Prior to filming ‘Gender Revolution’, her new documentary for National Geographic, Katie Couric thought she understood gender. People are born either boys or girls, and they grow up to be either men or women, respectively. But as transgender people become more visible in the media, our national dialogue surrounding gender has evolved, as well. Noticing a cultural shift, Couric set out to explore, dissect, and understand this phenomenon—dubbed the “gender revolution.”
While filming the documentary, Couric travelled across America, interviewing a diverse group of transgender children, adolescents, and adults. In Washington, D.C., she met Ellie, a young transgender girl who at the age of four told her parents “I’m a girl in my heart and my brain”. In Phoenix, Couric visited Camp Outdoors, a summer camp for LGBT teenagers. There, she spoke with several transgender teens about their experiences using puberty-blocking and hormonal medications, and what it’s like growing up trans. In San Francisco, she met with Dr. Marci Bowers, a gynecologist who performs hundreds of gender-affirming surgeries each year, and happens to be transgender herself. Couric also interviewed several older transgender people about the radical changes they’ve seen in society over the years, including tennis star Renee Richards.
Although gender diversity might seem like a relatively new concept from a Western perspective, Couric learned that it’s actually quite mainstream in many cultures. Ancient Jewish texts refer to six distinct genders. And in places like Samoa, India, and Oaxaca, Mexico, transgender people are recognized and honored as an integral part of society.
In Virginia, Couric met with Gavin Grimm, a young man who has become the newest symbol of transgender rights in America. At the age of 15, Gavin began the process of transitioning from his assigned to his experienced gender. Initially, Gavin’s high school was supportive. Classmates and faculty members utilized appropriate pronouns when referring to Gavin, and he was able to use the restroom facilities he felt most comfortable in. However, following a parent complaint, the local school board voted to deny Gavin access to the boy’s restroom, instead offering him the use of a separate “unisex” bathroom. Recognizing this as a clear violation of his constitutional rights, Gavin and his mother vowed to fight the school board’s decision. The case is now slated to be heard in front of the supreme court, where Gavin will be represented by the ACLU.
Couric travelled to Yale University, as well. The Ivy League school in New Haven, Connecticut, considers itself to be at the forefront of transgender student rights. Last year, Yale added more than 330 “all gender” bathrooms across campus, and it also allows transgender students to use their preferred names on ID cards and diplomas. Additionally, costs related to gender confirmation surgeries are covered under the school’s student health plan.
During her time at Yale, Couric met with a group of transgender students from the university’s LGBTQ affinity group. In chatting with the students, Couric was struck by the major generational divide she noticed in attitudes towards gender. While baby-boomers tend to view gender as fixed and binary, their millennial counterparts are much more likely to perceive gender as something that is fluid and occurring on a continuum or spectrum. Thanks in part to exposure to gender issues on websites like Tumblr, Facebook, and Tinder, gender diversity is likely to be recognized, accepted, and celebrated among this younger generation. It’s true that transgender rights may be one of the newest battlegrounds in the civil rights movement, but it certainly seems that the world is moving towards acceptance. Make way for the gender revolution.