At five-years-young, Jazz Jennings became the youngest face of the transgender community. She co-authored an illustrated book for children titled, “I Am Jazz” and quickly became a huge voice of activism for transgendered youth nationwide. Her journey from a child through her teenage years is chronicled on her YouTube channel and docu-series “I Am Jazz.” During the latest episode of her television series, Jazz argues that therapy cannot help her and refutes the need for it. Her mother, Jeanette, stresses the importance of it, but the teen challenges the benefits of therapy.
Born a male, by 15-months-old Jazz starting emphasizing a more feminine side. Doubters argue the possibility of this awareness, however, her family maintains by the age of two she had begun to say she was a girl. At the tender age of five, Jazz was one of the youngest people to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria. This medical term, although not well-known or understood at the time, is a constant unease with the characteristics of a person’s gender along with a strong identification with the opposite gender.
Once diagnosed, accompanied by her family’s support, this young child began transitioning from a boy to a girl. Jazz was teased and the victim of much bullying. However, through it all, she found a way to maintain her positive outlook on life and refused to allow anyone to sway her confidence or the gender she identified as. Now, at the age of 16, she is ready to finalize her transition with bottom surgery and believes the stress and mood swings accompanying her everyday life are just a part of being a teenager.
Jazz recently learned that therapy is not an option if she intends on having bottom surgery. She maintains it is not necessary for her personal journey, but accepts it as part of the requirements for a full transition. As viewers witnessed on the show, Jeanette ignored her daughter’s pleas and forced her into a therapeutic session against Jazz’s will. The teen obliged but did not submit to the process and left still challenging the benefits of therapy.
Many argue that transgender youth deal with more than the average level of teen stressors. Although Jeanette stands by her decision, Joel L. Young, M.D., the Medical Director of the Rochester Center for Behavioral Medicine, may have a difference of opinion. He supports therapy for the transgender community but does not feel it is always necessary. When attempting to support a transgender child he said:
Don’t assume transgenderism demands treatment. Transgenderism is not a mental illness, and your child’s sense that they identify as another gender does not demand treatment. Therapy can, however, help your child find new ways to cope with the challenges of transgender stigma, so consider sending your child to a transgender-friendly psychotherapist.
Jeanette suggests therapy could help Jazz manage her “severe” mood swings and help with managing her emotions. Jazz maintains that everyone, including her mother, has mood swings. They are a normal part of life. She continues to challenge the benefits of therapy by saying, “It is not something that therapy helps with.” She adds:
I really don’t like the idea of therapy. It just doesn’t work for me.
Studies of mental health among transgender people in the United States have been consistently grim, showing higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide. Kristina Olson, the lead author of a study by a University of Washington research team, suggests otherwise. Olson agrees that it is hard to be a transgender today, given the state of the world for transgender children right now. She added:
While there is still a tremendous amount to be learned about transgender children, the study’s findings suggest it’s possible for them to live happier lives than previous generations of transgender people. The subjects of the study are proof that you can be a young transgender kid today and be happy and healthy and do just as well as any other kid. It’s some good news, finally, which I don’t think there’s much of in what we hear about transgender kids.
Unlike countless others within the transgender community, Jazz has always had the support of a loving family. As such, the teen believes she is doing just fine. Although Jazz Jennings challenges the benefits of therapy for her journey, countless others have made huge strides due to the assistance therapeutic treatment. To see if Jazz reconsiders, tune into “I Am Jazz” Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on TLC.
By Cherese Jackson (Virginia)
Psychology Today: Strategies for Supporting a Transgender Child
Science Daily: Transgender children supported in their identities show positive mental health
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