Review: Being Jazz: My Life as a Transgender Teen – Jazz Jennings

Jazz knew she was a girl very early in her life, and after being allowed to publicly transition, began her campaign of spreading trans-awareness by speaking out on her Youtube channel, going to conventions, and doing interviews.


Why this book?: We were doing book club discussions in my sociology class, and luckily there was a LGBT group. I got in it, and voted to read this one.

I have a Lot to say about this book, so I decided to attempt a new format for my reviews with this one.

Being Jazz was well intended, but ultimately missed the mark in what Jazz was evidently going for. The memoir was supposed to be about her life, which was a meager 15 years according to the book. For one, that’s not a lot to write about for a memoir, and I was surprised that they didn’t think to wait longer to write it. Jazz’s writing was very inexperienced, and it’s quite obvious that she hadn’t written anything of the scale before, and probably didn’t know what she was doing.

Jazz’s writing style was the type a lot of people call “stream of consciousness”. The narrative goes around whatever Jazz happens to be thinking of in the moment, and didn’t have much chronology for a book that is supposed to be based on chronological moments of her life. Often, chapters would be introduced with intended themes, but often went off into another subject and ended in a completely different point. There was even a chapter where she began speaking of her depression and anxiety (of which I had a lot to say about, I’ll get to that later) and it ended with her going into detail of how to make mermaid tails.

The stream of consciousness writing style is probably the worst fitted for a memoir. It was impossible to follow the time line, and often didn’t hit topics that Jazz had obviously intended to speak on. Because of this, Jazz ends up blithely going over important topics in order to get to something she’d rather speak of in the moment, such as mermaid tails or soccer.

I’m not trying to belittle her choices or even her life, but for a book that’s supposed to be about her life being a transgender teen, there wasn’t much about her experiences, but rather more about her accomplishments and people she’s met because of them. She often dropped names like Caitlyn Jenner, Barak Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Jennifer Lawrence, only to barely mention how or why she was receiving the awards and attending the ceremonies with them in the first place.

About half way through the memoir, Jazz starts a chapter about her falling into self-doubt, and her being diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Now, I don’t want to say she was lying, but it felt extremely odd to spend half the novel being extremely self-confident and mentioning no doubts to suddenly be diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Especially it being a memoir, a stream of consciousness, you’d think she would have mentioned earlier doubts and bouts of self-loathing. It even goes on to mention of it being a genetic mental illness, all the more making me pretty pessimistic of her sudden revelation of her being mentally ill. My biggest problem with this isn’t the suddenness of it, but rather the fact that she goes on to say that when she was diagnosed, she was prescribed medication nearly right away, and her problems went away right when she got the specific dose needed.

As someone who’s been suffering from both depression and anxiety for a good four years, being able to get medication right away was almost insulting. I had to wait until a year ago to get my first dose, and even then both my doctors and my parents were against it. And even now, I’m still trying to point out that the medication is only doing half the work I need, because even though my depression is manageable as of right now, I still experience frequent anxiety attacks.

Jazz only touched on this twice, and, as I said before, it felt like she was belittling my experience with mental illness, with how easily she got everything she needed, and how fantastically it worked out for her.

Going on to discuss how else she proposed things, the only way to describe it is that she was describing things to easily fit to the cis-normative gaze, and often didn’t mention how her experience was obviously privileged compared to other trans teens. While she did say it, it was often included in when she mentioned trans kids killing themselves or attempting to take their life. While she didn’t discount other experiences, it was almost as if she was trying to take the focus off trans struggles, and more onto the minimal progress that has happened for those that do have support.

I was also surprised to find problematic content included in the back of her book. In the “Resources” section, she lists off other books about transgender people, some of which multiple people have said are extremely harmful to transgender people. She mentions these books without any explanation, which I thought was surprising and frankly ignorant for such a large icon in transgender advocacy to promote these harmful stereotypes.

Jazz wasn’t just ignorant on that stand, oh no. She also went on to say “gender non-conforming people” only a few times, but never mentioned the word “non-binary”. She even said phrases that were excluding of non-binary people, such as using “he/she” instead of “them” or saying “boys and girls” instead of “children”. While Jazz is definitely an important figure in LGBT advocacy, her ignorance towards the rest of the community is extremely noticeable.

She also goes on to become obsessed with a romantic relationship for multiple chapters, even going as far as to “climb on top of” a boy to get a make-out session while still in elementary school. I thought this obsession was really weird, and again excluding of non-allo romantic people. She mentions being pansexual once, but doesn’t go into describing what it was, and doesn’t even begin to explain other sexualities. Being Jazz depends a lot on people already being knowledgeable on LGBT issues, while also being exclusive and made for the cis-normative gaze.

One last thing before I go into what I did like–this part isn’t really Jazz’s fault, but it really got me fired up in a discussion during class. Jazz joins tennis at one point, only to mention that the tennis association said she “suffered” from gender dysphoria. Firstly, they wrongly defined gender dysphoria, and made it about her being transgender rather than her being called a boy, and second, Jazz didn’t even go on to mention how wrong that was, and what gender dysphoria truly was. I was so hurt over this, being someone who lives with severe gender dysphoria every day. Again, she was relying on people knowing what gender dysphoria was, despite her writing and talking like this book was “trans 101”.

Okay, enough about the negatives.

I really loved that Jazz is so dedicated to getting the word out, especially at such a young age. Her advocacy not only normalizes being transgender, but also gets the word out to families and children in similar situations. Before Jazz, being transgender wasn’t something to discuss. She made it so people knew that it was possible and it was something to be proud of.

Jazz’s experience with her family is a rare one, and seeing the support she got made me hopeful that others were getting the same support, rather than the normal dismissal and hatred seen in other situations. Although she somewhat dismissed there being kids who didn’t get the support, she did make it clear that she was there to help get the message out and help any and all transgender kids.

Final Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Overall?

Being Jazz was a well-intended memoir about a transgender teen advocate. Ultimately, her choice of writing style and her ignorance stacked up to be a rather inaccurate and stereotypical portrayal meant to show cis-readers what it was like from a cis stand point. Obviously, Jazz’s experiences are her own experiences, but the way she stated things almost sounded like she was speaking for an entire community, rather than for her own experiences.

Would I Recommend?

This is a good place to start for cis readers, if only to get a place to start with other trans literature. And while I’d be open to suggesting it for trans and non-binary readers as well, I almost feel like it would belittle experiences that were tougher to deal with compared to Jazz’s. Her also insensitive remarks on non-binary people and mental illness might not be for everyone, so I would recommend this one with caution.

Trigger warning for suicide, mental illness, and transphobia.


Additional Information:

Published: June 7th, 2016

Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers

Page Count: 256

Genre: Non-fiction/Memoir

Synopsis: via Goodreads

Jazz Jennings is one of the youngest and most prominent voices in the national discussion about gender identity. At the age of five, Jazz transitioned to life as a girl, with the support of her parents. A year later, her parents allowed her to share her incredible journey in her first Barbara Walters interview, aired at a time when the public was much less knowledgeable or accepting of the transgender community. This groundbreaking interview was followed over the years by other high-profile interviews, a documentary, the launch of her YouTube channel, a picture book, and her own reality TV series—I Am Jazz—making her one of the most recognizable activists for transgender teens, children, and adults.

In her remarkable memoir, Jazz reflects on these very public experiences and how they have helped shape the mainstream attitude toward the transgender community. But it hasn’t all been easy. Jazz has faced many challenges, bullying, discrimination, and rejection, yet she perseveres as she educates others about her life as a transgender teen. Through it all, her family has been beside her on this journey, standing together against those who don’t understand the true meaning of tolerance and unconditional love. Now Jazz must learn to navigate the physical, social, and emotional upheavals of adolescence—particularly high school—complicated by the unique challenges of being a transgender teen. Making the journey from girl to woman is never easy—especially when you began your life in a boy’s body.

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