INTERVIEW: I Am Jazz's mom opens up on her hopes and fears for her transgender child
Jeanette Jennings talks with us about her beautiful transgender daughter, Jazz, and why she and the family chose to be in TLC's new series I Am Jazz.
With many transgender people still living a life of fear for being different, transgender teen Jazz has been an outspoken advocate for those in the trans community. It was Jazz's intentions to get the word out about transgender kids that made her mom Jeanette decide to do the show.
"We'd been thinking about doing something like this for a couple of years because we've been spreading our message to the media, and we felt like something longer would be a bigger platform for us. [We thought people could] get to know Jazz a lot better because there's no docuseries out there with a trans teenager, and I feel like if there's going to be one, she would be a good person to center a show around," Jennings said.
Suddenly, it seems — thanks to people like Caitlyn Jenner coming out proudly and TV series like Transparent getting critical acclaim — the world is getting to know transgender people. For Jennings, the new media attention means a lot.
"I think it's fantastic that all of a sudden, there's this burst of shows about transgender people. I think it could mean great things for the transgender community as well as everyone else to see how amazing transgender people are. I think it's great for Jazz too as [others] pave the way. As she goes into adulthood, she can see other people and it can also show her what her future is going to be like, which would be great, too."
Unfortunately, one of the biggest challenges that transgender people face is from society, a fact that Jennings is all too familiar with.
"As we stand right now, society — although they're much better than they were a year ago — they're not all accepting of transgender kids and there's going to be a lot of discrimination and bigotry out there," Jennings said. "At some point in time, you're going to face something or somebody who can be cruel, but you just have to be there for your child during that time period."
Jennings wasn't always sure what Jazz's future would be and, as a mom, she worried when Jazz started identifying with the opposite gender. The rest of the family had some difficulty with the news as well.
"Way back when Jazz was 3, 4, 5 years old, it was very, very difficult for me. To watch your child suffer living as a gender they don't identify with and then guiding them through the transition following their revealing, it's very difficult. My husband also had a very hard time with it. Her brothers were so little, they didn't know what to make of it."
Jazz's sister, the only girl among her siblings at the time, took the news the hardest. Being little, she only knew that she suddenly had to share her princess throne with another sibling. "But when we explained to her how tough it was going to be for Jazz and what a difficult life she could have," Jennings said, "she was completely on board and a very supportive big sister."
The scariest part of learning her child was transgender came when Jennings did some research and found out some shocking information. "I was petrified to find out the staggering suicide rates and the suicide attempt rates and the depression and all the things that go along with that," she said.
After learning such frightening news, the parents decided there was only one thing they could do to help their child: Give her love. "I was so fearful for her future that my husband and I, we did as much as possible to make her life as happy as possible, knowing what the road ahead could be for her. We just showered her with unconditional love and assured her that we would be by her side no matter what."
If you've read anything about Jazz and her new series, then you know she's one very busy young lady. She's an activist, an artist and a published author. But like any mom, Jennings ensures Jazz balances work with fun.
"I try to make sure she isn't overworked," Jennings said about Jazz's active life. "I'm also worried about school because she's always been such an amazing student. The child's never seen a B in her entire life. She's a perfectionist. Not only does she want straight A's, she wants 100 in every class. I do want to make sure that she doesn't burn out and that she gets her down time."
All parents have ideas in their minds when their children are born, goals they hope their kids will reach. Having a child transition into a new gender didn't do much to change Jennings' hopes for Jazz, she said. "The gender didn't play a part in what my visions were for her, which was just to lead a full and happy life."
With the challenges Jazz has already faced, Jennings said, her greatest joy is when Jazz makes her proud. "She does so many things that just blow me away. When I think I know her, she does something else that I just marvel at. I think, 'Wow, did I create this human being that is capable of doing all these things?' She'll meet really important people and handle herself with such dignity and elegance and I'm in awe of her."
She added, "I learn from her all the time about strength and courage and what it is to be proud of yourself."