“The best thing about being a girl is, now I don’t have to pretend to be a boy,” declares the brand new cover for National Geographic magazine’s January 2017 issue. The quote is flanked by a confident Avery Jackson, a 7-year-old transgender girl. The issue, called “Gender Revolution”, is a special issue on the “shifting landscapes of gender”.
Avery is dressed in pink, a stereotypical colour for girls and women, but for Avery, it is about boasting her identity. In a first, NatGeo magazine cover has a transgender girl stating her femininity emphatically, possibly to inspire millions of others.
2016 saw intense discussions on gender and the spectrum of gender. With a first female presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton made space for a greater gendered discourse in politics. In a big move theoretically recognising the non-binary nature of gender, federal-funded schools in the US were asked to identify students by their preferred names and pronouns. Oregon became the first state to legally recognise non-binary genders. But on the darker side, access to public toilets still remains a battleground for transgenders.
In India, railway forms started accepting the third gender. A famous model became Gauri Arora from Gaurav Arora and was embraced with a lot of love.
In the backdrop of a growing discourse around gender and its non-binary natures, National Geographic, an international magazine, has brought out a rather revolutionary cover and issue.
“National Geographic is almost 130 years old, and we have been covering cultures, societies and social issues for all of those years. It struck us, listening to the national conversation, that gender was at the center of so many of these issues in the news,” Susan Goldberg, editorial director of National Geographic Partners and editor-in-chief of National Geographic magazine, told NBC Out. Goldberg emphasises that while throughout the year there was a lot of emphasis on celebrities, she wanted this issue to focus on the lives of the common man.
Her viewpoint rings true – the celebrity aura may bring more acceptance, complete with constant media presence. The common person, however, may be at a greater risk of falling prey to conformity and abuse. For a 7-year-old to be sharing her story with thousands will bring the “common” edge to the story – anyone could be going through the transformation.
NatGeo also gives a sneak peek into the issue through one of the many articles which will be published in the magazine. Titled “How Today’s Toys May Be Harming Your Daughter’s Brain”, the article analyses the problems of coding toys into separate categories of boy and girl. The bizarre nature of this coding is evident not only in kid products like Kinder Joy where there are separate surprise toys for boys – packaged in blue; and girls – packaged in green but also with products like toothpaste labelled for men and for women.
In the battle for gender equality, NatGeo has also shifted the discourse from academia to reach people in a major way by being a non-lifestyle magazine to have a transgender girl who is not a celebrity as their cover.