November 18, 2017

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Fifteen and Ready To Rule: Jazz Jennings on Her New Memoir “Being Jazz”

Jazz Jennings, who previously coauthored the picture book I am Jazz with Jessica Herthel, ventures into the world of memoir with her new title, Being Jazz. Jennings reflects on her life from early childhood to the present as an LGBTQ activist, reality TV personality, and high school student, with clarity and honesty. Students of all gender identities will enjoy and relate to the many themes she explores: family, friendship, bullying, puberty, and the age-old lesson of remaining true to oneself. Also, don’t forget to check out SLJ‘s inaugural interview with Jennings back in 2014.

From the very beginning your mother was behind the scenes getting involved with and creating organizations, support networks, and foundations for transgender youth and their families. At the time, as you mention, there weren’t a whole lot of resources out there. Do you see your book as an extension of that mission—to not only provide a moment of trans visibility but also to offer quality information?
My mom often used to say that she wished there was a book, “How To Raise Your Transgender Preschooler.” Since then, things have changed tremendously. I feel that my book will add to the mission of creating visibility from the perspective of a kid—a rare viewpoint in our culture. I’m honored to be able to contribute by sharing my experiences.

Photo by Jazz's Family LLC

Photo by Jazz’s Family LLC

Throughout the text there are excerpts of your creative writing from journals, speeches, song lyrics, and more. Do you write often? What inspires you?
I’m not sure what inspires me. I’m a pretty creative person and there’s no rhyme or reason for the motivational moments that consume me at random times. I don’t write a lot, but when I do it comes from the heart. As for speeches, they are always planned ahead for special occasions.

In the book, as you enter your teenage years, you discuss your battle with depression. Considering the alarming rates of depression and suicide among LGBTQ teens, how might librarians and educators better approach and support their LGBTQ students?
I strongly feel that it’s important for adults to offer students the opportunity to feel comfortable
confiding in them, to be able to share their thoughts and feelings freely. In order to do this, they [adults] should have an open door policy and provide a welcoming and safe atmosphere.

In chapter 14, when discussing the process of writing your picture book, you wrote “There’s so much to write about being transgender.” I thought that crystallized a running thread of Being Jazz; being transgender is not a fixed point, it is an ever-changing and evolving experience.  Is there anything you didn’t get to cover in this work that you would have liked to?
I think that there’s aCover_Being_Jazzlways more that can be shared. I needed to pick and choose what was included because the book can’t be 1,000 pages long. There are some anecdotes, experiences, and feelings that weren’t included. There is also a line that I draw to keep [my privacy and] certain situations to myself.

Any plans for the future? College? World domination? Your own Weeki Wachee-style mermaid park?
There are so many things I want to accomplish. I have a lot of interests and hobbies. I see college in my future, but you never know, I change my mind a lot. A couple of years ago I wanted to be a mermaid tail maker, a few months ago I wanted to code, and these days I’m focusing on filming with my new high-tech camera. My parents say that I’m predictably unpredictable.

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Della Farrell About Della Farrell

Della Farrell is an Assistant Editor at School Library Journal and Editor of Series Made Simple

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