Over the past four years, Lisa Ling has dived head first into several niche topics that are going on within our world on her CNN series This is Life.
For the episode airing on October 7th, Lisa meets individuals across the spectrum in the midst of their own gender revolution -- from those taking their first steps out of the shadows to young kids embracing a gender-nonconforming lexicon. It also includes an in-depth conversation with EJ Johnson and his parents Magic and Cookie.
I spoke with Lisa exclusively about the need to explore this topic and why she feels it’s an “exciting movement” for those who are in the world of gender fluidity, as well as her take on gender-neutral pronouns and why she thinks the audience that will be watching should put their judgment aside for at least the hour that its on. Take a look.
What made you want to explore this topic for the 5th season of your show?
I have been wanting to do this episode for a long time, but CNN didn’t greenlight it until this season. I think because if you’re not in high school or college or have people in your life who are in either, the idea of gender fluidity and not feeling like you adhere to male or female entirely seems strange. We’ve been indoctrinated into believing that we have to fit one or the other, even if you’re transgender you are either a trans man or a trans woman.
I think that we got approved to explore the issue this season, and in a way I’m glad because increasingly more people are becoming aware of this revolution. One of the reasons why we chose to profile a 42-year-old man is because this revolution is a fairly young one, and he has lived most of his life, or all of his life, kind of feeling like something was not quite right but never having the vocabulary or never having an outlet to express what he is going through. So, it’s exciting for him but also really scary at the same time.
Gender fluidity has become a major topic in and out of the LGBTQ community. Did you find that a lot of the people you spoke with talked more at ease about who they identify as due to our acceptance in society becoming that much greater?
I definitely think that one of the reasons why young people feel more confident about being able to express where they are is because they now have this outlet: they can see other people online and that there is a huge community of people that are sharing their stories so they no longer have to feel so alone. Certainly they are still afraid because it goes against societal norms but have less fear than people who are a little bit older who didn’t have those kinds of outlets when they were young.
What was your take on the new gender-neutral pronouns?
What I always say is, ‘I’m probably going to screw this up a lot because I’m learning everything that you’ve spent your life knowing’. I think that if that’s important to them, identifying themselves in a certain way, hopefully we will all get to the point where it all rolls off our tongues and we don’t have to think too much about it.
What did you take away from your conversation with EJ Johnson and his mother and father the most?
One of the cool things about EJ is that he doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him. He is probably the most high-profile gender fluid person out there, and I really admire that he just has put himself out there. And in doing so he has made himself vulnerable to criticism. But what’s really awesome about his parents is that they are not only accepting of him but are kind of in awe of him.
I really appreciate Magic and Cookie for being so sincere and honest about how it hard it was for them in the beginning. EJ had so much expectation on him from the moment he was born, and I really admire that Magic said, ‘at a certain point I had to realize now I’m the one who has to change how I think because my child is not going to change who he is.’ I just loved my interaction with Magic and Cookie and think they are the coolest parents and I want them to adopt me!
What are you hopeful that the audience who watches grasps the most about gender fluidity?
This is going to be a challenging one for people to wrap their heads around, because we’ve been so accustomed to thinking we are either male or female. So, what I’m going to ask of our audience is they just suspend their judgment, put your judgment on the couch for an hour and just allow these people to tell their stories. Allow the parents, allow Steve’s spouse, allow them to talk about how they overcame their challenges and love their loved one. Also, to decide for yourself how you come out on it but it’s not going away, it’s here to stay, our language is going to start changing with time and I think it’s a really exciting movement.
This particular episode airs Sunday, October 7th on CNN. Check your local listings.