This story begins on a beach in Tulum, Mexico, last October. It was my 30th birthday, and I was dancing on the beach with my then partner. As he spun me around, he asked me, ‘What does turning 30 mean to you?’ I replied, ‘It means letting go. It means no more secrets.’
I’d spent 12 years building a career as a model in NYC. Prior to that, I’d immigrated to the US from the Philippines. In between, I’d gone to Thailand for 2 major surgical procedures that transformed my body physically into what emotionally I’d known since I was 5 years old — that I am a woman.
After the surgeries, and after legally changing my name and gender marker, I felt like I finally had the safe space to fulfill my dream, which was to become a fashion model.
Those years in NYC working in the fashion industry were not about hiding, per se. It was more about not wanting to be pigeon-holed.
But turning 30 changed something for me. I was watching as activists and celebrities were changing the conversation about being trans in the mainstream media – Janet Mock with #girlslikeus, and Laverne Cox introducing us to Sophia on Orange Is the New Black.
I also felt like I had an obligation to the LGBT communities, especially the Trans community in the Philippines, who had embraced me so openly when I was younger, and given me so much early strength. Thinking about them gave me a groundswell of early motivation.
In turn, I wasn’t scared about what my revelation would do for my career, or for me personally. I knew I had the support of an amazing group of friends, my family, and hopefully – the people in my industry.
I started by reaching out to close friends, telling them that I was ready to openly talk about my full journey into womanhood. Then TED came calling. They said they’d put me onstage in Vancouver. I knew what kind of power their platform has, and I quickly said yes.
The following weeks were a blur of speech coaches, travel arrangements, partner meetings, and strategy sessions. See, I knew that I wasn’t just going to give a talk. I was going to start a social movement.
Gender Proud is what resulted. When I was 21, I had to travel through the Tokyo Airport on my old passport, with male name and gender marker. I was presenting as female, but my documents did not match, and I was detained for hours, interrogated and searched. The experience left a lasting impression. Years later, in thinking about what kind of change I wanted to see for the trans community, I decided I wanted to advocate for more progressive gender marker policy, so that others could avoid the same embarrassment and shame that I’d encountered.
I gave my TED Talk on March 19th, and got a standing ovation. The outpouring of support was incredible. The TED experience was elevating – both literally and figuratively.
Then on March 31st, TED posted my talk online, to celebrate International Transgender Day of Visibility. It was also the day we launched Gender Proud.
As of right now, the talk has over 900,000 views. We’ve garnered media support from publications all over the world – from Vancouver (where it all began!) to Manila to London – and back again.
We’ve embedded Gender Proud into the LGBT, fashion, and social justice communities, and found incredible support. We’ve been told that the talk is being shown in classrooms in North Dakota, on TVs in remote villages in the Philippines, and in community meetings in Hong Kong.
My great hope is that TED is just the beginning. I want to bring new levels of visibility to the trans community, at the global level. The real work is just getting started: we’ve got a flow of amazing media that’s still to be released and we’ve got some amazing advocacy work that’s just getting off the ground.
Join us at http://www.genderproud.com, and help us continue to have this conversation.
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