Pink is for girls and blue is for boys. Girls are princesses and boys are pirates. Girls like only boys and boys don’t kiss other boys...

These are just a few restrictive ideas of gender and gender identity which have seen queer people marginalised and scrutinised for centuries.

National Geographic’s Special Gender Revolution Issue - showing the shifting landscape of gender - explores the redefining of gender in a very powerful way. And it’s the magazine’s editor, Susan Goldberg, who asks the most pivotal question in her ed's letter from the get-go: What if all could thrive?

What if?

The cover pinpoints a few gender identifiers that form part of this gender revolution: intersex non-binary, transgender female, bi-gender, transgender male, androgynous and male.

Image: National Geographic


The National Geographic issue forms part of a "new" gender revolution narrative, not "new" in the sense that queer people are suddenly coming out of the woodwork or because there are more gay, non-binary identifiers than before, but because queerness is finally validated – given a face and a voice.

For example social media platforms are already much more inclusive than years before, Facebook now offers 56 options as gender identifiers according to Slate, whereas Tinder has 37.

But this is not the situation everywhere. And not for everyone. 

In most of the world, people’s thinking with regards to gender identity remains fixed in binaries and inequality often hampers the possibility of any kind of gender revolution. For example, the magazine highlights disparity by looking at 9 year-olds’ experience of gender around the world.

She says lesbian women who live in townships feel like every day is a ticking time bomb. It’s not about whether it will explode, but about when.

Canadian girl Mikayla, a middle-class farmer’s daughter, says there isn’t anything she can’t do because she’s a girl. She knows this. She was taught this and has no reason to question this way of thinking. Whereas Alfia, who lives in poverty in India, says she doesn’t get an education because she’s a girl. Therefore boys will get more opportunities that girls won’t ever have.

Rights for LGBTQ people are getting better in countries like Argentina, Malawi and Singapore, but are decreasing in Iran, Cameroon, Nigeria, Uganda and Russia, according to the Guardian.

It is not only in law that rights are being taken away from the LGBTQ community, but queer teenagers are being cyberbullied – outed online and in many countries people are tortured, subjected to corrective rape and murdered for how they gender identify.

The New York Times article, The Brutality of ‘Corrective Rape’, reported on Funeka Soldaat, founder of Free Gender,  a black lesbian activist group in the Khayelitsha township outside Cape Town, who described a community who live in fear. She says lesbian women who live in townships feel like every day is a ticking time bomb. It’s not about whether it will explode, but about when.

“And you won’t get any support from the community, as the community thinks homosexuality is un-African. Homophobia is going to take time to go away, if it ever does,” says Soldaat.

Derogatory binaries stay fixed in law because it is enforced by the politicians who are supposed to fight for its people - adding liberties, instead of taking rights away. The Guardian notes that being queer in Russia today is almost reminiscent of the Stalin era – where being gay was as good as a death sentence during the ‘20s.

The "new" gender revolution is not yet possible for all. But at least we are talking about it.

Educate yourself - here are some gender identifiers:

Transgender – a person whose gender identity does not match their biological sex assigned at birth. For example, if someone who sexually assigned as male at birth, but who now identifies as a woman.

Cisgender – when your gender identity matches your biological sex assigned to you at birth. I.e. the opposite of trans.  

Genderqueer – a combination of genders. The person identifies with neither gender identities usually subscribed to men or women.

Queer – a term used to describe people who don’t identify as cisgender or hetero.

Non-binary – “A spectrum of gender identities and expressions, often based on the rejection of gender binary’s assumption that gender is strictly an either-or option of male/man/masculine or female/woman/feminine based on sex assigned at birth,” explains National Geographic.