Book review: Being Jazz by Jazz Jennings

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Change happens through understanding, and one of my biggest hopes is that our next generation of kids will grow up in a world with more compassion.

Jazz Jennings began transitioning from male to female at the age of five. She was lucky enough to have accepting parents who wanted nothing more than for her to feel safe, loved, and happy, and this is her story.  At the time of publication, Jazz was only fifteen years old.

I’m not going to get into the writing (it’s at the level you’d expect from a teenager) or the medical issues brought up in the book (someone more experienced in dealing with anxiety and depression is welcome to do that), but I do want to talk about how this book made me feel.

On the one hand, it made me so sad. Jazz has lived a good life.  That much isn’t even debatable. She’s lucky to have grown up in a liberal family, to have lived in a more or less accepting community, and to have attended schools that focused on making her feel welcome. But living a good life doesn’t mean that everything has been sunshine and rainbows for her.

I think that it’s easy for people to say things like, “I don’t mind transgender people but I don’t want to share a bathroom with one.” This is a mentality that I don’t really understand, which is a story for a different day, but the point I’m trying to get at is that nobody really thinks of the consequences of that mentality. Like an eight-year-old kid who isn’t allowed to use the boys or girls restroom, who’s been told that there are two bathrooms they’re allowed to use in the entire building, one of which doesn’t lock and the other in a part of the building they’re never in. Nobody thinks about this little kid who ends up wetting their pants on a regular basis because adults are uncomfortable.  Not the kids they’d share the bathroom with, but the adults.

Also sad is all of the struggles Jazz went through with sports. She loves playing soccer, but it was a battle to get there. She was allowed to play on co-ed rec teams, but not single-gendered travel teams. While rec teams allowed her to play a game she loved, she knew that she wasn’t getting the same level of coaching and experience that she’d get on a travel team. Again, because it made some adults uncomfortable. The kids rarely cared.

But what made me happy was that Jazz has spent so much of her life advocating for transgender rights. That she’s had the opportunity to meet people like Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, who’ve accepted her for who she is. It made me happy to see her family supporting her – her parents, her grandparents, her brothers, and her sister – and although there was certainly an adjustment period for some of them, they never stopped loving her and never wanted anything but the best for her.

What made me happy was that Jazz is really, aside from all the advocacy work, just a normal teenage girl. She worries about relationships and fights with her friends. She tries to balance homework with extracurriculars. Sure, sometimes she has to fly to California to meet with Oprah or give a keynote speech at a big conference, but, all things considered, she’s a teen like any other. This gives me hope for a new, more accepting generation.

The moral of the story? Spread love, not hate.

Final rating: ★★★★☆

#mm18: diversify your reading