National Geographic has always been famous for its covers. While not usually as newsworthy as Time Magazine, they have a history of provoking photographs that spark conversation and lure the eye. Everyone remembers the magic-eyed “Afghan Girl” from NatGeo’s June 1985 cover, which inspired a documentary and a few pop-culture tributes. Avery Jackson, the face gracing NatGeo’s first cover for 2017, might not be ready for that kind of fame, but she’s excited nonetheless.
Avery is nine years old, and she’s transgender.
Her cover photo is that of a serious young girl, all in pink from her leggings to her hair, looking into the viewer’s eyes. Whether or not she knew that she would be the magazine’s first transgender cover when that photo was taken, her expression is one of gravity.
The January issue is devoted entirely to gender. Their article on Jackson will mostly center around the professionals in her life—her doctors and psychologists. Jackson, with the support of her parents, began to live her daily life as a girl when she was five. John Hopkin’s Children’s Center psychiatrist and gender expert Patrick Kelly says that’s not unusual, and that most children’s sense of their own gender solidifies between three and six years old. Medical transition isn’t part of the picture yet, but as puberty approaches, the question will arise.
Visibility for transgender people has been steadily on the rise, with several other trans notables featured on magazine covers recently (Laverne Cox on Time in 2014 and Amelia Gapin on Women’s Running in July 2016). There have also been a number of movies about trans people (although unfortunately, they usually star cisgender actors). Trans people have even been elected to public offices around the nation.
Representation is a tool to be used for progress, fighting the tired and injurious stereotypes that have been the dominant stories told about trans people, particularly transgender women.