Jazz Jennings is no ordinary 15-year-old. She has a show on TLC, a vast YouTube following, and now a book. It’s been a very public journey that has brought us to a familiar territory — teenhood — but with a slightly new twist: Jazz is transgender.
In Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen, Jennings shares her earliest memories of having a girl brain in a boy body, the trials and travails of living in a largely transphobic society, and the victories, small and large — from being able to wear the “mommy” costume in preschool to helping change laws that kept trans girls from playing soccer.
Brightly spoke with Jazz and her mother Jeanette about what it’s like to be trans, and a teen, in America today.
It’s an interesting time to be transgender. In particular, I’m thinking of Attorney General Loretta Lynch, saying, “We see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward. Please know that history is on your side.” Did you feel this moment was coming? Was it inevitable — or a surprise?
Jeanette: I was surprised that it happened so quickly. I didn’t think I would see this yet. But I didn’t see things like North Carolina happening either.
Jazz: I definitely think that there’s been a lot of progress in the last few years. We deserve to be treated with respect and to hear from major officials that they support us. We’re people, too, and we deserve to be treated equally.
But I still think more change needs to happen.
Do you see other signs of progress for the trans community?
Jeanette: The biggest step to me is the directive from the Obama administration stating that all public schools need to allow kids to use the bathroom of their choice otherwise they risk losing federal funding. We watched a video of a town hall meeting where Obama actually addressed the issue stating that schools need to “create an environment of dignity and kindness.”
To hear him say something like that blew me away.
Jazz: To me it’s not just about the directive and laws. I’m seeing people being more welcoming. With all the visibility in the media, people are finally becoming more educated. A lot of minds are being opened.
Jazz, who did you write your book for?
Jazz: The book is really for everyone — for the transgender teen who might be struggling, but there’s also a universal message of being who you are and loving who you are as well. It’s for anyone who feels a little bit different.
It also helps families and siblings and friends better support transgender people.
How is the book different than your show on TLC or even YouTube?
Jazz: The book really encompasses a lot of my life, more than the other media outlets. It’s all the experiences I’ve gone through, through my eyes and in my words. And there are things that maybe people didn’t know about — what makes me a whole person. It’s cool to be able to share that.
What’s different about being a transgender teen vs. a transgender child?
Jazz: I think being a teenager is hard in and of itself — trying to figure out who you are and what you want to do with your life. Kids can be mean and judgmental, too, because they’re still figuring these things out.
Being transgender and a teen makes it that much more difficult. No one is going to know exactly what you’re going through.
For transgender teens, it’s the hardest time of anyone’s life. I think it’s important for them to know that they aren’t alone in their experience and that they can find love and acceptance.
Jazz, are there any books that you read that made a difference to you?
Jazz: There have been a lot of books that I’ve read that have been inspirational —they often have a strong female character, like, The Hunger Games. Those stories inspire me to be strong and be myself.
How about you, Jeanette, are there books that you felt were helpful? Inspiring?
Jeanette: I’ve read lots of books written by transgender people — some biographical and some informational. She’s Not There, by Jenny Finney Boylan, had a huge impact on me. As Nature Made Him did as well. Transgender Warriors and Gender Outlaws opened my mind. The Christine Jorgensen biography was fascinating.
As a parent, I went digging for books about transgender youth and what I found is that there was nothing really out there geared towards children. I remember searching the library hoping to find a book, How to Raise Your Transgender Pre-schooler — which of course didn’t exist. Now, there’s The Transgender Child, which was published several years after Jazz transitioned.
I turned to books a lot for information. Parents need to keep educating themselves. Jazz’s book just came out, of course, but there are more books and more information to come.
What advice do you have for parents with kids who may be transgender — or who are struggling with their gender identity.
Jeanette: In all situations, everyone needs to remember that we’re human beings.
Parents need to know it’s okay not to fit into binary roles. Love your child for who they want to be — not who you want them to be. It boils down to unconditional love — loving your kid for who they are.
Jazz: For me, it’s not just encouraging the child, it’s embracing the child and the decisions they make — to support them in every aspect.