National Geographic is known for its iconic covers. And in the 130 years the yellow-bound magazine has been publishing, it’s printed more than 1,500 of them, all featuring jaw-dropping and important photos that people collect in binders and proudly display in their homes. But the magazine has never featured a trans person on the cover. Until now.
The January 2017 edition of the magazine (a special issue with accompanying documentary) will feature transgender activist Avery Jackson on their front page, using the 9-year-old’s image to begin a conversation about what gender really means in current day.
“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.
“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 on real people and the issues we face every day in classrooms or workplaces in regards to gender.”
While there’s already been some minor backlash — primarily via comments from those who don’t believe that a nine-year-old could have any concept of gender or sexuality — the magazine’s aim isn’t to stifle the opposition but invite everyone to explore how the meaning of gender has changed over time. NBC reports that aside from speaking to Avery (who’s been the subject of bullying and had to eventually be homeschooled) the magazine also gathered the thoughts and experiences of over 100 children and adolescents around the world.
And the transgender experience isn’t the only thing this special issue (as well as the two-hour documentary) will cover. According to Goldberg, the issue will also focus on gender equality and how young people from around the world feel about their lives in terms of whether they’re hampered or granted privilege due to their gender. In order to make certain the message really resonates with readers, the issue and the doc will both focus on “everyday” people rather than celebrities such as Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox.
It’s an important move for National Geographic, one that’s especially timely due to both the heightened visibility of trans people in the media as well as the crushing discrimination which people who identify outside of the gender binary still face.