I’m in the Costa Rican jungle. I’m nude, playing in the sand, climbing trees, and at one with nature. I’m in my element. It’s a perfect metaphor for the dream of trans people and the way our bodies should always be seen: as natural as can be. CLICK HERE to see more of me for free.

I come from a strict Catholic upbringing in the Philippines—the only place in the world besides Vatican City where divorce is illegal, but also a place where transgender beauty pageants are broadcast on national television. As a kid, I would see the women in these pageants and recognize myself through them. They expanded my vision of who I could be and gave me a pathway to reach for my bigger dreams. Little did I know that at the age of 15 I myself would become a transgender beauty queen.

This is our lived experience. It’s not up for debate.

I moved to the United States when I was 17. Just imagine an immigrant, a young trans girl trying to grapple with her identity and then with a new culture and a language barrier. It was a complete shock. When I started modeling I began to realize the power in loving my body. I was doing a lot of lingerie and swimsuit editorials, projecting an image of a powerful woman in touch with her sexuality. But after eight years I started to feel a sense of shame, and the pressure of withholding the truth became insurmountable. The bigger the job, the bigger the paranoia that I would be outed. The stress of living this double life actually caused me to break out with eczema. I needed to listen to my body. I knew that if I was going to tell my story, it had to be on the biggest platform I could think of: the TED conference. So that was my first public speaking engagement! G