Jazz Jennings is your typical 14-year-old girl who, on top of the challenges that come with being a teenager, is also transgender. Jazz first experienced gender dysphoria when she was just three years old. Her parents allowed her to start dressing in girl's clothing at her fifth birthday party, and she's been living her authentic life ever since.
The famous YouTuber and soon-to-be star of her own TLC series I Am Jazz stopped by the BuzzFeed office with her mom Jeanette to discuss the challenges parents often face when raising transgender teens — and to offer advice to those parents who may be struggling.
Do you have advice for parents currently struggling to accept their transgender children?
Jeanette: It's a child's birthright to be loved and to be happy — that's the parent's job, to make that child happy. By being their authentic self, a transgender kid will be happier. [Parents] need to take their own ego and put it aside and put the needs of their child first. Remember, they only live once as a kid and let's make them as happy as possible. [Kids] need to be true to themselves.
Just be open-minded and accepting. The most important thing is to love [your child] unconditionally because without that, that unconditional love, a kid can really suffer and we don't want that.
Jazz: Having such a supportive family has really shaped the person that I am today. [My parents] say I was born with a natural confidence — but that wouldn't be discovered without the unconditional love and support that they provided. Having that [kind of] family helps you really discover who you are.
Jeanette: She was born confident, though.
Jazz: Without your love and support I wouldn't have discovered that!
Jeanette: But I want to elaborate on that. I think that even if you weren't born transgender you really are just a confident person...
Jazz: Just take the credit, you are an amazing mom!
Do you have advice for parents in those early stages, after first deciding to support their child's transition?
Jeanette: The most important thing to me is to get professional help. Parents really need to reach out to so many support systems. There are organizations like PFLAG, there are internet groups — one on Facebook has over 2,000 parents, Parents Of Transgender Children. The best advice you can get when you're going through this journey, because it's so difficult, is from other parents who have been there. If you go on the internet you can find so many people who can understand what you're feeling and can really guide you along on your journey.
Jazz: You have to embrace your child and listen to what they are saying.
What would you say to parents who are worried their child's safety will be compromised?
Jeanette: Actually, parents need to worry about their children's safety if they are not allowed to be themselves. The suicide rates for transgender kids are close to 50% attempted suicide. You will have a healthier, happier, safer kid if you allow them to transition. Yes, there is the bullying but with depression and suicide — you don't want to mess around with that. It's so important to support your children [...] they need that support and love so much. They will be happier in the long run.
So it's just the opposite — if you're worried about your kid transitioning and being bullied, they're gonna be bullied anyway for just trying to be their authentic self but not being allowed to be their authentic self. Once they transition it gets a lot better.
Jazz: Without my family I'm just not sure if I'd be alive today, sitting here right now. It's so important to look out for your child and protect them. the best love you can give them is the love of family.
Jeanette: I always say I'd rather have a live daughter than a dead son. I'm not sure, like Jazz said, if she would be with us if she wasn't allowed to express her true identity. Serious stuff!