National Geographic’s ‘Gender Revolution’ Failed


Seven years ago, National Geographic announced a “gender revolution.” In a special 2017 edition of the magazine and a corresponding TV special hosted by Katie Couric, Nat Geo declared that the traditional “binary world” was crumbling, ushering in a new era of transgenderism and gender fluidity. The magazine cover spotlighted a 9-year-old “transgender girl,” and the “experts” Couric interviewed were mostly leftist political activists.

It was a misstep.

The revolution may have been broadcasted, but it proclaimed victory too soon. Recent findings on transgender medicine from England have “stunned people into reality about the dangers and inefficiency of transgender medicine,” according to one critic.

The Cass report, authored by pediatrician Hilary Cass, found that gender medicine often relies on “shaky foundations” when promoting medical treatments like puberty-blocking hormones or transitioning to the opposite sex. “The reality is that we have no good evidence on the long-term outcomes of interventions to manage gender-related distress,” the report noted.

Many European countries and several U.S. states are reevaluating their treatments for gender dysphoria. USA Today summarized: “Cass’ report raises many red flags about how little is known about the long-term consequences of gender-affirming medical treatment in children. She urges ‘extreme caution’ multiple times throughout her review.”

That’s a far cry from National Geographic’s stance seven years ago. I focus on Nat Geo’s role in the gender revolution not just as an example of media malpractice, but because it resonates personally. My father worked as a writer and editor at National Geographic for 30 years, from approximately 1960 to 1990. He was a compassionate journalist but had no patience for assaults on scientific facts.

Dad would have been horrified by the “gender revolution” issue. The section titled “Helping Families Talk about Gender” included this statement:

Understand that gender identity and sexual orientation cannot be changed, but the way people identify their gender identity and sexual orientation may change over time as they discover more about themselves.

As Andrew T. Walker and Denny Burke wrote in Public Discourse, “The first half of this sentence asserts the immutability of gender identity, but the second half of the sentence claims that people’s self-awareness of such things can change over time. But is there not a contradiction here once we define our terms? Gender identity is not an objective category but a subjective one. It is how one perceives his or her own sense of maleness or femaleness. … If that perception is fixed and immutable (as the first half of the sentence asserts), then it is incoherent to say that one’s self-perception can change over time (as the second half of the sentence asserts).”

Another article in the Nat Geo special features a full-page image of a shirtless 17-year-old girl who recently had a double mastectomy to “transition” to being a boy. Walker and Burke responded: “Why do transgender ideologues consider it harmful to attempt to change such a child’s mind but consider it progress to display her bare, mutilated chest for a cover story?”

Dad would have had no issue covering gender dysphoria in National Geographic. It’s a serious medical matter. In the 1980s, he pushed for Nat Geo to tackle difficult subjects, including the AIDS epidemic, advocating for scientifically rigorous yet compassionate coverage. USA Today remarks that “Cass’ report is written in a clear and compassionate manner, and her findings deserve careful consideration in the United States.” The Cass report would have featured prominently in any story he approved for the magazine.

But today, National Geographic, like much of the culture, seems obsessed with race and gender. As part of the magazine’s April 2018 “The Race Issue,” editor Susan Goldberg declared: “For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist. To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Acknowledge It.”

Goldberg enlisted John Edwin Mason from the University of Virginia to scrutinize the Nat Geo archives for traces of white supremacy. In an interview with Vox, Mason stated:

The magazine was born at the height of so-called ‘scientific’ racism and imperialism — including American imperialism. This culture of white supremacy shaped the outlook of the magazine’s editors, writers, and photographers, who were always white and almost always men.

Commenting on a 2018 cover featuring a cowboy on horseback, Mason argued that “the image of the white cowboy reproduces and romanticizes the mythic iconography of settler colonialism and white supremacy.”

National Geographic has a distinguished legacy and is a significant part of my family history. It needs to return to its scientific roots.

Mark Judge
Mark Judge
Mark Judge is a journalist and filmmaker whose writings have appeared in the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Daily Caller.

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