Jennings, Jazz. Being Jazz: My Life As A (Transgender) Teen. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2016. HC. $17.99 ISBN 978-0399554643.
I confess I was quite unfamiliar with Jazz Jennings until recently becoming aware of her 2014 children’s book I Am Jazz, based on her life, and co-written with Jessica Herthel. I also confess I was highly skeptical of the notion that an early-grade-school-age child could have such a sense of self after only a few years on earth. It turns out gender dysphoria in young children is indeed unusual, but obviously not impossible. In many ways, sixteen-year-old Jazz Jennings is a remarkable young woman, and has now told her own story.
Born in Florida in 2000 as the youngest of four children, Jazz knew by age two that something was not quite right in how she looked and felt. By age three, she insisted on wearing dresses instead of pants, and was officially diagnosed with gender dysphoria at age four, making her one of the youngest children to be so designated.
From the start, Mr. and Mrs. Jennings (a pseudonym) supported their youngest child’s transition both financially and emotionally, and in this book, Jazz frequently acknowledges how fortunate she has been to have them and her three siblings so immovably in her corner. As a result, her life path has been reasonably non-traumatic, though she did face short-term challenges regarding school bathrooms (of course) and playing on soccer teams. And as she readily discusses, Jazz herself has coped with bouts of depression for which she continues treatment.
But the good news is that Jazz has also become a powerful symbol for the young transgender community, as per her television interviews with Barbara Walters and others; her family’s reality show, also titled I Am Jazz, her frequent appearances at national conferences (including last month’s American Library Association annual meeting in Orlando), and her visibility as spokesperson for the Transkids Purple Rainbow Foundation which she and her parents founded in 2007.
Jennings’ memoir is reflective and engaging, and should readily tame the lingering skeptics among us. The book also includes a Q&A section featuring her parents and siblings, along with a list of additional resources.
Being Jazz is highly recommended for all young adult nonfiction collections, and should probably find its way into many an adult’s check-out pile as well.
Dallas (TX) Public Library
[Edited October 3, 2016.]