Although beauty pageant contestants often get a bad rap in the media, here at Be Your Own Muse we have found many exceptions to this outdated stereotype. Gone are the days of Miss Congeniality’s Cheryl and her mundane, yet somehow charming descriptions of her perfect date. Y’all remember, right? “April 25th. Because it’s not too hot, not too cold. All you need is a light jacket!”
Prime badass example, the newly crowned Mrs Universe and recent BYOM “You’re Cool” recipient, Ashley Callingbull of Alberta, Canada who has used her title from the get-go to fight for native rights in her home country.
These days, we are particularly inspired by Geena Rocero, a former transgender beauty pageant queen, model, and gender rights activist from the Philippines.
Although transgender beauty pageants have long been socially celebrated in the Philippines, the social status and safety of the transgender community is another story. Predominantly a Catholic nation, the Philippines prohibits the legal changing of gender under national law, which results in blatant discrimination both in society as a whole, as well as in the workplace. This lack of legal protection and acceptance under the law makes it extremely difficult for transgender community members to find employment, and more importantly, it leaves them incredibly vulnerable to hate crimes, which are a regular occurrence. As the Society of Transsexual Women in the Philippines shared with the United Nations in 2012, the transgender community in the Philippines is “one of the most marginalized and neglected sectors in the Philippines in terms of human rights protection, promotion, and fulfillment.”
Rocero has made it her mission to incite change and justice for the transgender community both in her home country and abroad. Before coming out to the world as a transgender woman, Rocero competed in transgender beauty pageants in the Philippines and after being discovered in New York City at the age of 21, went on to work as a swimsuit and fashion model for 12 years in the United States. On March 31, 2014 in honor of International Transgender Day of Visibility, Rocero publicly came out as a transgender woman while giving a TED talk in New York City, which as of now has been viewed over 2.7 million times. As she shared,
The world makes you something that you’re not, but you know inside what you are, and that question burns in your heart: How will you become that? I may be somewhat unique in this, but I am not alone, not alone at all. So when I became a fashion model, I felt that I’d finally achieved the dream that I’d always wanted since I was a young child. My outside self finally matched my inner truth, my inner self. All of us are put in boxes by our family, by our religion, by our society, our moment in history, even our own bodies. Some people have the courage to break free, not to accept the limitations imposed by the color of their skin or by the beliefs of those that surround them. Those people are always the threat to the status quo, to what is considered acceptable.
Following her TED talk, Rocero went on to found the international organization Gender Proud, which aims to elevate transgender justice and equality and to empower marginalized transgender communities around the world and advocate for their own legal rights. She has also spoken out about her struggle with the Westernized conventions of beauty even after her transition and admits to bleaching her skin for beauty pageants in the Philippines.
Earlier this year as a part of their campaign to start a more accurate and open dialogue about transgender rights, Gender Proud, led by Rocero, organized a series of workshops for the transgender community in the Philippines. These workshops provided a safe place where the members of the transgender community could share their unique, individual stories and establish their presence and visibility in a way unlike the ostracizing spectacle of the beauty pageants.
As Rocero so earnestly hopes, perhaps through the courageous telling of these stories, the world will finally recognize and respect these individuals for who they truly are.
+ LET’S TAKE PART IN THE GENDER PROUD CONVERSATION HERE. SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS BELOW + JOIN THE GENDER PROUD MOVEMENT HERE.