National Geographic's "Gender Revolution": A Response

The first in a new weekly series of blog entries from a group of trans-identified teenagers, part of our Parity Youth Arts Showcase.


We arrived about ten minutes early to the theatre to be informed that we should probably sit in the spillover room, called the party room. I was already anxious from the countless cameras flashing in the reception and the sharply dressed folk loudly discussing society upstairs, and was subsequently anxious to find a seat with my darling Mother.

We filed into the party room with the other rejects, on vaguely geometric couches that hurt my neck and back. I settled in as much as I could for what I assumed would be a shallow documentary that existed in the white, binary sphere of the transgender community. 
Boy, was I glad to be wrong. 

At the first sight of Facebook's alphabetical gender identity list, with agender at the top, I nearly burst into tears. Yes, I regularly talk with other trans people-write poetry, make art, discuss change. Of course we exist. But to be immortalized, splayed on the screen as a legitimate life and identity? That affected me more than I could ever express-a feeling of 'that's me' and 'look there I am' that every transgender person is validated by experiencing.
Seeing the age range covered by the documentary had a similar affect-five year olds, twelve year olds, laughing with their siblings and looking utterly whole in the love of their family was moving and affirming. I have so much hope the the next wave of trans people, in high schools and elementary schools everywhere. What drove me to tears, though, was the stories of the older trans folk who suffered to pave the way for us-the 80 year old who sought out Gender Affirming Surgery so they wouldn't be buried in the wrong body, the transgender woman who transitioned later in life with her wife by her side. Each story drove the point home-we have a future. We get to grow old, have families. Sometimes I forget that I have a whole life ahead of me. Sometimes I forget that I can be more than a suicide, more than a 'woodworker', as Renee Richards put it. 

While the Nat Geo team handled every story and all the information with tact and grace, there were a couple parts that I (and a few others in the room) kind of cringed at. For one, the appropriation of the GenderBread person from a queer black artist, the use of Trans Lives Matter and All Lives Matter as used in a panning shot of protestors, piggybacking off of the Black Lives Matter movement. While the documentary was touching and moving (and Katie Couric did mention the unemployment gap between Trans Women and Trans Women of Color), it did seem very white. Even the anthropologists discussing the gender orientations of those in India, Mexico, and Samoan were mostly cis white men, and the words of these actual people were few and far between, in stark contrast to the stories of trans white folk. 

In all, the documentary was well directed, touching, informative, and affirming, with just a few moments that reminded us how much work we have to do.

Because the topic of being transgender in America and within the binary can be deeply frustrating and depressing, I was happy to see moments of levity as Katie Couric educated herself and met transgender kids. My personal favorite moment was the introduction of Esmeralda, a pot bellied pig (whose owner, of course, is the hugely inspirational Gavin Grimm) who is very excited to meet Katie Couric. I also liked seeing the LGBT youth camps with kids of all identities gathered around a camp ride laughing. It was cheerily cliché for a community that has never been visible enough to be cliché.

While the documentary had its mistakes  I applaud the documentary for highlighting the lives of transgender women, as transmisogyny is so rampant inside and out of the community. I also admire how they didn't shy away from the disgusting and abhorrent history of the human rights violations committed against Intersexual individuals, and treated intersexuality and transness as separate gender experiences. I think it could be used as a great educational tool for high schools and families around the countries, but as a trans activist active in the community? It isn't required viewing.