanted to pursue that, and that’s why I moved to New York City in 2005 to pursue a career that it really truly wanted, knowing that this are the contradictions that I have.

Imara: You come to New York, right? It’s so interesting that for so many people outside of the United States, I don’t think people in the United States realized this. The way in which television and our media overall shapes the way that people see our country, it’s not only the portrayal, it’s the definition of America, what we show on television. For you, I was really amused, and delighted when you spoke about the way in which New York thing in certain said comes, like friends, and other things had shaped your view of New York. But you landed in New York and then embarked on a modeling career, which relatively, quickly becomes really successful. You are in that heyday pre-financial crash, New York modeling world. Where there is this really rush of an intersection between the financial world, entertainment and models, and just stars overall. You were right in that mix . I’m wondering for you, what that was like. There’s so few people that were in that mix. You were friends since on page 6, and literally in the heart of that GoGo world of that time.

Geena: New York City, Chelsea era, right now 27th Street, that used to be club row. That whole area is clubs, after-hours clubs and everything. I was 21, just turned 21, moved to New York City. A young, single, vibrant, fashion model, trans woman obviously, stealth, I was having so much fun. I was living the life. Doing the thing, working as a fashion model. But when I’m also by myself, I was also in deep sadness and longing to be who I am, to hopefully one day I could share fully who I am with the people I’m around. Even that is a contradiction, because it cannot be more of a reflection of, I was outside in Billboards and magazines. A success story, but deep inside I was struggling. I was in an industry that is all about the power of imagery, advertising marketing, but I was not being seen. I was both so visible, hyper visible as front and center of magazines and advertising, but I was also consciously invisible at the same time. These are these dualities, the contradictions that had to carry every day of my life.

Obviously now writing this book, is also my way to understand what really happened. How do they do that? Because maybe parts of me as an immigrant Filipina, and knowing what my family, my mom said the family had to go through to move to America. It’s the stories of immigrants where we just have to make it work, figure it out, survive. I did all that, but writing this book in a way, it’s true everything they said. This is a healing journey for me to unpack a lot of that. Both the painful parts, but also the fun parts because there were some fun parts. I could also disappear. I could also reinvented myself in many aspects of my life. I described in the book, and people that have read the book were surprised how I reference as being a spy, because I felt like I was a spy in an eight-year clandestine operation, because I had to protect my cover all the time.

Imara: I think that one of the things that is part of that is you being in that world. I think for people who are not familiar with it, or didn’t have contact with it, it really was like the world that was described and Sex in the City in that time, but on steroids. That whole thing of big marrying Natasha, who was a model, that really was the culture. There’s so many times where you had encounters with really prominent men in New York because as you said you would model, models got access to the best most exclusive clubs in New York at that time. That’s been where all the Wall Street and the business people hang out, and one of the reasons why clubs would allow models in, and give you a prominences because they knew that it would bring those guys in.

Therefore there is this culture that developed between the models and the money people in New York at that time. You described a lot of encounters where you dated or flirted with, or even went on trips with extremely powerful and prominent men and the business community. At the same time when you were doing that, were exhilarated and then also deeply fearful and having to try to actively manage the information about you and who you were.

Geena: I look back, it’s all the things that you described. That’s how it was. Not just managing my story, but this other side of desire. It was the first time I was 21 years old, feeling so desired, wanted and feeling good about that, and enjoying that. While the same time, there’s also this other parts that have to protect. That was the bulk of the first 34 years in York City, obviously right before the financial crass. The cultural aspect has to play into this, anybody that I meet who is a Filipino, who is from the Philippines, who might possibly know the culture, or worse, might know me from my pageant diva life in the Philippines. I had to manage those realities, I have to edit everything. I became my own fashion editor.

That story that I shared comprises of how will it fit in this context? If it’s a finance person, that I’m dating in the moment, how do I be that ideal date of that finance person, and have fun in that moment. Then that’s it. Because I even thought I couldn’t pursue a relationship, I couldn’t pursue deeper relationship. I was having fun, playing around but that’s it.

Imara: There are all these scenes in the book where you’ll be in one of these moments that we’re talking about. You’ll be in Bungalow, 8 or you’ll be in another one of these clutch…

Geena: Kane.

Imara: Or Kane, or bed, right? You’ll be in one of those major clubs at the time. Then suddenly someone will say, there’s this other person from the Philippines that suddenly brought into, at your table or that you bump into, and that person, somehow is from that world. Either they are finance person or sometimes they were other models, or really prominent people and just the fear and the shock that you would have, of trying to not betray what you were feeling on the inside. At the same time, as you say, is still playing this role of essentially assist straight model.

Geena: Yes. That’s a cultural aspect that comes into play because Philippines is very exposed to trans people, and American context very much definitely not so. Even the economy of that cultural differences, both place in my advantage or disadvantage depending on who’s that person that’s speaking to me. These are the things I had to balance and also in some way, Kane was my favorite club, because after working in fashion, doing photo shoots, going to castings, which brings with it, a different layer of trying to be stealth to hide. I want to bring tampons in my bag in case, like I’m in a cattle call of castings that lasts for like couple of hours, and I’m in the bathroom with another model. If they ask, tampon, I could give them a tampon because I’m a sis model.

The things that you have to do to, even like right now, speaking in a certain voice, I used to be so worried about those things. The word that we describe it now is gender dysphoria. For me, it was just like, I’m a spy. How do I protect this cover, and be this story that I’m sharing to everybody? I remember this, I would be in a photo shoot, and the look is big hair, put on big curlers in my hair. Then right before the stylist will put the final touches, the stylist would want me to put my hair up, brush it, and flip my head back all the way. You know what I used to do. I used to flip on the side and then flip it all the way, and the hairstylist would get so mad at me, and is like, “I told you to flip your hair, all the way up to get the volume.” I wasn’t flipping my hair all the way back because my neck would could have potentially expose my Adam’s apple.

Imara: In this world that we are describing, you are booking major cosmetics campaigns like Rimo, your booking Macy’s, your booking Mac. As already mentioned you, are interacting with stars and talit. Supposedly Dave Chappelle flirted with you in page 6 article. You describe how that didn’t happen, but that you were still associated with it.

Geena: Let me also clarify, that definitely did not happen.

Imara: It did not happen. There’s this world that you’re swimming in, right?

Geena: Yes.

Imara: At the same time, you speak about how, just adding a finer point to what we’re discussing. You were always ready for that phone call. You always thought that every time your agent reached out to you, that they were going to say something like, guess what, is it really true that you were assigned male at birth, “born a boy” because that’s at page six, or waiting for someone to “expose you at every single time.”

Geena: Looking back in that journey when I decided to write this book, I said to myself, let me tackle the most difficult moments. The thing you just shared is at the heart of that, because in as much as I’m being propelled to the next career, the next cosmetics job, the next commercial, the next cover of magazines, within that, it’s that threat of being outed in any moment. Because that’s what happened to every single trans models. Usually, the saddest part of that, it’s usually, because of someone that they know, someone that we know. We know stories of Tracy Africa Norman, we know stories of Carolyn Cossey Tula. It’s people that they know that whispering to someone about who they are and their careers vanished. I knew that’s a possibility. In a sense, the bigger the modeling job that I want to achieve because that’s a pinnacle of success, the bigger the paranoia that comes with that. In that moment when that commercial came out, a moment that should have been in celebration. I was at home shaking paranoid, waiting for that phone call.

Imara: What I think is really fascinating about this is that, there can sometimes be what I personally believe is a fruitless argument in our community about the degree to which we fit in the gender binary, and how that can lead us to safety. I personally don’t believe that that’s the case. But I think that one of the things that’s really important, one things your book says is, y’all I’m here to tell you, I live that life. I got to as great as success for, as longer period as is almost as possible as a person who was not revealing that they were trans. I’m here to tell you that there is no such thing as totally living stealth, that it’s an impossibility. That it’s an impossibility, not only because of someone eventually knowing, but also because of the toll that it takes on you personally and psychologically. That seems to be a key thing that you’re saying or that it’s easy to come across from your book.

Geena: It is very much, I think writing this book my decision. I’m just going to share the story that happened to me, and as what you are saying, I completely agree with that because the other side of that is still you think that you just want to reach that whatever definition of being stealth and “passable.” We’re still upholding this whole notion of the gender binary. We’re still upholding the ideals that you and I know, and the work that we do is BS. I’m here to tell the listeners and everybody in the world that I suffered because of that. At the end, we think that we’re going to upheld that, and on the other side, there’s this beauty and power and all that. There’s that component. But deep inside, spiritually for eight years, I’m having that conversation with myself, I’m suffering internally because of that.

Even right now as I look back and then there’s some of the through line in my store Horse Barbie, is the spirit that they have to carry with me. Because somehow in this moment doing fashion, modeling life in New York City, I was craving for that Horse Barbie on that stage in the Philippines. That unapologetic 15, 17 year old who done all that because she is fully herself. It’s almost like horse Barbie is this Spirit of truth and goddess, and my true north. There are definitely moments that I remember in my journey where I could almost feel that Horse Barbie is right next to my shoulder, or a crown that I could wear as a spirit, or right next to me, or behind me, that would just guide me to just push through. As difficult as it is, you have to push through.

Imara: One of my favorite lines from the entire book encapsulates everything that we’re talking about. It said, “I felt iconic and dysphoric, all at once.”

Geena: It’s absolutely true in many sense, because so many people would want to have this dream. Yes it was a dream, it was possible, but with that comes with the threat of losing everything because of this iconic dream that I was able to achieve. It’s a double-edged sword, physically, spiritually, mentally.

Imara: Eventually that world pat, it ended. It would have been really fascinating to see what would have happened if it had continued, and if you had continued in it, but almost the contradiction that you were living indeed because of the end of the financial crisis. You then quickly and boldly, and brashly reinvent yourself into a corporate girl, a corporate woman, working girl. It’s like, you live all these different iconic New York various films and television shows like so it. Your little bit Sex in the City, Natasha, and then you were Working Girl, Melanie Griffith in that. You had all these different New York iconic film and television moments. People should read how that transformation happened. But eventually once that ended, you began to go back to embracing your trance self. One key moment is when you were in Tulum and you saw turtles hatch, you had found love during this time as well, after everything unraveled, it’s a grounding face for you. Then you went to Lumen, you saw sea turtles and that did something in you a breaking forward. This desire to really embrace, and tell the world who you are. Can you just tell us about that?

Geena: Yes. By the way, I have that tattoo in my arms right now, the sea turtle. It’s absolute reminder of how magical of a coincidence that is. I share this. I haven’t really talked about this, but this is really a magical moment in my life. Sometimes we were out, come on Geena, that didn’t happen. Like obviously my partner is there to witness it, I documented it. In that moment, in that part of my life, I was about to turn 30 years old, and something had happened physically emotionally. I got super sick, and I told myself that this conversation that I’m having is like, I don’t want to enter my 30s still carrying this burden. Because months leading up to my 30th birthday, the pressure just reach its boiling point of, do I come out? When do I come out? What if I come out what’s going to happen right? That intensity of a paranoia and worry, and anxiety was about to explode. Just almost went crazy, just managing all that.

My partner and I were in Tulum, Mexico for my birthday, and we were dancing. There’s a lifestyles at the beach, we were dancing at the beach, having enjoying an amazing Margarita, and then my partner asked me, is like so G, what does it mean for your, about to turn 30? In that moment as he said that, somehow all these things I’ve been thinking about, just felt so right to say it for the first time, vocally say it out loud. I told him like, you know what love, I’m ready to come out and tell my story. As I said that the live band salsa stopped the music. I was like what the hell’s going on? Somebody got an accident, someone is getting married, it’s completely stop the music. The singer said something in Spanish on the microphone, and next thing we knew, hundreds of sea turtles were being born under our feet. It cannot be more cosmic than that.

At the moment I didn’t know, I was just like, “Oh my God, cute sea turtles.” It’s also into the Mexico, the Mayan culture, it’s revered in that belief of rebirth in the culture. Everybody that’s dancing on the beach started carrying the turtles, guiding them to the ocean. Because apparently, normally, when sea turtles are born, they respond to the waves, the vibration of the waves of the water, but because there is people dancing salsa instead of going to the waves, straight to the wave to the ocean, they were coming towards us. Then so we started helping the sea turtles, taking them to the ocean.

Once it was done, I was about to wash my hand in the ocean, it just hit me and just started bawling, realizing what had just happened. It was right on cue, as I said, and it was so many ways to, my life has so much coincidence, but this is one that was the most pivotal in my life. Because, as I continued bawling, realizing what had happened, literally the next day it was as if it was dark and light. It was before and after. It was this belief, that self belief that took over me. Whether it’s Horse Barbie spirit is back at me but that confidence was in me again. That’s belief that I could do this, I have it.

Right at that moment I said, I’m going to share my story, and if I’m going to share this, I wanted to be in the biggest platform that I could think of. It was also still considered a risk. If I’m going to risk this career, I’m going to do it. Go big or go home. I started writing emails to friends. I have the email that specifically said, “Hey friends on the first quarter of 2014, this are the things I want to do. I want to speak a Ted conference. I want to speak with the state department and United Nations. I’m sharing my story for the first time.”

Imara: You tell the 10th story and then that led to so many other opportunities to tell your story. Eventually becoming a filmmaker, and now an author. So much of your career though, as you started and came to New York was actually about selling an image, right? You were selling an image as a beauty pageant multi-time champion and winner, same thing as a model. They’re even certain names or ideas that you talk about manifesting and being what other people wanted you to be through the lens. Now your job isn’t to do that, and I’m wondering what is sitting right in your spirit as you look back. There’s a part of you with that was about selling an image and being what other people wanted you to be on some level. Now, your job that you haven’t braces, increasingly being you, who you are. I’m wondering how that is feeling for you.

Geena: That’s a great question for me. Right now, I am an artist. First and foremost, I’m a Storyteller first. With this book and we’re directing, writing, producing, I just wanted you to like storytelling, mass media in all of its forms to tell stories, from the perspective of a trans Filipina, from the perspective of an immigrant, from the perspective of someone who had lived multiple worlds, and multiple cultures, travels between at the UN level to someone who grew up in the little alley in the Philippines. There is so much there.

I think the thing that fuels me is, how do I bring all of that through the lens of so many things, or stories that we have not heard or characters that I want to bring on screen, on TV or and all forms to tell these stories because whether it’s directly personal to me, but rooted in that personal lived experience, that’s my sense of purpose now. Whether people consider that advocacy or not, that’s not my decision to make. But certainly I want to fully realize characters and stories and perspectives that we haven’t heard. You and I, we both work in media and as much as we sell an image and the image of what is being put out there in the world, it really is all about how that media is created. Who’s creating that image? Because for so long, our stories, both for me as a trans person, as an AAPI person, as an immigrant, is not told for my lens. That’s what I’m about, is tell more stories.

Imara: Lastly, you are at the intersections of so many pivotal fights in America right now. You’re trans, you’re an immigrant, you are a member of the AAPI community. For those who might be listening, who are not any of those experiences or maybe part of them, what do you think is an important thing to know about living at that intersection in the United States? I’m specifically mindful of the fact that, this is going to be a summer of contention around migration in particular, and people who come here for all sorts of reasons, often to a place that is not welcoming to them. But at the same time, has a part of its DNA, the welcoming of immigrants.

Geena: As someone born and raised in the Philippines, our culture, country, that’s been colonized multiple times over from Spain to America and what that it did to my country, to my culture, to my language, to my spirit to, my ethos. What I am for is to talk about the experiences of people behind those statistics, is always centering lived experiences of people that are being attacked, that are feeling marginalized. Because through centering that, through unpacking the lived experiences, it defies this other side that wants to paint us as non-human or dehumanize our experiences.

That’s when am about, but more so, in my journey and this journey of writing this book, and the life that I’ve shared from the saga, this global saga from Philippines to here, and wherever I’m going is that, I’ve lived fully. I think because of my experiences, I’m not saying particularly to transfuse or AAPI use that, it’s going to be easy, we know it’s not going to be easy, but what I want to share is, find those places, those communities, those passions, those deeper meanings where you could be your full self. You have to pursue that, and in that pursuit, hopefully, you’ll find that the goal is to live fully, and there will be ups and downs. There would be pain, hurt rejection, all of that, but living fully is what propels me, and hopefully with this book what they get out of it is to live fully as well.

Imara: Well, Geena thank you so much for your story, and for coming on and talking about it. I think it is an engaging and powerful read, and it was a pleasure to read it and to be able to talk to you about it. Thank you so much for coming on.

Geena: Thank you Imara, for having me.

Imara: That was model and media maker Geena Rocero. Thank you for joining me on the TransLash as podcast. Now, listen all the way through to the end of this show for something extra. Special thanks to our Zouk 427 for giving us a five star review on Apple podcast. Our Zouk says, this podcast is amazing. Imara is so damn smart and fun. We’ll need a Maui[?] rating on this episode for that. She takes the pretentiousness out of political rhetoric while remaining true to the trans and queer communities. Do yourself a favor and listen. Well, of course, I can’t agree more.

Isaac 427, thank you so much for your kind words, and if you listener want to help support the show, go ahead and leave your own five star review on Apple podcast. You might just hear it on the show and you’ll help us fight the trolls. Our TransLash podcast is produced by TransLash media. The TransLash team includes Oliver-Ash Kleine and Aubrey Calaway, Sandra Adams is our attributing producer to the show and our sound engineer. Digital strategy is handled by Daniela Capistrano, the music you heard was composed by Ben Draghi and also courtesy of ZZK Records. The TransLash podcast is made possible by the support of foundations and listeners like you.

What am I looking forward to in the next couple of weeks? Well, it’s going to be a whirlwind pride month for me, as it is so many in our community. It’s an intense time where we’re both celebrating, and it’s overwhelming, and we’re being attacked. There’s a lot going on, but I’m looking forward to being honored by the Stonewall Community Foundation in a couple of weeks. I respect their work so much because they help to fund small LGBTQ organizations, to help them get up and on their feet and that’s vital work.

Awards, like that are particularly meaningful for me. In addition, it’s strange because whenever you get an award, or whenever I get an award, I’m always surprised because that’s not what’s in mind while you’re doing the work. You don’t really know if people are paying attention or really valuing what you’re doing, even though people do say it you’re just in the work every day. When people do say, “Hey, we like where you’re doing.” It means a lot. I’m looking forward to that. Stonewall Community Foundation, and y’all can support them. Go to their website and you can give small amounts of money if you want to this month, to help them continue to find small organizations that need support to get on their feet, to do the vital work person by person in our community.


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TransLash tells trans stories to save trans lives. As a trusted source for journalists, thought-leaders, movement activists, researchers, and those wanting to know about trans people, we produce narratives about and for the trans community—accurately and reliably. At a time when disinformation about trans people is being used to undermine democracy and human rights, TransLash Media serves as a beacon of hope through the voices that we share with the world.



TransLash tells trans stories to save trans lives. As a trusted source for journalists, thought-leaders, movement activists, researchers, and those wanting to know about trans people, we produce narratives about and for the trans community—accurately and reliably. At a time when disinformation about trans people is being used to undermine democracy and human rights, TransLash Media serves as a beacon of hope through the voices that we share with the world.


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