Transgender Model Geena Rocero on Being a Mentor and Helping Caitlyn Jenner Celebrate Her ‘First Birthday’

by Stacy Lambe 8:35 AM PST, November 10, 2015
Photo: Getty Images

Geena Rocero feels beautiful and she wants transgender youth to feel the same way.

When she was asked to produce Beautiful as I Want to Be, a new web series spotlighting transgender youth for Logo, Rocero saw it as an opportunity to pay it forward.

At 15, when she first started presenting as a female, Rocero was adopted by the beauty pageant scene in the Philippines where gender fluidity is celebrated. “I was given the opportunity to express myself,” Rocero tells ETonline, “and through the beauty pageants I was able to learn more about myself. I wanted others to have that.”

WATCH: Caitlyn Jenner Makes Red Carpet Debut at Premiere of 'Beautiful as I Want to Be'

Now, a decade after moving to the U.S. and modeling in the fashion industry, Rocero has turned her attention to empowering the transgender community. Last year, she gave a TED talk and founded Gender Proud, an advocacy group dedicated to the advancement of transgender rights.

She’s even become something of a mentor and friend to Caitlyn Jenner, even helping the former Olympian celebrate her “first birthday” at the premiere of As Beautiful as I Want to Be.

Rocera opened up to ETonline about the new series, what it’s been like to work with Jenner during her public transition, and knocking down barriers in the fashion industry. 

ETonline: You also appeared on I Am Cait earlier this year. What was it like to get to know Caitlyn as she went through a very public transition?

Geena Rocero: It was a big surprise when I first got the phone call to be in the show. The first time I met her she told me I was the very first transgender woman that she met. Getting to know her was a pleasure and joy, because you really could see that this is a person who has finally come to her truth. I know there’s so much criticism about her privilege standing, which is obviously given -- we know that -- and she has acknowledged that.

As we’ve seen on the show, she has realized it and she’s explored that and there will be more. And I hope we really will be talking about it more in the coming season because we learned something from each other. She’s learning and we’re learning from her -- and America’s learning through her transition.

It’s interesting having Caitlyn serve as a mentor to Zeam on the show because she’s still very new to the community. But it seems like her and Zeam are learning from each other.

I remember the moment when Zeam was asking me -- it was the first time Zeam was meeting Cait – he asked me, ‘How’s Cait?’ Cait is really funny and she likes to tell jokes and she likes to just hang around and have a good time. We always talk about what’s happening with her and her journey, but she likes to have fun. You could really see in that first episode they were really having fun. It was so special to see that bond between them. 

Caitlyn made a big splash with her red carpet debut at the premiere of the series. Candis Cayne was also there. How did you two help her celebrate?

We were like, “You know it’s her birthday the next day.” So we put together a surprise. Before I announced the viewing of the first episode we said, “We have a big surprise,” and a cake comes out and here I am trying to hold a note as I’m singing happy birthday in front of hundreds of people and all cameras were rolling. It was such a sweet moment. She even said, “It’s actually my first birthday as Caitlyn.” It’s so special to be with the community, to be with everybody celebrating her, and seeing a lot of the trans youth that was part of the show.

Let’s talk about the fashion industry since you’re a model as well. There’s been a lot conversation for and against the transgender community in the industry. What’s your experience been like?

From my personal experience, it’s been wonderful since I’ve come out. Certainly, I’ve worried about how the industry’s going to accept me. I feel more comfortable in the fashion world more and more. Sometimes I’m just working as a model and sometimes I’m also being hired because of what I stand for. Maybe later on I could have those two experiences. I want to offer more than just a conversation on being trans, so I want to do other things, more than just modeling and more than just producing content. 

Considering the success of models like you, Andrea Pejic and Lea T, is there still a certain level of achievement, in terms of a glass ceiling, that you want or need to prove to the fashion industry at all?

I think more and more representation. Some of the most visible achievements would be a trans model on the cover of Sports Illustrated or Vogue and a trans Victoria’s Secret model. There’s a lot, for sure, from a modeling standpoint.

Beautiful as I Want to Be is streaming now at Watch the video to learn more about Jenner's involvement in the series.