On Monday, February 6th, National Geographic premiered what is arguably Katie Couric’s most radical investigation to date. In the two-hour documentary Gender Revolution, Couric, doubling as the producer, “sets out to explore the rapidly evolving complexities of gender identity.”
The documentary consists of interviews with doctors, scientists, therapists, and students. Couric speaks with people who are transgender and those who were born intersex, as well as with their families. They discuss the evolving fluidity of gender and the evolution of the conversation surrounding it, especially among our generation.
Katie Couric has always immersed herself in films and investigations regarding the most pertinent cultural issues of the time. In the past, Couric has co-produced documentaries such as Under the Gun, about the victims of Sandy Hook and Fed Up, about the obesity epidemic in the United States. She has also dedicated herself to fighting cancer, especially of the colon, following her husband’s death. In the meantime, she hosted Dateline, the Today Show, and Now, with Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric. Couric is currently an executive producer for the documentary Flint, about the water crisis in Michigan, which is currently in pre-production.
Couric initially got involved in conversations about gender in the film Miss Representation, about the influence of the media on young girls. She expressed her worry that she started the trend of anchors wearing short skirts and maintaining a sexually appealing image. As the first woman to anchor CBS Evening News alone, Couric grasped “the opportunity to mix it up a little” and perpetuated “the message that a woman could be as confident as a man in an important, powerful role,” as she explains in Miss Representation.
Regarding the new Gender Revolution, Couric told The Huffington Post, “I set out on a journey to try to educate myself about a topic that young people are living with so effortlessly — and get to know the real people behind the headlines. Because the first step to inclusiveness and tolerance is understanding.”
In her humble, curious, and straight/cisgender/white female way, Couric did just that. The documentary started with a narrative about how, back in the 1950’s when Couric was born, times were more “simple,” more binary, and defined by pink and blue, girl and boy. Actresses like Mary Tyler Moore were focused on changing gender roles while now we’re trying to change the meaning of gender itself. She begins by speaking with Sam Killermann, a social justice comedian, who explains that “gender expression” is how you present yourself to the world.
The film then delves into explaining a condition where babies are born with an intersex identity, or CAH (congenital adrenal hyperplasia). A possible reason for this can be that the male organs receive too little testosterone or the female organs getting too much, resulting in male and female sex organs. Often times, doctors perform a surgery at birth to make the genitals look either more male of female, more commonly female, and psychological trauma is almost inevitable for such patients later on in life.
Brian, formerly as Diane, was one victim of this injustice, and has since written a letter to the doctors who performed the surgery saying, “The medical community’s shortsighted practices have left me with physical and psychological scars that have permeated every aspect of my ability to develop a healthy perception of myself.”
Couric also spent time getting to know the Lohman family, who decided against the surgery, allowing their daughter, Rosie, the chance to decide her own gender identity as she grew up. Her mother stated, “we wouldn’t be able to justify saying, ‘We made this choice for you and I hope it was the right one.”
Later on, viewers are familiarized with the Supreme Court case about Gavin Grimm, a transgender male (formerly female) who requested to use the boys bathroom at his Virginia high school, sparking a nationwide debate about using the bathroom for the sex one was assigned at birth or the one a person identifies with. Couric also speaks with transgender model, actress, and activist, Hari Nef along with counselors at a trans-youth summer camp, and a transgender owner of several El Pollo Locos.
Couric acknowledges that this conversation about gender identity and equality for all no matter what identity they chose is imperative given our current political climate. She told Marie Claire, “There’s a high degree of nervousness among people in that community, but it’s heartening to see that this is a social movement which has really gained speed. This is a segment of the population that’s not going to go backwards in terms of speaking out, making their voices heard and demanding rights. This is an important time.”
Watch the full documentary on National Geographic’s website and read the corresponding article, also titled Gender Revolution, in their January magazine.
Originally published in The Catalyst.
Recipient of the 2017 MAC Award for Best Feature in Print.