by Jazz Jennings
c.2016, Crown Books for Young Readers
$17.99; 272 pages
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 ordinary and special and so is Jazz Jennings. In her new book Being Jazz, she writes about being an everyday kid, 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 said 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, the Jennings 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 (later, gender dysphoria). She and her father fought for her right to play soccer with other girls, a battle that took “years.” She was up-front with friends, Barbara Walters, and others about being a girl in a boy’s body, and 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’d ever 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, which is 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-ing here; even when she writes about 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, and acknowledging that many trans teens don’t enjoy the same familial benefits.
That praise can almost be expected, but I noticed one refreshingly unexpected thing: because of her honesty and openness, Jennings has become a role model, a status of which she seems nonchalantly abashed but secretly delighted, with a tone of pride there, too. 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 twenty-something could certainly benefit from what’s inside this book. For sure, its buoyancy and optimism makes Being Jazz all kinds of special.