Jul 20, 2019

Language is powerful. One lens to look at to appreciate this is by simply acknowledging the LGBTQ’s fight towards the proper use of pronouns, or even just acknowledging that there are queer and non-binary people that would rather be referred to in the neutral “them” instead of he or she.

Luckily, in our national language, Filipino, that is less of a concern, as transgender Filipino-American model and founder of trans-focused and trans-specific production company Gender Proud Geena Rocero points out in the first United Nations meeting on gender diversity and non-binary identities called “Beyond Binaries” in New York.

“I was born and raised in the Philippines, a country that’s been colonized, a country that’s been for so long had indigenous understanding of gender fluidity. [W]e have many different dialects. We have a main language called Tagalog. We have this word called “siya” that’s basically “them,” shared Rocero.

She was part of a panel with UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, activist, multidisciplinary artist and Religion Fellow for OutRight Action International, Katlego Kai Kolanyane-Kesupile, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, UN Independent Expert on Protection against Violence and Discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, and Filipinx poet Kay Ulunday Barrett, to name a few.

“We were gender-neutral language in the Philippines, and the Tagalog, which is our language is part of this long history of Austronesian language family that is spoken by more than 500 million people that have gender-neutral on their language. Gender-neutral identities, them, identifying with preferred pronouns it’s nothing new when it comes to the context of indigenous people.”

The transgender model also called for the decolonization of language while acknowledging that trans and gender diverse people in many cultures have been here since the beginning of time. “Decolonizing that understanding with us to realize, ‘oh that is the way forward, right? It’s to decolonize that understanding and to honor the long history of my ancestors had been here way before me,” Rocero said. “I just want to reclaim the space of gender fluidity that has always been here since the beginning.”

Rocero is also a TED speaker, who spoke in 2014 about her transgender experience growing up in the Philippines and eventually making it as a successful model in the United States.

Last month, Playboy magazine announced that Rocero will be the first transgender Asian American and Pacific Islander playmate on the centerfold of it’s Pride issue.

 

Header photo courtesy of the United Nations

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Read more:

“Pride is a protest” and the many narratives of this year’s Pride March

For LGBTQ Filipinos, ManilaMed’s new Gender Diversity Center is here to help

Why is our national language Tagalog-centric?

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