By Terri Schlichenmeyer
There’s nothing special about you. You’re just an ordinary kid, nothing unique—except, there is. You have your own thoughts, passions, creativity, and sense of humor. There’s nobody else like you; you’re both ordinary and special, and so is Jazz Jennings. In her new book, Being Jazz, she writes about being an everyday kid, but with a difference.
As a very small child, Jazz Jennings knew that something was wrong with the way adults were acting toward her. Her parents dressed her in boy clothes, gave her trucks, and said things like “Good boy!” But Jennings knew even before she could speak that they were wrong. She was a girl, though her body told her otherwise.
For most of her toddlerhood, Jennings (known then as Jaron) fought against anything that was remotely masculine. At two years of age, she asked her mother when the “Good Fairy” was coming to change her into a girl; Jennings’ mother then realized that this “probably wasn’t a phase.”
At home, her parents were fine with Jaron’s girliness, but preschool was different. Even then, there were bathroom issues; the principal of the school made concessions about school uniforms, but Jaron wasn’t allowed to use the girls’ restroom. Shortly after that, she started calling herself “Jazz,” and Jazz often wet herself at school.
But that was just little-kid behavior. As Jennings grew up, she became an inspiration for many with Gender Identity Disorder (or the more current term gender dysphoria). She and her father spent years fighting for her right to play soccer with other girls. She was upfront with both friends and strangers (including interviewer Barbara Walters) about being a girl in a boy’s body. She had plenty of haters, but she learned who her friends really were. She says she still struggles with depression sometimes, as well as typical teen issues, but overall, she’s confident. And if she can help other transgender kids, then that’s all good, too.
Who would have thought that bathrooms would be such a hot-button issue in 2016? Author Jazz Jennings has, perhaps; she’s been dealing with potty parity nearly all her life, and it’s just one of the topics she tackles in Being Jazz.
Right from the outset, it’s obvious that this is one exceptionally upbeat book. There’s almost no “poor me” writing here; even when she writes about her struggles and occasional anger, Jennings’ cheery optimism is front-and-center. She gives props to her family for this, praising their easy acceptance and unconditional support. She is sad that many trans teens don’t enjoy the same familial benefits.
One refreshingly unexpected thing about the book is Jennings’ honesty and openness. She seems nonchalantly abashed but secretly delighted (with a hint of pride) that she has become a role model. Who could fail to be charmed by such straightforward authenticity?
While this book is supposedly for teens ages 12 and up, I think a transitioning 20-something could certainly benefit from what’s inside. For sure, its buoyancy and optimism makes Being Jazz all kinds of special..
Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old, and she lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.