I am Jazz book by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings is a book for young children about transgender. It tells the story of a child that was born with a girl’s brain in a boy’s body. This confused her family until they went to see a doctor who told them that Jazz was transgender and that she had been born that way.
I am Jazz book was first published in 2014, and was one of the first books for children that explains transgender.
So what do I mean by transgender? I mean that when a baby is born, if it has a penis, we call it a boy and treat it as a boy. And if that baby was born with a vulva, we would call it a girl and treat it as a girl.
Transgender is when that child says that they don’t feel like a boy on the inside and instead feels like a girl. They become transgender when they transition from being a boy to becoming a girl, and are now called a transgirl (transition to girl).
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The same can happen with girls. They may not feel like a girl on the inside and instead feel like a boy. They may then transition from the gender of a girl, becoming a transboy (transition to boy).
Books like this are really important because it could be your son who one day turns around and says ‘but I’m not a boy, I’m a girl’. Or your daughter who says ‘I’m not a girl, I’m a boy’. Or it could be a friend or someone in the class room or someone in the community.
So my whole approach to gender is about making sure that our children are inclusive and accepting of the differences around them. There are enough bullies and discrimination in the world, and by teaching our children to be more accepting of differences means that they less likely to bully. And if it is them that are different, they are more likely to accept their own differences because they know that it is okay to be different. So it is about planning the seeds of acceptance of diversity ie it is okay to be different.
So, what happens in the I am Jazz book. Below, I will read through parts of the book, and explain what it all means.
So I am Jazz as long as I can remember my favorite colour has been pink, my second favorite colour is silver and my third favorite colour is green. Here are some other favourite things dancing, singing, backflips, drawing, soccer, swimming, makeup and pretending I’m a popstar So she is a normal little girl who likes doing many different things. So a mixture of boy and girl stuff there that she likes to do.
She then talks about her best friends. My best friends are Samantha and Casey. We always have fun together We love high heels and princess gowns, or cartwheels and trampolines. But I am not exactly like Samantha and Casey. I have a girl brain but a boy’s body. This is called transgender. I was born this way.
That is a really nice way to explain it. I usually just say girl on the inside, boy on the outside. But explaining it as having a girl brain but a boy’s body, is a way that uses nice simple language that kids understand.
When I was little my mom use to say you are such a good boy, I would say “No mamma good girl”. At first my family were confused. They always thought of me as a boy. As I got older I hardly ever played with trucks , tools or super heroes, only princess and mermaid costumes. My brothers told me this was girls stuff, but I kept on playing. My sister says I was always talking to her about my girl thoughts and my girl dreams. And how one day I would be a beautiful lady. She would giggle and say “You’re a funny kid”. So Jazz is talking about how her family reacted to her, before they knew that she had a girl’s brain.
Sometimes my parents would let me wear my sister dresses around the house but whenever we went out I had to put my boy clothes on again and this made me mad. So this is a common thing. Some parents are okay about this happening at home but when you go out into the community, people start judging and as a parent you have that fear about your own child being bullied or discriminated against. So to protect them, you make them conform to society’s expectations about gender.
Still I never ever gave up trying to convince them, pretending I was a boy felt like telling a lie. So a lovely simple way to explain that Jazz was really unhappy by being called a boy.
Then one amazing day everything changed. Mom and Dad took me to meet a new doctor who asked me lots and lots of questions. After the doctor spoke to my parents, and I heard the word transgender for the very first time. That night at bedtime, my parents both hugged me and said “We understand now. Be who you are. We love you no matter what.” This made me smile and smile. So this explains how a special doctor helped Jazz and her family find out that some kids are born in the wrong body.
Mom and dad told me I can start wearing girl clothes to school, I am growing my hair long. They even let me change my name to Jazz, being Jazz felt much more like me. So Jazz is now allowed to dress and look like a girl all the time.
Mom said that being Jazz would make me different from the other kids at school and that being different is ok , what is important she said was that I am happy with who I am.
There is a lot of research that says despite the bullying and discrimination, kids are much happier when they can transition to the gender that they feel they are, than to be something that they are not. So it is still a hard journey to be transgender but it a much easier journey than denying it. There is lots of research that talks about high suicide and depression rates in kids who cannot express their true gender.
Being Jazz caused some other people to be confused too, like the teachers at school. At the beginning of the year they wanted me to use the boy’s bathroom, and play on the boy’s team in gym class, but that didn’t feel normal to me at all. Now the schooling system just isn’t set up for kids that don’t conform to the gender that matches their genitals. They don’t have gender neutral bathrooms. I often question my kids about gender when they talk about something that is happening at school. Like for example, what happens during swimming, where the kids have to change out of their wet swimmers in a public area after their lesson. What if everyone thought I was a girl but I had a penis. What if I got changed in front of all the other girls? What would the other kids do? How would I feel? What could I do? For me, it is about getting my kids to be aware of transgender but to also be aware of how hard it can be for them, and how hard we make it for them to fit in.
Jazz then talks about how she is treated by the other kids at school, and she tried to not let it hurt her too much. Even today there are kids who tease me and call me by a boy name or ignore me all together. This makes me feel crummy. Then I remember that the kids who get to know me usually want to be my friend. They say I am one of the nicest girls at school.
I do not mind being different, different is special. I think what matters most is what a person like inside, and inside I am happy, I am having fun and I am proud I am Jazz.
Then at the very end of the book, we have the before and after photos. I actually think is probably really one of the most important pages in the whole book. So we have a picture of Jazz when Jazz was a boy and now Jazz identified as a girl. My kids loved the fact that they could look at the picture of before and after, and we had a great conversation about what it all meant and what it would be like. For me, I liked that because it normalised it and it also shows that she not ashamed of the fact that we know that she is a transgender girl.
Jazz now has another book out, about her experiences as a teenager. She has become quite high profile in the States, and speaks as an advocate for transgender. I have yet to look at the teenager book. Lately I been doing a fair bit of reading about transgender. So I am really keen to have a read of this new book because the teenage years will get a lot more interesting because puberty kicks in and that is when the sex specific changes start to happen that differentiate our gender.
You can watch my video review of I am Jazz below.
There are a lot more sex education/puberty books out there, that talk about a range of other topics.
You can find them listed in this new FREE parent resource: Sex Education Books for Children: a Parent Guide.
Make sure you go and check it out. It includes a lot of sex education books that will make talking about sex (and other tricky topics), a whole lot easier!
And before you choose a sex education book, like I am Jazz book by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, you want to make sure that it is the right book for you and your child! There are a lot of books out there and what is right for me may not necessarily be the right book for you!
I am Jazz book by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings is the sort of book that all families should have in their bookshelf. Especially if you want to have children that grow up very accepting of the fact that everyone different and that it is okay to be different.
I'm Cath, a sex educator living in Australia with my husband and 2 kids. I help parents to talk about sex (with less cringe and more confidence) and to empower their child to make smart sexual decisions. You can join my online parent support group here and visit my shop for helpful resources.