She rose in the media like a whirlwind. But despite Jazz Jennings being bright, talented, and tenacious, she isn’t a prodigy. Nor does she seem to want to be one. That’s good for other trans kids because if she was a prodigy it would become a distinguishing factor between her and others. That would take away from the broad impact and appeal that she has had. Its an appeal that works in more ways than one. Her latest book, Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen, was dedicated to trans kids everywhere.1 But it really speaks to a broader audience.
It’s a breadth reflected in the artistry of the book itself as well as her own compelling story. Though the book tells the story of Jazz in her own words, it’s a story that reads like a compilation of interviews. This clearly is not the work of a 15-year old. Indeed, the acknowledgements speak of 2 other people involved in this work: Samantha Gentry and Emily Easton.2
Samantha Gentry, Editorial Assistant at Random House/Crown Books for Young Readers, must have been a logical choice for this job, even if perhaps assigned on the basis of stereotypical expectations. Her LinkedIn profile says that for the Capstone Independent Writing Project at the Frank N, Magid Center for Undergraduate Writing at the University of Iowa, she developed a collection of short stories about first time sexual experiences and conducted interviews with college-aged women to document their personal stories. Though the story of Jazz Jennings isn’t a story about sexual experiences per sé it appeals to those who take interest in sex anomalies of various sorts. But more importantly, her experience in interviewing young women shows in transforming a set of raw interviews into a coherent and easy-reading narrative.3
Emily Easton, the Executive Director at Random House/Crown Books for Young Readers, has an editing history going back to 1982 where she worked as Associate Editor for Macmillan. She is a woman of immense expertise in a highly competitive industry. She knew what writers to select for this type of work.4
It’s a work that Penguin, of which Random House is a division, has marketed to authors and would-be authors for years. It has redefined publishing in the age of e-readers and indie books, providing a sort of full-spectrum of services that includes marketing of print and e-books. A representative offers to review a manuscript, or in the case of a well known name, may even provide the services of an experienced book writer such as Samantha Gentry to do the ghost writing for someone like Jazz who really doesn’t have the time to pull off such a project.
Face it. Books take a lot of time to write. Even if one writes 3000 words a day, a writer would take at least 5 weeks to craft a single draft of the usual 85,000 words. It’s simply too much of a task for the busy high school student who spends time at camps,5 does interviews,6 and runs a business of her own crafting realistic mermaid tails.7
3000 words is a project that a teacher might assign to high school students over a period of 2 weeks, not as an overnight project. Though the story and book attribution is clearly hers, the writing must come from an experienced commercial writer who knows how to develop an easy reading book that appeals to a teenage audience.
But does that diminish the import of the book? Not at all. The story of Jazz Jennings has captivated deep interest from a great many people ever since she had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria at age 3. There’s good reason for this.8 When her initial interview on the television network program 20/20 made her a household name the very idea of a transgender child seemed a novel idea to many people even though it isn’t novel at all.9
Jazz’s story has such appeal because there have been a great many trans kids out there who have suffered in oppressive conditions and whose sense of gender had never been taken seriously by their families or peers. These have perennially faced bullying in a world that waits with a malicious grin and a deck stacked against its victims. The story of Jazz Jennings tells these kids they’re not alone, they’re not freaks, and that they deserve to be loved.
The impact of Jazz Jennings can be seen in a video of transgirl Corey Maison who described her own experience and who attributed her own awakening to the meaning of her experience to Jazz in a deeply moving video:
“In 5th Grade I was bullied so bad almost every day I came home from school cryinig!! They would make up lies to try to get me in trouble. One of the kids told me I should kill myself because no one liked me anyway. He told me no one would miss me if I was dead. They were so mean I just wanted to die. So my parents took me out of that school and homeschooled me. I was so thankful… so so thankful! I asked my mom if I could wear a dress and high heels to the store. She said Yes! So I did and if felt AMAZING until a woman in the store started taking pictures of me with her phone. Another lady was pointing and laughing. I felt so stupid. Like a freak. Like a misfit. One day my mom told me to come watch something online. It was a documentary about a girl named Jazz Jennings. She was a beautiful girl. That had been born a BOY! I said to my mom, “OMG. I’m just like her, I AM a girl!!” It finally made sense! I AM a girl that was born in a boy’s body. There’s no thing “wrong” with me. I’m “Transgender “10
But despite its stated purpose, the book does more than appeal to transgender youth. It appeals to all of us who may potentially raise a transgender child. Appended to the story of Jazz we find interviews of family members and letters from grandparents.11 These interviews will interest any family member of a transperson because far far too many have no clue how to face these issues. Too many retreat into dogma and fear, mistreating and even rejecting their trans family member. But this book provides a positive set of interviews that speak on behalf of questioning parents. It demonstrates unequivocally the benefits of a loving and accepting family and that the family who tenaciously advocates for their trans family member can win.
Her experience contrasts sharply with that system of parenting that demands corpselike obedience to every detail, forbidding expression apart from what the parents express such as we often find in many religious households. This might also have been the case in a Jewish household like that of Jazz. Some Jewish (and other religious) households prove to be open-minded to what science and psychology has found over decades of study. Some maintain a closed, dogmatic, and iron-fisted posture that fosters a culture of abuse. Regardless of faith, the story of how Jazz has grown in a genuinely loving home is a beautiful lesson to parents everywhere.
But the benefits don’t stop there. Teachers and counselors need to read this book. Jazz initially went to a school with an ultra-conservative school administrator who had difficulty understanding trans issues and Jazz’s parents had to push for school acceptance of Jazz as a girl.12 You’d think that school counselors and administrators who consistently assert policies upon parents should seek to advocate for the best interests of their students. But far too often this is not the case, whether an institution be a private religious or public one. Private and public institutions too often fail to fulfill a mission to equip kids for the best life outcomes possible like we expect professional educators to do. Too many become dropout factories for all students let alone transgender ones. Clearly, there’s far more work to be done at the administrative and counseling levels in schools than the same set of professionals admit to any of their constituents.
Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen can be found at various locations including Target where this writer procured a copy. It can also be purchased at Amazon whether as a trade edition or as an e-book. It’s a good read for a weekend afternoon and worthy to be read by all.
Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen
Jazz Jennings, 2016
Crown Books for Young Readers,
an imprint of Random House Children’s Books,
a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York
ISBN: 978-0-399-55464-3 (trade edition)
ISBN: 978-0-399-55465-0 (library)
ISBN: 978-0-399-55466-7 (e-book)
1. Jennings, Jazz. Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen (2016) Crown Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC, New York. ISBN: 978-0-399-55464-3 (trade edition). Dedication.
2. Ibid, p. 265.
3. Gentry, Samantha. Professional Profile. Web: LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/in/samantha-gentry-2691266b. Retrieved July 18, 2016
4. Easton, Emily. Professional Profile. Web: https://www.linkedin.com/in/emily-easton-18a582a. Retrieved July 18, 2016
5. Jennings, p. 124.
6. Ibid, p. 207 f.
7. Ibid, p. 150, 151.
8. Ibid, p. 11.
9. Ibid, p. 41 f.
10. Maison, Corey. High Dive Heart- “Misfit” (June 3, 2006) Video: YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmiaDNq79Uc. Retrieved July 18, 2016.
11. Op cit. p. 217 f.
12. Ibid, p. 32.