In 2016, only a handful (less than one percent) of magazine cover stars were transgender. Still, transgender representation in the media is on the (achingly slow) rise. Within the past two years, Vanity Fair, Time, Harper’s Bazaar, Sports Illustrated, Women’s Running and Men’s Health have all featured transgender cover stars for the first time. More transgender individuals grace TV screens, runways and fashion ads than ever before. And yet, in the coming year, the American people expect to see a surge in anti-transgender legislation. Clearly, visibility is not the only issue.
Now, National Geographic is doing its part to help deepen the public’s understanding of the transgender community. For its first issue of the year — and for the first time in history — the revered photo journal cast a transgender cover star. Nine-year-old Avery Jackson fronts the glossy’s Gender Revolution issue, which explores “the shifting landscape of gender.”
“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, editor in chief of National Geographic magazine, told NBC Out. “We wanted to look at how traditional gender roles play out all over the world, but also look into gender as a spectrum. There’s lots of coverage on celebrities, but there wasn’t an understanding of real people and the issues we face every day in classrooms or workplaces in regards to gender.”
Back in 2015, Avery shared her coming out story on YouTube in order to “let other gender non-conforming kids know it’s okay to be proud of who you are.” The video went viral, and a year later, the rainbow-haired Kansas native and her parents are “at ground zero in the evolving conversation about gender roles and rights,” writes Geographic staff writer Eve Conant.
For Avery’s cover story, Conant and photographer Robin Hammond asked nine-year-olds across four continents questions like, “What’s the best thing about being a girl?” and “How might your life be different if you were a girl instead of a boy (or a boy instead of a girl)?” Avery’s response to the former? “Everything about being a girl is good!” (Oh, to be nine again.)
National Geographic‘s Gender Revolution issue is available online starting today and hits newsstands December 27, at which time the publication will release an alternate January 2017 cover featuring several transgender, non-binary and androgynous individuals. The historic issue will be followed by a full-length documentary of the same name and focus.