A nine-year-old girl appears on the cover of National Geographic in January. She is one of many kids featured in a story in the magazine, and also in the video at the end of this story.
But Avery Jackson’s photograph led one person online to say that Avery’s mother should be “exterminated.” And other people dug up Avery’s family’s personal information, and one person said about Avery, “Yeah, she’s definitely one who needs to be cyberbullied until she commits suicide,” Avery’s mother told the Kansas City Star.
Why would someone on the Internet want a nine-year-old girl to kill herself? Or for her mother to die?
Because Avery transitioned from male to female. Her appearance on the cover of the magazine made history—it was a first for the magazine—and also led to an increase in hate directed toward her family. Debi Jackson told the Star, “It’s the amount of threats. It’s gone from, ‘You’re an abusive mom and people should call child protective services,’ to ‘You should be killed immediately—the only way your kids will be safe is if you are exterminated.’ ”
Katie Couric explores what she ‘had a lot to learn’ about
Why are we so freaked out by gender issues? Why do some people care what other people’s genitalia looks like? Why are some people so scared by transgender people, or by men who take on parenting roles, or by women who work?
Such anger, and confusion, and questions are addressed in tonight’s two-hour special Gender Revolution (National Geographic, Monday, Feb. 6, at 9 p.m. ET). Its subtitle is “a journey with Katie Couric,” and that’s an apt title, because Katie herself admits she had a lot to learn.
At the Television Critics Association press tour in January, she referenced a moment on her talk show years ago when she asked former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Carmen Carrera about her genitalia and was excoriated for those questions. “I had a lot to learn then, and I still I’m not the world’s expert on gender issues,” Katie said. “I certainly know a lot more having done this documentary.”
That moment, and the criticism that came from it, Katie said, “made me want to learn more, and I think that sometimes we can’t be afraid to make mistakes on our journey to educate ourselves, and I was okay with that. I mean, it was painful at the time because I had the best intentions, actually. But I was really excited to be able to—in this very superficial, sound bite, media culture where we see headlines and click bait all the time—to really roll up my sleeves and delve into an issue that I think people are confused about and that people have a hard time wrapping their heads around.”
The issue she explores involves more than transgender people.
For example, it also focuses on intersex people, who are about as common as people with red hair (1 to 2 percent of the population), and whose biology—their internal and/or external genitalia, and their chromosomes—aren’t exact matches for what we expect boys and girls to have. Yet their parents are often asked to make decisions at birth, surgically changing their bodies to match society’s expectations.
“We’re a lot more complicated than we’ve assumed,” Katie says in the documentary and in its trailer (below), and that’s a good summation of what these two hours of television explore.
Of course, we’re also more complicated than two hours of TV, hence the magazine’s reporting, which you can read online. The stories range from “When Dads and Moms Share Parental Leave” to “The Many Ways Society Makes a Man.”
Meanwhile, responding to the people who direct hate, anger, and confusion her way, Avery told the Kansas City Star, “What would I say to people who would say I’m a boy and not a girl? I don’t care. It’s your opinion. I’m actually a girl. “I don’t feel much, ’cause it’s just helping people. That’s the only thing I should feel—good to be there. I don’t care about fame or anything. I just care about being there to help other people.”
Watch this short video to hear Avery, and many other 9-year-olds on four different continents, talk about the way they define gender—and how gender defines them.