At first glance, it seemed like a dull if not confusing cover, given National Geographic's repertoire of stunning photography, but upon closer examination, the magazine's January 2017 issue becomes instantaneously polarizing.
"The best thing about being a girl is, now I don’t have to pretend to be a boy," reads the caption underneath a photo of a 9-year-old transgender girl, clad in pink cheetah print leggings and a T-shirt, staring directly into the photographer's lens with melancholy eyes.
National Geographic is trying to highlight what it has dubbed the "gender revolution" with it's feature about Avery Jackson of Kansas City, Missouri, but the conservative American Family Association sees it differently, calling the celebration of gender dysphoria "shaking a fist at God."
"National Geographic shakes a fist at God and biblical authority on their radical mission to advocate gender confusion in upcoming issues," the organization wrote on its Facebook page. "The biblical teaching of the truth about gender identity is confirmed by biological science."
"Human sexuality is binary by design," the memo continued. "Binary means there are two and only two options according to medical science — a child either has an XY chromosomal pattern or an XX. These are genetic markers which indicate God's master design for humanity and create the capacity for human reproduction."
Some Twitter users expressed similar disdain for the provocative spread.
In a note on the magazine's website, Editor-in-Chief Susan Goldberg said many readers have weighed in "with opinions, from expressions of pride and gratitude to utter fury" since the cover was first shared by National Geographic last Friday.
She also revealed that some have even threatened to pull their subscriptions as a result of the cover.
"Avery was able to capture the complexity of the conversation around gender," Goldberg wrote. "We thought that, in a glance, she summed up the concept of ‘Gender Revolution.'"
The editor said the decision to feature Avery on the cover is a symbolic gesture to highlight the shift U.S. culture has made on transgenderism. When the magazine prints next month, the Kansas City native will become the first transgender person to be featured on the National Geographic cover.