From NY to Naked Truth: Behind Rappler Profiles

On September 20, our first female Rappler Profile, transgender model and advocate, Geena Rocero, marched down the Bench Naked Truth fashion show. 

As a model, this is nothing new. Geena has been doing it for the past decade. But that walk is a statement. She is the first openly transgender model to ever strut down one of the country’s most watched and most anticipated events. 

A Filipino renaissance

As Tropical Storm Mario and monsoon rains lash Manila, we are again spotlit as a battered people. During most part of last year’s typhoon Haiyan coverage, the world saw Filipinos as a people who could wade waist-deep in flood but still keep their smiles. We were also seen overcoming tragedy with our characteristic communal spirit, surrounded by each other. 

A Gallup poll from November 2013 revealed that Filipinos are the most emotional people in the world. American blogger Nathan Allen, who famously defended the Philippines in response to a fellow blogger’s bashing, has said we are melodramatic and we wear our hearts on our sleeves because we know what it’s like to lose everything.

But for a large part of the world, we are still typecast as blue-collar workers, caretakers, and domestic helpers. While they are honest careers, they are certainly not the only roles we play.

There are still those who think of us as a people whose only dream in life is to gain American citizenship. So much so that we would uproot ourselves and marry someone just for a green card. 

I’ve despised those misconceptions for as long as I could remember. Partly, that is why we did Profiles. We wanted to show that Filipinos are capable of greatness. That we could be the world’s best.

We wanted to point at Geena, the leader of what might be the next civil rights movement, and say, hey, this is a Filipina. 

During the shoot in New York, Rappler Profile Jose Antonio Vargas talked about a “Filipino Renaissance.” He could feel that we are beginning to make our mark in various industries and very very soon, the world would notice. 

Cause and effect

But Profiles is not just for featuring Filipinos. 

During the PH+Social Good Summit’s Manila Journalism Workshop, one Twitter follower asked if bad news really does sell. There were differing statements from the panel of international and local experts but one resounding answer was, “Anger and fear are the moods that spread the fastest. Happiness and inspiration are next.” 

That says a lot about the human nature. It is our instinct to share something that irks us. Hence, bad news and controversy spread like wildfire. But there’s a silver lining and that is still our need for inspiration and joy.  

Profiles is one way for us to present a different narrative. That while bad news and the bad people behind them are inevitable, there are many who represent the opposite. We believe that we can rise above our (human) guilty pleasure for celebrity and vanity to also read the stories that can make us change our minds. Even if ISIS, Kim Kardashian, or Janet Napoles have the highest share of voice on our feeds, we can also have the appetite for the people who make us sit up. 

They don't have to be candidates for the Nobel Prize, they could be as regular as you and me, they could also be uncontested kings or queens already. However, what excites us about them is not their influence or their following, but their intent. Our next Profile is a star already but she has shifted her focus from her celebrity to more meaningful things. 

Technology and humanity

One recurring statement in our PH+Social Good Summit is how “80% of human decisions are based on how we feel.” If we are inspired by something, we talk about it. If we are angry at something, we complain. Another has been on the power of journalists. Even if technology has rewritten all of the rules, the bottom line is still the same.

“We need to be effective storytellers as journalists. The stories that we tell change the world for the better,” said Kelli Arena, Executive Director of Global Center for Journalism and Democracy and former CNN correspondent. 

During the summit, it was reiterated how what defines a journalist is not the medium used but how you think. While I used to introduce myself as someone who was born and raised in print, I am primarily a writer/editor and that hasn’t changed. I just have more ingredients to cook with. As the technology changes, the way journalists work changes. Now we tweet, push Facebook, publish Instagrams. 

But of course, what has been core throughout all of this has always been people. 

We didn’t choose Geena because she would be sensational.

We have been given the power (and yes, the responsibility) to shine the spotlight on who we want, so it was good to focus it on someone who has risked much to live her most authentic self. We wanted to see if the sacred cow of “only showbiz celebrities sell” could be broken. Against what we had been taught, we wanted to create a ripple. 

And we are grateful because you answered us, “Yes.” 

Geena’s Profile became top story for Rappler. The story has garnered views that are exponential to the circulation numbers of top magazines. A Twitter conversation we conducted that asked, “Is the Philippines LGBT-friendly” generated 35 million  impressions.

The day after Geena flew into Manila to speak at our PH+Social Good Summit, she got a call from Bench, asking her to walk in the Naked Truth show. 

 

Faith Restored

When Geena walked on that Mall of Asia Arena runway, she was not just working in another fashion show. She is proof that if we feature the right people, then our stories and the bigger themes they represent, can also create a new kind of celebrity. 

That night, Geena Rocero ruled the stage. 

And now that you know who she is and what she stands for, you cheered her on. 

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On Sept 22, Geena will talk about “The Power of Stories, Technology and the Global Transgender Movement” in the New York Social Good Summit.