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Horse Barbie By Geena Rocero

Review by Rebecca M. Alvin

Geena Rocero may have grown up in a literal alleyway in the Philippines, but at just 40 years old now, she has already achieved so much: rising to the top of the trans pageant world in the Philippines; moving to the United States and building a successful modeling career; becoming the first Asian-American trans Playboy Playmate; and simultaneously speaking on behalf of her community at the UN. In her new memoir Horse Barbie, Rocero shares her story with the perfect blend of intimate self-exploration, glamorous details, and descriptive, multisensory passages describing the sights, sounds, and smells of growing up in the Philippines, living in San Francisco, and traveling the world. Rocero will be speaking at the Hawthorne Barn this week as part of the Twenty Summers season.

As a child, she was a “femme boy,” only much later recognizing herself as transgender as she was received into the world of trans pageants in the Philippines, a fascinating facet of the culture there that somehow transcends its devoutly Catholic, politically conservative climate. As Rocero expertly explains, the history of the Philippines is one of incongruence between colonizers and an indigenous culture where a third gender was recognized and respected. And so, Rocero grew up with parents who loved and accepted her and a kind of awe encircling her when she became a trans beauty queen, but at the same time, her country wasn’t so willing to grant her equal rights.

With all her accomplishments, the book itself is an achievement, expertly crafted, well written, at once highly specific and easily translatable. As a single, heterosexual, cisgender woman I related to many of the scenarios in which Geena found herself, despite her being trans and much younger than I am. The internal monologues, considerations about how to behave and what to wear, and normalized fear of male aggression. And yet the specific danger that caused her to hide her identity is something uniquely related to her queer identity.

Geena’s story is multidimensional. She is a woman. She is a trans woman. She is a Filipina trans woman in the Philippines. And then she is an immigrant to the United States, where her femaleness, her transness, her ethnicity, and her socioeconomic status create new struggles. One can connect with her story through so many different entry points, but in all cases, we recognize in the author a deep-seated self-awareness that yields that most important memoir ingredient: honesty.

Rocero’s story is one of both triumph and struggle. She owns her privilege as a beauty queen, given advantages because of male desire, while sharing with us the incredible fear of living in a closet that threatened to suffocate her. While it’s a story of a trans woman, it also belongs to that rich tradition of American immigrant stories, stories that remind us what determination, self-actualization, and a dream can drive us to accomplish.

Horse Barbie by Geena Rocero is available at East End Books Ptown, 389 Commercial St., as well as other booksellers. Rocero will appear in conversation with Bob Keary on Saturday, June 3, 1 – 2:30 p.m. at the Hawthorne Barn, 29 Miller Hill Rd., Provincetown, presented by Twenty Summers. There is a $20 suggested donation. For tickets and information visit

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Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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