Why National Geographic Put a Transgender Girl on Their Cover

By September 26, 2017Informative, LGBTQ Civil Rights
Why National Geographic put a Transgender Girl on Their Cover

Avery Jackson, a nine-year- old girl from Kansas City, made history in January by becoming the first transgender person to appear on the cover of National Geographic magazine. National Geographic received conflicting reviews on placing a transgender girl on their cover.

As with any subject that conservatives can consider to be “touchy,” Avery and National Geographic faced a bit of backlash on social media. One Twitter user who goes by “Dirty Harry” tweeted, “National Geographic is trying to brainwash young people into thinking this kind of degeneracy is normal. #GenderRevolution.”

Adversely, YouthRex tweeted, “Kudos to @NatGeo for making #trans lives visible & sharing Avery Jackson’s story. #GenderRevolution.”

Because of the insane amount of commentary that National Geographic faced, both in extreme praise and support, and others more bitter, they released a statement detailing why they decided to use Avery Jackson as the model for their January 2017 cover.

On their website, National Geographic states that their January issue was meant to focus on young people across the world and their interaction with gender roles.

“[Avery] has lived as an openly transgender girl since age five,” they stated, “And she captured the complexity of the conversation around gender. Today, we’re not only talking about gender roles for boys and girls—we’re talking about our evolving understanding of people on the gender spectrum.”

Avery’s portrait that landed its placement on National Geographic’s January issue truly defines the meaning of the Gender Revolution movement, as she appears strong, proud, and beautiful. One can’t help but wonder if it’s the positive re-enforcement she has received from family and peers that has made her so strong, or the harsh ones inevitably received because of her being transgender.

National Geographic’s goal was to question the evolving notions of queerdom.

National Geographic is a magazine that chronicles global humanitarian issues. This past generation has seen a massive shift in gender beliefs as more and more people are coming out as being transgender, and similarly, more and more people are expressing their support for these courageous human beings. Therefore, it was only a matter of time before National Geographic made its mark in the LGBTQ space by looking at gender norms throughout various parts of the world and visualizing their impact on social systems through different cultural perspectives.

In one article in the January issue, Robin Marantz Henig wrote that there are constantly “evolving notions about what it means to be a woman or a man and the meanings of transgender, cisgender, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, agender, or any of the more than 50 terms Facebook offers users for their profiles. At the same time, scientists are uncovering new complexities in the biological understanding of sex. Many of us learned in high school biology that sex chromosomes determine a baby’s sex, full stop: XX means it’s a girl; XY means it’s a boy. But on occasion, XX and XY don’t tell the whole story.”

An interview with a young girl in Mumbai showed just how strong of an impact gender roles have on growing minds.

Not only is it important to see the perspective of adults on society’s given gender roles, but our future, the children, and their viewpoint on gender is equally pressing, if not more so. National Geographic talked to youths in the Americas, China, the Middle East, and Africa for their perspective on gender.

Living in a slum in Mumbai with her parents and two siblings, Nasreen Sheikh bravely told the magazine’s interviewers that she dreams of becoming a doctor someday; however, because she is a female, she believes that she will be held back from pursuing her dreams. “If I were a boy,” she stated, “I would have the chance to make money … and to wear good clothes.”

Editor-in- Chief Susan Goldberg urges people not to remain quiet about gender issues.

Editor-in- Chief Susan Goldberg urges people not to remain quiet about gender issues

Avery’s quote that is plastered below her portrait is a sentiment quite opposite to Nasreen’s; however, the overarching theme is still present. The quote reads, “The best thing about being a girl is, now I don’t have to pretend to be a boy.”

National Geographic Editor-in- Chief, Susan Goldberg, wrote an op-ed for USA Today detailing her goals for the Gender Revolution movement and why she believes that gender roles should be discussed and revamped.

Goldberg stated that an increasing number of celebrities are coming out and showing their support for those in the transgender community, yet that does not keep children, parents, teachers, and other members of society from having to confront gender disputes quietly; whether it’s not wanting to conform to gender rules, or standing up against genital mutilation in countries such as Sierra Leone, or even allowing men to be granted paternity leave after their child is born. All of these gender issues are important to discuss if society ever wants these ideals that have been set in place by our predecessors to change.

katie couric

In addition to the Gender Revolution issue, National Geographic debuted a two hour documentary on their television channel. The documentary, which was hosted by Katie Couric, debuted on February 6. She described the documentary as “Everything you wanted to know about gender but were afraid to ask.”

Considering the intense amount of challenges that the LGBTQ community has had to face throughout time, this issue and documentary couldn’t have come at a better time. Now it’s time for society to take a look at gender norms and consider if this type of segregation is really the legacy we want to continue.