Jazz Jennings is facing life-changing decisions at the tender age of 11. From a very early age, her parents believed Jazz was exhibiting gender-identity disorder as Jazz gravitated towards female objects and clothing.
Jazz's story has been featured on 20/20, The Rosie Show, and now a new documentary, I Am Jazz: A Family in Transition, is on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Through interviews and opening their family home, the Jennings wrestle with decisions to possibly block hormones and fight discrimination in Jazz's everyday life.
Windy City Times spoke with Jazz and mother Jeanette right before the documentary aired.
Windy City Times: Hello, Jeanette and Jazz.
Jeanette Jennings: Jazz has been singing and dancing around all day. She has an audition tonight for 101 Dalmations. She wants a partnot a big part, but she wants a part.
Jazz Jennings: I do want a big part.
WCT: So you're not turning down any offers…
Jeanette: If she gets the lead of Cruella de Vil then that would be great, too.
WCT: You both just visited Chicago to be on The Rosie Show. How was the trip?
Jazz: It was pretty awesome!
WCT: And how was Rosie?
Jazz: It was a really cool experience.
WCT: You got to meet Chaz on the show.
Jeanette: We didn't get to talk a long time after the show because we had a limo waiting but we did get a few moments. Chaz invited us out to California since he works with the kids out there.
WCT: In what area of the country do you live?
Jeanette: It is private. We keep our identity, last name and location a secret as long as we can, just because of the crazy people out there. I don't even do local media. If I can avoid somebody from another state tracking us down then I will.
WCT: There are many people online voicing opinions about your family on YouTube and other websites.
Jeanette: Yes, YouTube has some nasty comments on there. The beautiful thing is that others come to my rescue that I have never met in my entire life. They get in long heated arguments but I love the fact that I don't have to say anything because other people say it better than me. I have had educated professors go on and talk to people about this and educate them. It is really cool.
WCT: How was making this documentary and being filmed in your home?
Jazz: It was fantastic. I was excited that the cameras were here because I really want my voice to be heard. I wanted people to learn what it is to be transgender. I want them to judge me in a good way. I want to help other people understand.
WCT: How was it for you, mom?
Jeanette: It was a lot better than I thought. I thought I would be annoyed and people would be all in my house. I need my privacy but even though there was a lot of filming in a short period of time, everybody was so respectful, so warm and friendly. They bought food for us when they ordered out. It wasn't as invasive as I thought and we had a good time with it. If we didn't like something that was taped then they said they wouldn't use it. I thought there was a layer of respect with them.
Jazz: They made us feel comfortable.
WCT: There was a scene with a doctor in the documentary. Could you talk about that?
Jeanette: First of all, it was very hard to find a doctor. I had been looking for quite some time because there are pediatric and endocrinologist doctors but not tons of them that are willing to treat a transgender child. I was willing to go to another part of the state or go out of state. I was fortunate to find a doctor who understands and is compassionate and willing to treat her, which is fabulous.
WCT: What options are there?
Jeanette: At this point the only option is if you want to continue to look like a girl then you can't go through male puberty. Little kids all look the same if they grow their hair out. You can't tell the difference on a lot of them because they have these little faces. Once puberty hits boys develop very differently and you have to intervene if you are transgender. I know Jazz does not want to look like her brothers. They will put puberty on hold and later introduce hormones to make her develop feminine.
WCT: Then she will be older and can make more decisions.
Jeanette: Right. As she gets older the doctors feel more comfortable with their decisions. If a 9-year-old makes a decision I think they get nervous, but at 14 they feel much more comfortable.
WCT: What age did you discover there was something different?
Jazz: Oh my gosh, ever since I was born! I never referred to myself as a boy, just a girl. I always thought I was a girl until I looked in the mirror one day.
Jeanette: It has been since she had language. Since the beginning they are told what a girl thing is and what a boy thing is. The dad likes to throw a ball and mom is in the kitchen. We are so segregated by gender in this society that kids get it right away. If I handed her the blue thing then she would reach for the pink thing. It wasn't because she knew girls like pink, she was just attracted to it.
WCT: I played with dolls as a child.
Jeanette: Not every child that plays with dolls is transgender. In fact a very small part of these kids are transgender. You can tell a difference because they may play with dolls but not want to be a girl. They may just like girl things. My child was not saying that. My child was saying, "I'm a girl and there has been a mistake. I want to be like my sister or you. I don't want to be like my brothers." She was insisting that she was a girl from age year and a half.
WCT: Are there support groups for people in your situation?
Jeanette: At the time when she was 3 and I got a diagnosis I didn't know where to go. I found one support group online and they were incredible. There were people on there but not close with age; the closest was a 6-year-old, already into elementary school. So I kind of felt alone but at least other parents knew what I was feeling.
The Internet is a lifeline for parents like me. Since then, there are more support groups and a lot more people talking about this. There are even local support groups not in my area but I know in other parts of the country. Kids will even get together. I wish we had that in our area. She has met some at conferences but there are very few where we live.
WCT: Jazz, do you want to be a performer? I noticed you can sing.
Jazz: Yes, that is one of many hobbies that I have. I love to sing, act and dance. I am also very athletic and I love doing sports, such as lacrosse and, obviously, soccer since I have been discriminated against in soccer. I also like art and writing.
WCT: You could do what I do! What is the one thing you want for the holidays this year?
Jazz: I have always wanted a professional mermaid tail. I have been wanting one made of silicone. I have been researching it for five years. I attempted to make one but it didn't turn out that well. I don't want a Lycra one like the one I have right now. I always wanted the real hi-tech ones.
Jeanette: Tell him what the price is.
Jazz: The lowest price is $1,600 but some go for $100,000.
WCT: Ouch! I wish I had a mermaid connection to help you.
Jazz: I think we already have people working on it.
Jeanette: The executive producer is researching it and trying very hard to get her a mermaid tail.
WCT: Anything else you want to say about the documentary?
Jeanette: What I really want to do by doing this documentary is help other kids. Not all of them are as fortunate as Jazz. The homeless, drug, and prostitution rates are astronomical. So we started an organization called the Transkids Purple Rainbow Foundation. I really want people to check it out. Even if people can donate a dollar it goes right to the kids. With many other causes people are very sympathetic. With this one people don't understand this topic enough to help.
Jazz: All the money that we received from the documentary we put it all into the charity.
WCT: Dancing With the Stars and this documentary will hopefully open some minds.
I Am Jazz is in reruns after Nov. 30. Click on the "schedule" button at www.oprah.com/own. For information on donating to Purple Rainbow Kids visit www.transkidspurplerainbow.org