Katie Couric brings a cool head to conversation about gender identity.
Tanya Modini

25 Jul 2018 - 11:03 AM  UPDATED 27 Jul 2018 - 9:28 AM

Un-intimidating and crystal clear, Gender Revolution enters on the ground floor of all things gender and provides essential explanations around the basics like “gender is who you to go to bed as, sexual orientation is who you go to bed with”.

Produced by National Geographic and hosted by renowned American journalist and author, Katie Couric, this documentary has divided critics and audiences in the USA.

Criticised for being Gender 101 explained by a “cis white middle-class woman”, and a documentary about trans people made by cisgender people for cisgender people, Gender Revolution is all of those things. But isn’t it generally cisgender folk who are most in need of knowledge around the A-B-C’s of gender non-binary and trans?

Gender Revolution is actually exactly what is currently needed to help demystify confusion and fear around gender, gender expression and issues. And if like many others, you don’t know what “cis” means, then this show is definitely worth your time.

Sure, Couric may not always get it right, but it feels like she wants to get it right. As she ‘mum-splains’ her way through the show, it feels safe as a viewer not to know all the answers or the terminology because Couric doesn’t either. But she asks the questions for the audience and in doing so takes all things gender back to the fundamentals to help make it easier for everyone to understand.

Gender non-binary, intersex, transgender, cisgender, transitioning and more are explained and explored throughout the course of Gender Revolution via science and personal stories. Understanding is the key to acceptance and acceptance is protection for people like Brian Douglas who dauntlessly reveal their experiences throughout the documentary. Brian was born with “ambiguous genitalia” - a penis and testicles as well as a womb and ovaries. Doctors made the decision to operate on him at 11 months old and surgically reassigned him as a girl. After 45 agonising years of frustration trying to live as a woman, Brian found out that he had actually been born a male.

Through the inclusion of these personal stories from everyday people, Gender Revolution turns the spotlight on the often tragic consequences of the choices made by some doctors to change a baby’s birth sex. Surgery on intersex babies is irreversible and some believe a violation of human rights.

"Dating from about the 1950s, medicine has sought actively to intervene in normalising the bodies of children born with atypical sex anatomies”, says gender academic Ellen Feder PhD.

Whilst it was previously believed that you could impose a baby’s gender simply by surgery and parenting, Couric outlines the scientific evidence that proves “there are areas in the brain that correlate with gender identity and not with external body parts”.

With Tinder and Facebook now having the profile capacity to choose gender beyond the binary, things are definitely changing. And they need to.

Through Couric’s interviews with gender experts, we hear that the number of people in USA who identify as trans has doubled in the last 5 years, up to 1.4 million people. And although it may be safer to come forward now than it was 10 years ago, almost 50% of trans-identified people have attempted or died by suicide - a statistic that is 8 times higher than the United States National average.

According to the National LGBTI Health Alliance, compared to the general Australian population, transgender people aged 18 and over are nearly eleven times more likely to attempt suicide in their lifetime, and people with an intersex variation aged 16 and over are nearly six times more likely to attempt suicide in their lifetime.

More than a third of all transgender people in the UK were victims of a hate crime in 2017, according to new research. Another 2017 British study found that 80% of transgender youth have self-harmed.

Gender Revolution is a good place to start on the journey towards a more full understanding of the gender spectrum and the acceptance that comes from listening to the stories from everyday people.

As the old saying goes, “No one can hate you who knows your story.”

Gender Revolution with Katie Couric premieres on SBS VICELAND Thursday 26 July at 9pm. You can also watch it at SBS On Demand.