I'd like you to meet Jazz Jennings, if you haven't already. At 11 years old, she has already made quite a name for herself. She was the focus of a 20/20 segment in 2007. And now she is the focus of a documentary on OWN called I Am Jazz: A family in transition, which was first shown last Sunday.
At seven years old Jazz was very well-spoken. As she grows up she will discover that not every transperson agrees with the assessment she has of her situation, but that is okay. We grow and learn.
I unfortunately didn't get to see that or her appearance on Rosie O'Donnell's OWN program.
I've been accused of being totally self-serving by agitating for transgender equal rights. And it is true that my life would be better if I could be assured that wherever I went, I had the same rights as a "normal" person. But, I think, anyone who followed what I do would recognize that I advocate for many people less fortunate than I am. I believe the treatment of transpeople of color in this country is beyond shameful.
But when it really comes down to it, the work is all about the kids…about future generations of transfolk. If they don't have better lives than I did, than I will have been a failure.
Learning about Jazz has assured me that there will still be people to speak up as I do long after I am gone.
I tend not to read many books anymore on the subject of transgender. I'm not exactly sure why that is, but it may have to do with the fact that books by the so-called "experts" in the field of gender studies tend to piss me off and books by actual transpeople can seem to be redundant…or at least repetitive.
But books aimed at transkids would seem to be a good thing. Anything that would keep their hopes alive would be a good thing.
Wong noted the lack of information aimed at a child's level and decided to do something about it.
A lot of times, parents with straight kids, they think like, ‘You know what? That would never happen to my kid so why would my kid need to learn something like this?’ And I think the key is your kid doesn’t need to be LGBT. As long as your kid is perceived with any trait associated with LGBT, they can be bullied. They can be made fun of. Your kids can be a victim of any of that.
Parents, they have to go through different stages themselves,” he explains. “In the beginning, they tend to deny it. They hope their kids will grow out of it. They are having a tough time. They have to grieve over losing a son or a daughter and welcoming a new gender of a child. And I think that’s a process. It’s not easy for any parent to accept that because no parent has a kid and then think that this kid may be a transgender kid.... It’s tough… [when you have] a dream for your kid and all of a sudden that dream vanishes, and you have to recreate a dream for your kid[’s] future, and at the same time, knowing that society is not so tolerant out there. And I think that is very tough [for] a lot of parents to accept that.
Kids like Jazz have it much better than some transkids. She has a home and supportive parents. Kids like Juan Gallaher aren't so lucky. Born in Duplin County, North Carolina Juan grew up as a homeless child in a homeless family, which included an older brother and a drug-addicted mother. Born female, he suffered through rape, being beaten, and being forced into prostitution.
His mother called him "an abomination of nature" because he preferred to wear boy clothes, lift weights and pass for male. Now in Chicago, he no longer has contact with his family.
In Illinois he became a ward of the state in 2006 after being abused by a relative he had gone to live with. The state put him in a group home and he bounced from living program to living program. At 19 he became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter.
In 2010 he began testosterone injections in order to transition from female to male. Earlier this year he gave his daughter up for adoption because of his uncertain status. When Juan turned 21 about a month ago, he aged out of the system. That meant no more subsidized housing or any assistance at all from the state. He focuses on the fundamentals: finding free meals and a place to sleep.
With the state unemployment rate at 10.1%, the state estimates that there are up to 3000 homeless youth in need of shelter every night…but the city has 209 youth shelter beds. GLBT youth make up approximately 40% of the nation's homeless population.
With all the budget cuts, there is not as much programming now. It’s a lot different.
In New Jersey there is a safe harbor for LGBT teens. Triad House in Ewing, Mercer County, has been featured in this article as well as the editorial linked above. I'm betting they could use some financial support.