Review: Gender Revolution

I finally had time to sit down and watch Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric. The National Geographic documentary, now available for streaming on Hulu, runs an hour and a half and is remarkably comprehensive. I highly recommend it for anyone seeking to learn more about the complexities of gender.

The special is divided into three sections. First, Couric explores what it means to be intersex. She highlights the relatively arbitrary way in which doctors have decided whether a baby with anatomy that doesn’t fit the typical definition of male or female, should be a boy or a girl. The second portion is devoted to transgender people. Couric interviews Gavin Grimm, the trailblazing trans teen who has become the face of the nationwide bathroom debate. Finally, Couric explores the rapidly expanding views about gender among youth. A panel of college students explains why they reject the gender binary and embrace infinite gender identities.

The documentary features doctors, scientists, and experts in the field, but most compelling are the stories of real people and their unique gender journeys. Brian, who is intersex, was raised as a girl and only learned the truth from his mother when he noticed that the name on his birth certificate had been whited out. There’s the beautiful example of the loving relationship between Kate and Linda Rohr, who were married for 45 years before Kate transitioned. The show concludes with an interview with model Hari Nef and former tennis player Renee Richards, who represent opposing ends of the generational spectrum. Both transgender women, they are navigating the generational divide over gender.

Couric is an ideal host. Unassuming and down to earth, she makes it clear she’s learning, too. She laughs at herself when she makes a mistake (even including a slip-up in the credits), but it’s apparent that she wants to get it right. There were a few moments that were cringe-worthy, and critics have called her “befuddled.” I know that Couric has made some missteps in the path, but I for one appreciate the way she allows for teachable moments. For many, transgender topics are uncomfortable because people just don’t have the knowledge or experience. Couric allows others to learn from her example (both positive and negative). Her vulnerability and relatability make this show accessible to the exact audience that needs to see it.

This documentary is essentially a primer on gender topics, but it’s very well done. It should be required viewing for teachers and school staff, parents, and policy-makers. Learning about those who are different through “windows” like these is an essential piece in building empathy. If you are ready to explore the evolving concept of gender and better understand others, Gender Revolution is a great place to start.