Jazz Jennings says it's 'both disappointing and honorable' that her autobiography is on list of 100 most banned books

Beth Greenfield
·Senior Editor
·6 mins read
Jazz Jennings, seen in 2019 in New York City, said that she co-wrote "I Am Jazz" in 2014 "to provide a voice to those who feel different— specifically transgender youth."  (Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images)
Jazz Jennings, seen in 2019 in New York City, said that she co-wrote "I Am Jazz" in 2014 "to provide a voice to those who feel different— specifically transgender youth." (Photo: John Lamparski/Getty Images)

This week, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom — which has been documenting attempts to ban books in libraries or schools since 1990 — released its list of the 100 most banned or challenged books of the decade, from 2010 through 2019. And along with the expected classics of controversy, from To Kill a Mockingbird to The Catcher in the Rye, there’s a diverse range of newer works that have riled up certain conservative corners of the country, many dealing with LGBTQ themes and, within that category, those written with children in mind — like Heather Has Two Mommies, the sweet 1989 tale (rebooted in 2016) of a girl with two moms, and And Tango Makes Three, a picture book about two male penguins who create a family.

Another in that category is No. 13 on the list: I Am Jazz, the autobiographical picture book by Jazz Jennings, co-written by Jesica Herthel. Published in 2014 when Jazz was just 14, it was the precursor to the über-popular TLC reality series of the same name — now through its sixth season, in which the transgender teen and now young adult goes through a range of milestones, from dating and dances to bullying and college acceptance and even gender-reassignment surgery, all with her loving and supportive family by her side. And it’s that book that has created a large portion of the controversy that’s surrounded the proud transgender activist ever since she came out on a national television interview at the age of 6.

The 2014 picture book "I Am Jazz" has faced many challenges over the years. (Photo: Dial Books/Amazon)
The 2014 picture book "I Am Jazz" has faced many challenges over the years. (Photo: Dial Books/Amazon)

So, what does it feel like to have not only your book, but the book about your actual life, challenged and banned? Yahoo Life reached out to the now 20-year-old Jazz, in the midst of a gap year before heading off to Harvard University, to find out.

What’s your reaction to I Am Jazz making the list of 100 most banned or challenged books of the decade?

Making the list is both disappointing and honorable. In one way, it’s upsetting to know that there is still is so much stigma and controversy about a subject that has been prevalent within our society, but at the same time, there is some pride in knowing that the book is out there and still making waves. It’s another stepping stone towards creating equality and ensuring that all people are respected and treated as equals, even those who are different.

Why did you and Jessica Herthel first decide to write the book?

We wanted to provide a voice to those who feel different — specifically transgender youth. We wanted to help families with transgender youth have an easier time facilitating a transition by putting the experience of one story into simple words. Finally, we wanted peers of transgender youth to understand that being transgender is not something to fear or be ashamed of, but that it’s just part of someone’s identity.

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Stay safe and stay grounded. Love you all!💙

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There were several other LGBTQ-themed books for kids on the list — George, And Tango Makes Three, A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, My Princess Boy. Your follow-up book, meanwhile, Being Jazz: My Life as a Transgender Teen, is not on the list. Why do you think some people are particularly bent on silencing LGBTQ stories for and about children?

It’s all based on fear. Parents are afraid of the change that’s occurring in our society where the LGBTQ+ community keeps growing stronger and stronger. It may go against their personal beliefs, so they feel the need to shut it down before it creates impurity in their children. I think when it comes to children, they are viewed as so pure and unadulterated that parents don’t want them to be “corrupted” by “twisted ideologies” that they don’t stand for. The truth is that we are trying to create acceptance and peace at a younger age so that there is more understanding for youth who are trans or feel different.

One of the first of several challenges to I Am Jazz came back in 2015, in the town of Mount Horeb, Wis., when a reading of the book — organized to help foster understanding for a 6-year-old student who was transitioning — was canceled after a conservative Florida-based group threatened legal action. Did you know of the controversy at the time? And about the community’s beautiful response — to organize a public reading of the book, drawing 600 community members? If so, how did that news affect you?

I knew about the Mount Horeb controversy as it occurred, and I was greatly uplifted by the community’s response to the reading cancellation. I was initially appalled by the actions of fearful parents and the conservative Florida group but was very proud with the community answering back by creating a beautiful event based on acceptance and love.

Assuming you’ve read some of the other books on the most-banned list, what are some of your favorites?

A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss is one of my favorites. The perspective [of a bunny, living with Vice President Mike Pence, who falls for another boy bunny] is very unique and although having political undertones it does so in a very innocent manner.

You’ve been really vocal on your Instagram lately about urging people to vote — particularly LGBTQ folks. Why?

We demand an administration that views LGBTQ+ people as equals who deserve all the same rights as any other Americans. The Trump administration has done things that harm the transgender community, including rolling back Obama’s protections for transgender youth in schools, enacting the military ban and restricting transgender rights by not allowing single-sex homeless shelters to accept transgender people.

How have you and your family been faring during the pandemic — especially as Florida residents?

My family has been hanging in there. It’s challenging knowing that one of the virus’s hotspots is only an hour away from you, but we’re doing our best to quarantine and stay home as much as possible. We play family games and watch our favorite TV shows to prevent us from getting bored. It’s been alright.

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