(Disclaimer: I want to formally apologize to the transgender population if I misuse terminology, make inaccurate assumptions, etc. I am learning. I am trying to educate myself. I am human.)
I watched a series on TLC over the summer and I can’t stop thinking about it. I watched because I was curious. I watched because I wanted to understand. I had no idea it would resonate and touch me, as a mother, so deeply.
Before “I Am Cait” on the television station E! featuring Caitlyn Jenner (formerly known as Bruce Jenner) there was “I Am Jazz” on TLC. It was an 11 episode series featuring Jazz and her family as she navigates the world as a transgender adolescent.
In the very first episode, Jazz’s mother talks about how, as a pre-preschooler, Jazz asked her mother “Am I a boy or a girl?” Instead of pointing to her anatomy, her mother asked her what she thought. “Well, my body says I’m a boy but my head says I’m a girl.” And so began their journey of helping Jazz to become the person she was meant to be.
Now, I know some of you out there are shaking your heads and saying, “Who she was meant to be? He was born with male anatomy.” But think back. Way back. To when you were a preschooler. Did you feel uncomfortable playing with dolls? Or desperately wanting to wear a dress to feel pretty but you were told “boys don’t wear dresses?”
No one, not a tiny 4 year old but especially an adolescent, actively chooses a way of life that invites ridicule and death threats. Gender identification is not a choice. And I Am Jazz illustrates this beautifully.
And the beauty in Jazz Jennings’ story is that she isn’t the only one telling it. Her family, from her parents to her siblings to her grandparents and friends, are helping to tell her story. They are supportive. And kind. And wanting nothing but for their loved one to feel confident and comfortable in their own skin. Just like any one of us.
Jazz struggles with the anxiety of starting high school and finding flattering clothes and wanting to fit in with her peers. What 14-year old isn’t struggling with these issues? Each episode dealt with her specific struggles but when watered down? Her struggles are no different than those of any teenager anywhere in the world.
What touched me so deeply was the love and acceptance from her family, especially her parents. All they want is a confident, secure, happy child. Just like me. They want their child to excel in their strengths and work on their weaknesses. Just like me. They want a productive, self-assured, joyful adult life for their child. Just like me. They want all the same things every other parent out there wants for their child. And they have the courage, more courage than most of us are ever expected to draw from, to help create that kind of life for their child.
Jazz’s story is one of struggle and pain. But that’s not what you feel watching her story unfold. Her smile sparkles on screen and you realize that her joy is carrying her through. She has a deep and powerful optimism that is inspiring and contagious. And as a parent, you realize that we have so much influence on how well our children face the challenges they are presented with. Jazz’s parents are her greatest cheerleaders and as a result she is blossoming into a beautiful human being and role model.
I Am Jazz has shaken me, but not because I am dealing with gender identification with my children. It has helped me to understand the transgender population as little better, sure. But more importantly, it has reminded me of the incredible influence I have with my children and how I react to their struggles in life. I can help them to face challenges with courage and strength and hope. Or I can teach them to bury and destroy their truth. I can appreciate their talents and encourage them to be the best they can be or I can mold them into a model of my own choosing.
Jazz has said, “Other people don’t define me. I define me.”
Wise words from a 14-year old.
And a lesson for each of us.