Katie Couric Wants to Teach You About Gender Identity
At the beginning of Gender Revolution, Katie Couric's new documentary for National Geographic, she says: "It used to be so simple: You were a boy, or you were a girl ... but that was then, and this is now." Immediately, a scene from Amazon's Transparent flashes across the screen. Jill Soloway's critically-acclaimed series is just one example of how gender has dominated the cultural conversation in recent years.
"My daughter told me that her classmates in school introduce themselves by their pronouns," Couric said recently by phone. "I thought, 'Things have really changed since I was in college.'" Over the course of two hours, the award-winning journalist breaks down long-held misconceptions about gender identity through interviews with everyone from elementary schoolers to former professional tennis player Renée Richards.
"A lot of people think the LGBTQ community is monolithic, but there's a whole host of viewpoints and opinions and attitudes," she added. Here, Couric talks more about gender and her most poignant sit-down.
Gender has become an increasingly common topic of conversation, especially given the current political climate. What initially piqued your interest?
Professionally, I've always tried to step back and look at the bigger picture and observe when there seem to be societal changes going on around us. I think for the last several years I saw that something was happening in terms of our views on gender, whether it was the Pentagon changing its policy or, more recently, Tinder advertising to include gender-nonconforming people. I saw that publications and news outlets had gender reporters; Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair.
How did you choose the subjects featured?
We wanted diversity geographically and racially. First and foremost, we looked for compelling stories that would personalize these various issues, whether it was intersex or a young trans family. I tried to set it up chronically as well, but generally I went to where the good stories were.
Right. You spoke with a five-year-old boy and then a couple that's been married for 45 years.
I think there's still a lot of confusion and ignorance about the issue, so I wanted to give people a better understanding of the progression of things when you transition. I interviewed someone who was 12 years old and about to go on puberty blockers to kids at camp starting on cross-hormone treatments.
What was the most eye-opening interview?
Probably Ally Hudson and her mom, Cristina, because you can see very clearly the struggle that these families go through. I think they did such a good job of describing how this unfolded in their own house. I hope that their willingness to be so candid makes people understand that this isn't something that people support cavalierly or without a great deal of thought and anguish. They want to do what's best for their child.
Why did you decide to pair Hair Nef and Renée Richards together?
They're both pioneers in their own way, but at very different times and places in society in terms of our culture. To be honest, it got a little uncomfortable at times because Renée has a very specific way of looking at gender, and Hari has a much more millennial perspective. There were moments when the dialogue got tense, but afterward, they hugged and said they wanted to stay in touch.
What do you hope to achieve with Gender Revolution?
I hope people who watch it will get to know the real people behind these headlines and have empathy for their situation. I think once you get to know anyone, the packaging and other stuff that may influence you melts away and you see people for who they are. You're able to relate to them and understand that they may be different, but essentially we're all the same.
Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric premieres tonight at 9 p.m. ET on the National Geographic Channel. At 11 p.m. ET, Couric will discuss the documentary in a live broadcast on National Geographic's Facebook page.
Check out the trailer above.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.