Scroll To Top

Op-ed: How Barbara Walters Saved Our Family

Op-ed: How Barbara Walters Saved Our Family


As Amazon's Transparent premieres on streaming devices everywhere, the parents of Jazz, a 13-year-old transgender activist, reflect on the power of media to change the world for the better.

"We will only appear on TV if they blur our faces," we told the ABC producer who was trying to convince us we should share the story of our 5-year-old transgender daughter on 20/20 with Barbara Walters. Did we really want to share our family's story in front millions of TV viewers? How did we get here?

The genesis of our media journey all started with the birth of our youngest child, Jazz, who was assigned "male" on her birth certificate. We felt truly blessed to have four incredible kids. The family dynamics were great with a beautiful daughter, Arial, and happy-go-lucky twin boys, Sander and Griffen. Jazz completed our family. Our home was and always will be filled with love and excitement.

Jazz was an adorable child who had a mind of her own. She was nothing like her brothers, who always seemed to wrestle like bear cubs, and from the time she could crawl she gravitated toward her big sister and all her girly possessions. Jazz loved Barbie dolls, mermaids, wigs, princess dress-up clothes, and plastic dress-up shoes. She surrounded herself with anything pink, sparkly, and beautiful. At first we thought this was a phase, and it was just a matter of time before Jazz would be roughhousing with her brothers. But as time marched on, her femininity became undeniable, and at a very young age, Jazz insisted she was a girl. She was relentless and wanted to be referred to as a girl and dress like a girl at all times.

We were extremely concerned. We did our homework, consulted with professionals, and by the age of 3, Jazz was diagnosed with gender identity disorder (now called "gender dysphoria"). Jazz was transgender, and we were advised to follow her lead and accept her. We never encouraged Jazz to be a girl but supported her. As we learned more about transgender children, we were alarmed. High suicide rates, depression, and societal rejection topped the list of our fears. What type of life would Jazz have? Would she be bullied? What about puberty or medical treatments? Our minds raced. We were determined to protect Jazz and ensure she would have a happy and healthy childhood, just like the rest of our kids.

We reached out to online support groups where parents of other transgender children became our lifeline. There were a few parents with elementary-age kids who had socially transitioned at the age of 8, 9 or 10, but none as young as Jazz, making our decisions all the more challenging. Jazz wanted to live full-time as a girl, but no one we knew had a child who transitioned so young. As Jazz turned 4 we began to allow her to wear some girly clothes to school. There were snickers, sneers, and gossiping. We again reached out to our support group. "Has anyone transitioned before kindergarten?" We were met with cyber crickets. We knew we would be heading into uncharted territory.

By the time Jazz was five it became clear to us her health and well-being were far more important than any binary gender rules set forth by society, so with love and support we allowed her to socially transition. Jazz began kindergarten in 2006 as the girl she was born to be. Some of the kids were mean, but Jazz embraced her uniqueness and persevered. We came to the realization that although Jazz was biologically a boy, we never truly had a son. Jazz's boy clothes were packed away, and we experienced a painful sense of loss. All of our lives had changed forever.

Fast-forward a year to 2007, and a 20/20 special with Barbara Walters airs across America and the globe. Jazz was one of three children featured in the segment, "My Secret Self: A Story of Transgender Children." After 10 months of meetings with ABC, we had decided it was time our great nation knew kids like Jazz existed. We felt it was important to share our story with others, in the hope that we could raise awareness, educate others, increase tolerance, and bring positive change.

We ultimately decided not to blur our faces; however, we used pseudonyms to protect our privacy and put other protective measures in place. Our media participation began. At the time, Jazz was the youngest transgender child to appear on television, and our lives changed again.

Jennings-family-x400_0Sharing our family story was one of the best decisions we ever made. Once the special aired, a flood of younger trans kids began to emerge from the shadows. As parents, we had questioned our decision to allow our family to be exposed to the media, but when we received letters from other parents thanking us for saving their children's lives, we knew we made the right decision. The emotions were overwhelming. While our community now knew Jazz was transgender and there was some negative backlash, our courageous daughter Jazz didn't care. She was living as her true self. She had a few best friends and love from her family, which is all that mattered to her. Love. When all the layers were peeled back, that was the foundation that kept us all moving forward on our journey -- and what a beautiful family journey it became.

Jazz began to evolve into a little advocate for trans children and other LGBTQ kids all over the globe. Her siblings also became amazing LGBTQ allies. We realized the power of the media and sporadically participated in other projects. However, it has never been easy. With each media proposal came decisions about how much of our lives to expose. We became very picky about what projects to participate in. We wanted to continue sharing Jazz's story but drew a big line in the sand. Protections needed to be in place, and no opposing views, no last names, no mention of where we live, review of the program before airing if possible. Those were the biggies. Then came other decisions like whether we should we talk about our religion, medical treatment, and Jazz's sexual orientation. We spent many nights debating and sometimes disagreeing, but ultimately we wouldn't participate in any projects unless we both agreed on the parameters.

Today Jazz is almost 14, and looking back, we wouldn't change a thing. Some of our other projects include an OWN documentary, I Am Jazz: A Family in Transition; 60 Minutes Australia; an HLN appearance; and a 2012 follow-up with Barbara Walters. Jazz even has a children's book that she authored with Jessica Herthel, titled I Am Jazz, from which all of the author proceeds go to our foundation, the Transkids Purple Rainbow Foundation, which helps transgender children. No blurred faces for us; we are out, we are proud, and we will continue to spread our message of unconditional love.

GREG and JEANETTE are the proud parents of four children and board members for the Transkids Purple Rainbow Foundation, which was cofounded by their daughter Jazz.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Greg and Jeanette