Think gender is just XX and XY? Think again. Gender is much more than chromosomes, and gender identity is much more than “boy” and “girl.”
“Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric,” a new documentary film from National Geographic, sets out to explore the rapidly evolving complexities of gender identity. (Couric, the former anchor of NBC’s “Today” and the “CBS Evening News,” is now Yahoo.com’s global news anchor.)
“Gender Revolution explores the complexities of gender in everyday life,” she writes on her website, KatieCouric.com. “To better understand this social and scientific issue, I went across the U.S. to talk with scientists, psychologists, activists, authors and families.”
The Family Resource Center at the Institute of Living has arranged for a free screening of the documentary followed by a panel discussion featuring members of the community and experts from the Institute of Living at Hartford Hospital and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. The screening and panel will be held on June 6 at Real Art Ways in Hartford from 6 to 9 p.m.
Traditionally, people identified as male or female at birth are expected to adhere to those norms throughout their lives. They are also expected to interact in a certain way with others of the same or opposite sex in their homes, workplaces and communities. If people don’t adhere to those expectations, they often become the victims of discrimination and segregation. These realities often affect physical and mental health. For this reason, experts stress the importance of openness to different gender identities, especially those who do not fit the binary “male-or-female” categories many people have grown accustomed to.
Natalie Garcia, a former member of the The Right Track/LGBTQ Specialty Track at the Institute of Living who will be participating in the panel discussion at Real Art Ways after the film, says her gender journey has been challenging at times. She wants to help others understand the nuances of this important topic.
“There was a time when I felt really bad about my body,” Garcia said. “I struggled a lot because my parents wouldn’t let me do things I wanted to do because they didn’t conform to their expectations. I had to pretend to be someone I wasn’t.”
Eventually she got help, but it took a long time to work through the negative thoughts that came from not living up to the expectations of those around her—including friends and peers.
“When I was presenting as male, people thought of me in terms of sexual identity,” Garcia said. “People would describe me as their ‘gay friend’ and expected me to go shopping with them—and that’s not me. A big reason for these stereotypes is our culture, and the media perpetuates them. It’s important for everyone to know: we’re people, not stereotypes.”
Dr. Laura Saunders, clinical coordinator of The Right Track/LGBTQ Specialty Track in Young Adult Services at the Institute of Living, believes conversations can help ease the stigma.
“The more we talk about this topic, the better things get,” Saunders said. “It’s similar to the fight for marriage equality. When people talked about the issue more and met people with different ideas, they began to accept them. Visibility changed the conversation.”
Garcia believes gender norms get in the way of people being themselves. Fortunately, the discussion seems to be moving in the right direction.
“It’s important to talk about people’s expectations of gender, and challenging those things we’ve been taught and looking at these issues from a different perspective,” Garcia said. “When there’s conversation – even if it’s not great – it leads to more conversation. And that helps everyone get more comfortable talking about these issues on more personal terms.”
“Over time, the tide is changing. People are getting educated and I’m hopeful.”
The free screening of “Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric,” followed by a panel discussion featuring members of the community and experts from the Institute of Living at Hartford Hospital and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, is June 6 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Real Art Ways in Hartford.