As a transgender person who has had my share of media attention, I know "it" is coming and, like clockwork, there it is - the question from a reporter about genital surgery. It always shows up. Every interviewer, every last one them has asked me about my genitals. One program constantly introduced me as "born female" until we intervened and asked him to stop. Once we did - in firm, polite and fact-based manner - he totally got it. But we have a long history of dealing with the "curiosity factor."
Most interviews go like this, "When did you KNOW? Blah, blah, bathrooms, blah. So, is it like you are a man trapped in a woman's body? Yada, yada, bathrooms, yada. How did your parent/friend/coworker/neighbor-across-the-street/grocery store clerk/dentist/oil-change-technician/former elementary school teacher and sister's ex-boyfriend feel about your transition? Blah, blah, bathrooms, blah, blah. Oh, and pray tell, Aidan, what about your genitals. Do you have a penis? Do you want a penis? How much does a penis cost? How do you have sex with/without a penis? How do others feel about your penis? What did you tell everyone at your twenty-year high school reunion about your penis?"
The genitalia-obsessed public, and the media that feeds them, got a Cher-inspired equivalent of a "Snap out of it!" when, two years ago, actress Laverne Cox and model Carmen Carrera (with a well-timed hiss) rebuffed Katie Couric's unsurprising, but oh-god-here-it-comes-again, pee-pee talk. Why was this interview so unique?
Well, three reasons.
One, Couric got respectfully schooled on national television by the brilliant Laverne. Two, she took some significant heat from a trans community sick to death of addressing the prurient curiosities of a society that is clueless as to the origins of said prurience.
And, reason number three. She stepped up!
I watched the National Geographic special, Gender Revolution, hosted by the bravely-coming-back-for-more Katie Couric. She set a new standard for journalists everywhere - one so humbly brilliant that I felt I must have moved through a time warp into the future and was watching Couric's great-granddaughter following in her matriarch's footsteps. Couric provides the viewer with a bridge across a great gender divide - one side is where most of society resides: a binary, simplistic, and unexamined understanding of gender as being limited to only male or female where never the twain shall meet. The other side of this chasm is where Couric's great grandchild will someday reside: a society that will have a deeper understanding and acceptance of the genetic, neurobiological, sociological, and other factors that make one's gender - not biological sex - an utterly expansive, unique and self-defined experience.
Today, I screened the film for a group of parents and their trans or gender diverse teens. We discussed the documentary afterwards and heard from the youth first. Their collective feedback was that it didn't go far enough, that gender was portrayed too simplistically. They also acknowledged however that the intended audience wasn't likely them. The piece was aimed at those who've never had any exposure to gender complexity.
As someone who regularly engages the uninformed in educational settings, I will not, unlike my teen audience, critique the documentary because of what was missing. Over the last twenty years I've engaged audiences with a goal of expanding their understanding of gender. I've witnessed a progression in this understanding. It has indeed begun to shift -- from a laser beam focus on genitals of trans people, to a willingness to pursue a self-examination as to the origins and implications of their own interest.
Katie Couric showed a willingness to use herself as an example of where we, as a society, are (a fixed, unmovable sense of gender) and where we can be (accepting a possibility of gender expansiveness). Gender Revolution was, in a sense, Gender 100 -- a decent introduction. Our viewing audience - a savvy group to be sure -- agreed that we can't wait to see the next installment, Gender Revolution 101. I respectfully ask Katie to repeat her own learning progression by taking another step -- turn Gender Revolution into a mini-series.