The Curious Demands of the Womyn in the Woods: Unpacking the Statement of the Michigan Womyn’s Musical Festival
September 12, 2014
An intersex perspective on the trans, intersex and TERF communities
September 15, 2014

I Am Jazz: an amazing book for trans kids

By Cristan Williams
@cristanwilliams

 

Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings recently published a book for trans kids titled, I Am Jazz. The beautifully illustrated story is based on the real-life experiences of Jazz. Laverne Cox said that the book is an “essential tool for parents and teachers” and that “I wish I had had a book like this when I was a kid struggling with gender identity questions.”

Cover: I Am Jazz

I had an opportunity to both review the book and interview one of the book’s authors.


Cristan Williams: How did you become involved in this project?

Jessica Herthel: I’m the parent of three little girls. I’m heterosexual, cisgender and none of my children are trans. I consider myself to be a devout ally to the LGBT community and it was important to me and my husband that our children be allies as well. It wasn’t until my children began going to school that I realized that my message of respect and inclusion for all was getting a little muddied by the very traditional ideas of family that the kids were getting from school, where more diverse families were not represented.

That motivated me to get involved. I began volunteering in my local school district. I was able to do some consulting work around developing a handbook for principals and administrators who were encountering more and more LGBT issues every day. It was through my work there that I met some people who were serving on a community committee to ensure the safety of all students and that’s where I met Jazz’s mom, Jennette. She and I became fast friends.

She mentioned that her family was going to be on 20/20, being interviewed by Barbara Walters, and I raced home to DVR the interview. My children came in while I was watching it and we talked about it when the segment was over. My youngest daughter was four at the time. I made it really simple and said that Jazz is a girl on the inside regardless of the shape of her body, and my kids seemed to get it.

A few months later my daughters met Jazz and we all went out for ice cream. Jeanette and I were amazed by how quickly a 4-year-old was able to move past the trans issue. Jeanette and I began talking about the need for a tool that is very simple and very straightforward, both for parents who consider themselves to be an ally and want their children to understand what trans is, and also for schools that are encountering trans issues. We realized that there wasn’t a tool available for people who were having this conversation for the first time with kids, written in very simple terms.

I am Jazz is told in the first person and was created by using Jazz’s YouTube videos from when she was 6 and 7 years old. We wanted it to be from the perspective of a very young trans kid who was confident and comfortable with who she was. We basically transformed those early videos into this first-person narrative in which Jazz explains what it is to be transgender and that it’s nothing to be afraid of and that it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Now we’re getting interest from school districts and libraries that recognize that this is a good tool to have – even if they don’t need it right this minute; it’s good to have it in elementary school libraries across the country.

Williams: Well, this being the TransAdvocate, we have to get into the weeds of addressing the likely claims of detractors. There is something called horseshoe theory. It basically says that the far extremes of both the right and left wing will sound a lot alike and this theory seems to hold true in the anti-trans world. I have a quote from a far-left wing source and I’d like you to respond to it as someone who is creating tools to help trans kids:

“Children are diagnosed with ‘gender identity’ disorder as a result of engaging in socially unacceptable behaviour, specifically behaviour considered unsuited to the child’s biological sex. As such, I argue, the transgendering[1] of children should be understood as a project of social engineering that has similarities to the practice of sexual surgeries that were carried out on persons seen as engaging in socially unacceptable behaviour in the previous era of eugenics.” – Sheila Jeffreys, Gender Hurts, p 128

Herthel: My background is that I’m a lawyer, I went to Harvard; I’m very much an analytical thinker. A statement like this, it seems to be a conclusion that’s been drawn in an academic setting without ever having spent time around a 2-year-old trans kid.  What I’ve learned being around Jazz and having studied her life is that when Jazz was two, she was correcting her mom when she referred to her as a male. She would say, “No, mama. Girl.”

There was no hidden political motivation about it. This wasn’t about rebellion or protest.  And this certainly wasn’t the parents’ idea. Jazz was the fourth child. The family already had two boys and a girl. It wasn’t like she was the fourth boy and the mom was desperate for a girl; there was a girl already in the family. When you see how organic this young child’s expression was, you need to rethink accusatory claims that this is child abuse or that this is the parents imposing something on a child who’s acting ‘inappropriately.”

“Love the kid that you were given, not the kid you thought you were going to get”
Any time this topic is in the news, you get people speaking like experts when the reality is that they have no hands-on experience; they’ve never connected with a young trans child who is just speaking his or her truth. And that’s what the message of the book is. There is a message for the kid, which is speak your truth, be who you are, no matter what; and one for the adults, which is love the kid that you were given, not the kid you thought you were going to get.

Of course Jazz’s parents worry about the hardships that she might face. This wasn’t something that they chose and this wasn’t something that Jazz chose. To put a political spin on this – or to make accusations about all parents of trans kids – it only reveals the ignorance of the person doing the talking.

Williams: You talked about Jazz expressing herself at two and I think that sometimes people like Jefferys forget that communicating expressions of self doesn’t only happen on a verbal level. As trans kids grow and mature, of course they are going to find, develop and utilize non-verbal forms of communicating their experience of having an embodied self in the same way their cisgender peers do. That trans kids do this isn’t evidence of a nefarious eugenics conspiracy; it’s merely evidence of kids communicating selfhood in the manner kids normally do.

Herthel: Right. Throw in the “it’s just a phase” argument and you’ve hit most of the claims people like that make about trans kids. But for these kids, it’s just about being their authentic self and we adults need to respect that. Whether it’s a kid is coming out as trans or gay or whatever else – when a kid speaks about something that is fundamental to who they are – as adults and parents, we need to set aside our own stuff and try to listen to what they have to say. It’s what I try to do with my kids and I think that’s what Jazz’s parents try to do too.

Williams: You’re the one being a public contact for this project. I’m sure you’re going to be faced with some similar accusations – maybe not going so far as to say that you’re part of an eugenics-like conspiracy – but, I’m sure that you’re going to be faced with some well-meaning people who think they know all there is to know about Jazz and children like Jazz. But, then there’s also some real hate situated around this topic too.

Herthel: Sure, I do worry somewhat about the inevitable backlash.  But I take great hope in the thought that things are different now than they were when Jazz was first on TV nearly a decade ago. I think that people like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock have really pushed the public consciousness on these issues – and I’m hoping that things have gotten a little bit better, that understanding around transgender issues is on the rise.

Williams: I’m in Houston and we worked really hard to get a trans-inclusive nondiscrimination policy place for the school district, and that happened after years of work. A big piece of the political rhetoric against that equality measure was that such policies allow male kids to claim that they feel like a girl today and therefore get to shower in the girl’s locker room. They would also claim that trans kids are actually sexual deviants. How would you respond to those types of claims?

Herthel: Again, as an attorney, I’d say show me the facts. Show me the schools where trans kids are sexually assaulting cis kids or where boys get to claim that they’re trans today and get to shower with they girls. The data simply isn’t there.

Williams: Let me tell you, at five years old, had there been a book like this around, it would have made all the difference in the world for me. What are your hopes for this book?

Herthel: Thank you for that.  The book was just published and we’re starting to get feedback from families with trans kids and the messages we’re getting is that when these kids read it, they feel joy.  Not only does the book validate them – they now know they’re not alone – but it also gives them language to explain what they’re feeling. My hope is that this will help kids know that they’re okay and that they don’t have to go through years of suffering.


NOTES:

[1] Changing people into verbs is a favored tactic of anti-LGBT groups. One way anti-LGBT groups subtally present being gay or trans as a lifestyle/behavior is by adding -ing to terms, creating nonsense words like “gaying” or “transgendering.”


More on Trans Kids:

Those of you who enjoyed this article about trans kids might also enjoy Debi Jackson’s article about being a mom to a trans child. She also discusses dealing with TERF hate directed at her and her family.


Tip this TransAdvocate!

Writers for the TransAdvocate work hard to bring you news and commentary. If you found this article meaningful, let the author know that you appreciate the work they do with a tip!
TipJar
Cristan Williams
Cristan Williams
Cristan Williams is a trans historian and pioneer in addressing the practical needs of the transgender community. She started the first trans homeless shelter in the South and co-founded the first federally funded trans-only homeless program, pioneered affordable healthcare for trans people in the Houston area, won the right for trans people to change their gender on Texas ID prior to surgery, started numerous trans social service programs and founded the Transgender Center as well as the Transgender Archives. Cristan is the editor at the social justice sites TransAdvocate.com and TheTERFs.com, is a long-term member and previous chair of the City of Houston HIV Prevention Planning Group.

7 Comments

  1. […] genitals are “tiny”; 1970s-era inversion techniques are the only surgical option. BTW, here’s a book Jazz co-authored about how glad she is she was able to […]

  2. Hey-Teacher-Leave-Those-Kids-alone says:

    “I Am Jazz: an amazing book for trans kids” like im all for live let live and you do you and whatnot, but if ur seriously considering playing with easily impressed little kids then the fun and game ends, i think what ur proposing is fucked up and deeply immoral. and im not coming from some religious nutjobs point of view. but from a secular well founded world view, ive worked with enough children especially with mental/physical disabilities and i know how gullible and easily swayed the young mind is. and what parents do you think would buy theyr little child said book? ofc the ones that subscribe to this overthetop bullshit and guess who those children are gonna look to for guidance?
    Ofc theyr parents! which in turn are confusing young minds with this. It is beyond irresponsible, it is evil born from ignorance and confirmation bias and all other sorts of negative underlining themes those parents have and to some degree in some direction (either rebel to the extreme or pure and utter acceptance) will manifest in theyr children as the years go by. i would hope ur attitude towrds these kinds of things has changed since the article was published otherwise im sorry but i have nothing but utter contempt for what is proposed here and by extension for your view of childhood development. i hope at some point you will reflect on what this article actually advocates and not just oooh its such a nicely drawn book and its all LGBT how CUTE. it aint cute its batshitcrazy!

  3. […] Am Jazz tells the amazing true story of Jazz Jenning, an American transgender woman who has become an outspoken activist and role model in the […]

  4. […] Ένα παιδικό βιβλίο για την ιστορία ενός τρανς κοριτσιού (κλικ) […]

  5. Dee Omally says:

    PREFACE

    Cristan, the narrowcast medium (this site) you helped create, nurture, and maintain that gives us a voice…words fail me as I attempt to express my gratitude. Your scholarly brilliance continues to dazzle me. 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 !!!!

    We truly are far closer to the goal line than ever before. This is no time for personal notoriety, competition, fear, or anything divisive. It is a time where we all lead and go forth together, remembering our trans brothers & sisters who sacrificed their very lives being true “unto themselves”. I say this so that we remain a focused and potent community, for the more effective we are as a group, the more we can build upon 2014 successes. Jeffries reminds us that trans exclusion is still the primary motivation of far too many lesbians.

    As I write, I feel their souls crying out for justice and thus I seek to give their lifeless bodies a voice. I remember early trans pioneers who dared step out into the uncharted trans-bigoted minefield as well who have passed on. I keep in mind those like Jazz who follow—blessed to grow up, unlike us, with knowledge that an opposite-sex puberty need not be. Fate & destiny are always intertwined with chronology, and although we lost a childhood, we gained an exciting adulthood that allows us to be active participants in the actualization of trans history. This I accept as an honor—to impact trans lives by educating those who don’t “know us”, and by combating those who wish us dead either overtly or covertly. I have no respect for those who openly advocate death for others, and far less for those who do so indirectly, by feeding a micro-genocidal ideology that thrusts a sharp literary spear though our hearts….powered by treacherous lesbian academic-speak that turns the formerly-hunted (lesbians) into hunters on the prey for trans lives.

    BULLYING BY ANY OTHER NAME…

    Such academic-speak in book format that seeks to de-legitimize a trans reality does not a trans audience seek; it is no secret that such body of work is targeted toward the highest level of academia ultimately intended to exclude trans persons from life itself—-life as our true selves that makes life unbearable for too many in our family. It is bullying of the highest magnitude, pretending to be expert testimony about an experience foreign to the writer, for being lesbian is as different to being trans as male is to female. If any argument for censoring can ever be made, certainly it would be deserved for such malevolent non-expertise “expertise” that ultimately saves or takes life.

    We finally have momentum that is truly inter-generational. In 2009, when I saw the F on my CA ID for the 1st time—the miracle I had wished for since early childhood came true. I tend to divide things up into legal/illegal and thus relegate the hysteria behind those who in practice seek to make a legal right illegal to that which it is: mere opinion that is flawed and typically inaccurate. This is precisely the mortal sin that Jeffries is guilty of. This is why early on I, like many others, chose to be open, knowing that as a community we “weren’t there yet”. I knew, however that we were getting close, and that being open would get us “there” faster. Of course there would be costs and the following year the bill would become due, courtesy of a transphobic supervisor. This first-ever job “loss” and a crushing blow to self-esteem, especially as a veteran, but it had to be done. Sadly, in 2010, those who should have protected me didn’t, obviously associating gender (trans) with criminal or moral deviancy. To have HR as a trans adversary, especially in CA was far, far, from expected and yet this is precisely what occurred. It was a cost that need not have been, but was. I consider it a rite of passage that earned my me “stripes”, but not by choice.

    A CHILD AND A LAWYER—-MY ANGELS

    To be sure, as an adult nearing senior citizen status, it is very humbling to be indebted to a child and a lawyer. However, as I, along with my sisters, turn the clock back my eyes begin to water…begging, wishing, hoping for a childhood do-over that never will be or could be. My moroseness quickly turns to joy knowing that finally, finally, finally children can take charge of their gender truth and destiny. This truth makes me want to hike to the nearest mountaintop and scream through a megaphone…..the good news!!!

    Ironically, 4-star TERF general Jeffries’ non-expert “expert” book of academic rubbish has just been relegated to historical irrelevance, although of course it will happen only with TERFs kicking and screaming. Under any fair and objective analysis, there can be no more credible expert about any experience except for the one who has lived that experience: this makes Jazz the bonafide expert. Congratulations Jazz (and Herthel), for showing the world that Jeffries is a liar: no gender doesn’t hurt, gender is great!! Just like that, her book has become a paper weight…it truly has.

    SCHOOLS: HISTORICAL BREEDING GROUNDS FOR BIGOTRY

    It is a tragic footnote in American history that public (and private) schools have failed LGBT children, socially speaking. This of course, thanks to parents like Herthel is changing, but history can never be undone. Schools exist to actualize academic & social development, along with physical competency. Tragically, history shows that they have also served to foster and nurture LGBT bigotry. Feminine boys simply were ostracized and bullied. Gay and lesbian children were as well. Trans children fared even worse. This institutionalized phobia could be perhaps forgotten, were it not that it came at at a high cost: the young lives of precious LGBT children, who have been murdered in/out of school or through self-homicide. This fact—that schools have been serving up more than just lessons must stop. Worse, often it is bolstered by those who pretend to be persons of faith…who rationalize such bullying as justified condemnation for “abominable” behavior, never realizing that murder is far more abominable.

    Educators who failed to address such bullying share due culpability as well, perhaps more so for they alone are the ones with the power to mitigate bullying. Another unseen cost has been that of millions of LGBT children who have always been part of the student body, but always in fear of being discovered. Ironically, student safety has been paramount insofar as school bus safety is concerned, but once students entered the campus, it was often the beginning of hell for too many. Educators put a face on safety, but it was a false face….for the safety of LGBT students was far from guaranteed. Our most precious resource, our children, who parents endeavored to keep safe at home or in public, far too often were anything but safe when entrusted to those tasked with their safety: educators. Safety often excluded LGBT students.

    JEFFRIES MUST BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR HER LIES

    Jeffries, like Raymond before her, have made it their life’s calling to feed the micro-genocidal mindset, one I argue, that kills—a mindset that for 30+ years deprived far too many trans females from trans medical life-sustaining access, and for this she must be held to account. Lesbians know the A-Z of a lesbian experience, however their physical being…their gender is in full harmony with their identity, just as it is for non-lesbian females. A lesbian writing about a trans experience is akin to peering through windows into a shark tank and writing about what it’s like to be a shark. That these two abominable females dared to do so is far beyond damnable. How dare they write as academic geniuses pretending to know the A-Z of being a trans child or adult. This is tantamount to “practicing medicine without a license”. Deviousness and malevolence are far to often found within lesbian camps…and these two take the prize. Such body of work has led to vital medical exclusion for trans females….medical exclusion that undoubtedly has effected trans lives…lethally….for only we know the horrific discomfort and angst associated with a hormonal cocktail foreign to our sex identity.

    [For example: this false statement]

    “Children are diagnosed with ‘gender identity’ disorder as a result of engaging in socially unacceptable behaviour…”

    Say what? To my knowledge Jeffries is NOT a medical doctor and yet this comment gives the appearance that she knows just as much! In the first place gender is just gender, not a “disorder.” Secondly, a diagnosis for gender dysphoria (the correct term which Jeffries should have known), is NEVER made merely for behavior. Although boys are not socially allowed to be effeminate, which thankfully is changing, girls have always been allowed to be tomboys. How dare Jeffries pretend not to know this…that doctors will NEVER diagnose a girl with gender dysphoria merely for being a tomboy which many girls outgrow. Likewise, boys who behave effeminately are often gay, and medical doctors will NEVER prescribe opposite-sex hormones to boys with such behavior. That Jeffries spews out lies as facts intended to deceive and ultimately deny trans persons our civil and legal rights is itself far, far, worse than “socially unacceptable behavior.” It is criminal in that the ultimate costs will be borne out from trans boys, girls, and adults….as they/we already have.

    [Another false statement]

    “…specifically behaviour considered unsuited to the child’s biological sex.”

    How dare Jeff (ries), a lesbian, forward the false paradigm about sex—-that males must behave “this way” and females “that way”! Since when is being male or female = mere “behavior”? How dare she lack the knowledge to understand that gender expression (behavior) and gender are not one and the same! How dare Jeff (ries), in the epitome of hypocrisy, posit that it is “not okay” for trans children to defy biological sex expectations while it is “perfectly okay” for lesbians such as her to do so! Gender is NOT behavior but female on female sex most certainly is!!!! The irony of hatred is that it blinds, and here Jeffrey no doubt is so blinded that she fails to see that her own statement here is far more applicable as lesbian-critical than trans! I, Jazz, Cristan and many trans sisters could care less about “behaving” female. Since childhood, all we’ve wanted to be was our real female self, even if behaving like tomboys playing baseball or other “masculine” events. How dare Jeff (ries) forward false gender stereotypes based on sex, while engaged in a lesbian lifestyle that most certainly does not exemplify that she “practices what she preaches”! Jeff (ries) attempt to stand behind the podium and sell herself off as trans expert is an epic fail already with these counts: (1) failing to know that the correct term is NOT Gender Identity/disorder but Gender Dysphoria (2) failing to comprehend the absolutely crucial distinction between gender expression and gender (M/F) (3) failing to know how medical doctors diagnose for gender dysphoria (never based on behavior alone).

    THE PUNCH LINE: LIES CONTINUE

    “As such, I argue, the transgendering[1] of children should be understood as a project of social engineering that has similarities to the practice of sexual surgeries that were carried out on persons seen as engaging in socially unacceptable behaviour in the previous era of eugenics.”

    Herthel says “As an attorney, show me the facts.” I, Dee, say: “As a former lawman, I also say ‘show me the facts’. Here, Jeff (ries) moves in for the kill: forwarding her false thesis that it is NOT children who are claiming their gender identity, but that a far more sinister “entity” is behind this “phenomena”—essentially that in some hidden special ops room are some engaged in a conspiracy to turn boys into girls! Using a word that doesn’t exist (transgender[ing]), another error that further erodes here credibility revealing that she truly knows not her subject material, she seeks to sell the lie that trans girls are merely boys being COERCED into becoming girls, once more confusing sex with gender expression. By invoking past history of “sexual surgeries” and associating it with trans children, she once more reveals that she is far from aware that surgery is not compulsory. The fatal flaw is that Jeff (ries) posits that there is an orchestrated effort by design behind gender transitions, but fails to support how she arrives at this foregone conclusion. She posits that a gender transition doesn’t originate from within, but from without..by external third parties engaged in gender experimentation.

    Thank you Herthel and Jazz for unleashing a literary weapon in defense that history will record was crucially timely in that it combats the weapons of offense such as Jeffrie’s work of now-proven fiction. That someone dares to sell lies as facts…lies that have real costs if believed…rumors in academic-speak…propaganda based on opinion….BS if you will….and when that someone epitomizes hypocrisy….its enough to justify getting passionate…hence why I write 😉 The ones involved in a “project” are Raymond and Jeff (ries) themselves, based perhaps on “fear of penis”, a fear shared by all TERFs. This is nothing but lunacy cloaked as a book. Love all!

Leave a comment