CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 35. . . May 19, 2017
Jazz Jennings came to prominence after being featured on the television in the show I Am Jazz: A Family in Transition. Over the last six years, she has become an activist, a YouTube celebrity, the focus of a picturebook, a memoir, and a number of other books and media for young readers. Many critics have spoken out against her parents for allowing her to access hormone therapy and take steps toward her own physical transition so early in life. She was born Jaron, assigned a male gender on her birth certificate, but eventually came out to her parents as transgender at a very young age. Though the book is a chronicle of Jennings’ journey from self-discover to trans activist, there is other information spread throughout the text.
There are sections on transgender rights and changes taking place in a larger social context, though there seems to be a focus on the negative rather than the positive (“There is a shocking amount of bullying, discrimination, hate, and violence against transgender people…. Transgender people have a higher rate of suicide…. Trans people, particularly women, are more at risk for assault and murder.”) It is true that change is happening very slowly, but I feel that the impression within these descriptive moments points out the struggles and hardship without tying it in to the strength and perseverance of activists and social leaders. There is a small write-up on being trans throughout history, though the section is incredibly short and fails to engage in any of the complexity or nuance that is a part of non-North American identities and gender/sexual politics.
Jazz Jennings is a good starting point for young people, giving them access to a new vocabulary through which to understand and talk about gender and identity. One of the problems I have with the text, however, is the reliance on terminology that many in the trans community find problematic. The “born in the wrong body” narrative and the reliance on a gender dysphoria diagnosis among psychologists and medical doctors continue to normalize trans individuals as having a diagnosable disorder. In the hands of those who already have a bias, this book could potentially lead to further confirmation of that bias, which is always an unfortunate concern related to these topics when trying to simplify them for a child audience. There are also a number of editing issues throughout that may cause some readers to pause.
Overall, I think there is valuable information here, presented in a well-organized series of chapters that will make the content accessible to younger and older readers alike. Photographs, graphics, and sidebars with definitions and terminology keep Jazz Jennings from becoming boring or overly text-heavy. This is a book that I hope libraries will carry and that teachers will have available in classrooms for students to peruse.
Recommended with Reservations.
Rob Bittner has a PhD in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies (SFU), and is also a graduate of the MA in Children’s Literature program at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. He loves reading a wide range of literature but particularly stories with diverse depictions of gender and sexuality.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.