Jazz Jennings: Heroism Through Empathy and Courage
“At their best, superhero origin stories inspire us and provide models of coping with adversity, finding meaning in loss and trauma, discovering our strengths and using them for good purpose” (Rosenberg 1). In the article “The Psychology Behind Superhero Origin Stories,” Robin Rosenberg asserts that the modern public empathizes with the origin of super heroes, therefore providing inspiration, comfort, and empowerment to ordinary people. Heroes arouse light in the lives of normal people by acting as role models who stand for positive ethics. Heroism is demonstrated in a variety of actions: stereotypically saving a cat from a tree, speaking out against public issues, or even recycling are heroic actions. Individuals who have heroic traits always maintain that aspect, however, they utilize those characteristics in situations for the betterment of one or more people. While knowing that others may oppose their actions, they continue to courageously strive to help. Although woven through a variety of actions, all heroism has common ground. This common ground can be simply defined as empathy and courage. All heroes retain these traits and their actions exhibit a deep value for them. While disregarding the possibility of opposition from others, they acknowledge the bitterness of a given circumstance, empathize with the situation, and courageously act towards the well-being of the person or thing.
The heroic traits of empathy and courage are embodied by Jazz Jennings. Jazz Jennings is a seventeen-year-old female activist, author, and everyday teen who was born a boy on October 6th, 2000, in Florida. At the early age of five, Jazz already realized who she was at heart. She knew she was meant to be a girl. Confused and frustrated, she attempted to explain to her parents. Once understanding that she was transgender, they were very supportive and encouraged her to be herself - regardless of society’s cookie-cutter gender roles. Growing up, Jazz struggled with the emotional and societal repercussions of being transgender, but overcame them with positivity and courage. Her story is widely known in the media, and she continues to spark hope in the hearts of children and teens everywhere. Jazz Jennings embodies the inspirational traits of a hero through her activism for the LGBTQ+ community and vocalizing her harsh experience growing up transgender. Overcoming the emotional repercussions of ignorant discrimination from a young age, Jazz drew power from her pain to therefore ignite empowerment and comfort for others to relate to her, as a greatly empathetic and courageous role model.
Through heroic activism for the LGBTQ+ community, Jennings addressed and related to others with society’s negative stigma around transgender children. Jennings’s activism in the media can be portrayed through the writing of her book I Am Jazz, where she depicts her story of growing up transgender and highlighting the harsh, discriminatory obstacles that come with who she is: “She discusses everyday problems of LGBT children and overcoming them with love and determination. The book also explains how Jennings and her parents worked with schools on issues of using the girls' bathroom and playing on the girls' soccer team. Writing in Voice of Youth Advocates, Loryn Aman commented: ‘Being Jazz is not just a story of a transgender teen, but a story of acceptance, tolerance, and social justice for a whole group of people’” (Contemporary Authors Online). As Jennings “worked with schools on issues of using the girls' bathroom and playing on the girls' soccer team,” not only does she accentuate the injustices that transgender individuals’ encounter when living as their authentic selves, but she also aids kids with obstacles and “overcoming them with love and determination.” Jennings shedding light on the consistent issues the trans community faces creates a larger, open discussion for further action regarding their rights. Her outspoken and therefore heroic persona leads to a better future for transgender kids. In addition, Jennings viewed transgender-related issues positively, to provide hope and comfort for other children and teenagers with similar struggles. Moreover, Jennings circulates a positive message for children struggling in the LGBTQ+ community, and encourages them to overcome obstacles with strength and optimism: “I just want to say that you can be like Jazz. You can be your true self. I know that it’s hard living in this world, and that sometimes people just don’t understand, but if you just stay strong and keep moving forward, and just stay true to who you are no matter what, then one day things will get better, and you will be able to live your life as your true and authentic self” (Human Rights Campaign. “Jazz Jennings Reads ‘I Am Jazz.’”). When Jennings says to “stay strong and keep moving forward” or that “one day things will get better,” she empowers transgender children with upbeat phrases. Through these optimistic words, she comforts children and teens who undergo societal and personal problems by invigorating hope within them. She pushes them to continue through their struggles because she knows the reward is fantastic. From her experience, Jennings takes the traumatic parts of growing up transgender to connect with transgender youth. She empathizes with their troubles, but heroically takes the extra step to communicate positivity within their issues. She serves as an optimistic role model when giving advice to trans teens and children to have strength throughout their obstacles. Through her empowering words and actions, Jennings proves to be an outspoken activist for LGBTQ+ youth, an empathetic friend, and an optimistic mentor - therefore defining her as heroic.
Jennings openly vocalizes her personal experience with growing up as a transgender teen in modern society, and considering the close-minded world we live in, that is an ongoing act of courage and heroism. To this day, she continues to audaciously describe the unique aspects of her childhood through a range of platforms: “Jennings speaks publicly about being transgender, having appeared in an interview with Barbara Walters on 20/20 and other high-profile shows. She has written books chronicling her journey and is an honorary cofounder of the TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation to help transgender youth” (Authors Online, Gale 1). After she has “written books chronicling her journey” and being “an honorary cofounder of the TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation,” Jennings demonstrates her ability to discuss her bitter experiences with children and adults in the media. Certain aspects of her childhood experience were obviously mentally traumatic and abrasive, yet she brings the public through her travels in order to positively connect with others and ignite security and hope within them. Instead of keeping her pain pent up inside, she uses it for the benefit of others - which is undoubtedly heroic. Additionally, her picture book, I Am Jazz, highlights the problematic and emotionally defeating instances of discrimination after coming out as transgender: “Mom and Dad told me I could start wearing girl clothes to school, and growing my hair long. They even let me change my name to Jazz. Being Jazz felt much more like being me!... Being Jazz caused some other people to be confused too, like the teachers at school. At the beginning of the year, they wanted me to use the boys’ bathroom, and play on the boys’ team in gym class, but that didn’t feel normal to me at all. I was so happy when the teachers changed their minds” (Herthel, Jessica, et al. I Am Jazz! 19-22). In her children’s book, Jennings’s strong emotions of feeling trapped in the jaw of society’s close-minded thinking from a young age are captured. Certain things “didn’t feel normal” and being herself “caused other people to be confused.” Having an open discussion with society from a transgender teenager’s perspective is a brave action to take that most could not handle. However, her ability for comforting and motivating others through words, especially trans youth with similar struggles, pushes her to create things in support of the community, like her book. By making this story specifically a children’s book, she has the ability to empathize with kids around the world. They relate to Jennings’s personal story, and she therefore serves as a heroic role model through their eyes. Jazz’s courage to depict her personal stories for the security and inspiration of others demonstrates her heroic value of connecting to people for their well-being.
As exemplified between Jazz’s honest activism and empowering story, she has the heroic abilities to evoke positivity despite personal troubles and provide trans youth with comfort and optimism. As an avid activist in support of the LGBTQ+ community, Jennings openly discusses common issues for trans children and how to stay optimistic throughout emotional hardships. She empathizes with trans youth because she relates to the constant, draining issues they face daily. As a result of her experiences, she encourages speaking out against these problems. Jennings’s courage is personified with her willingness to share her complicated yet inspirational trek through her transgender childhood. Regardless of society’s close-minded agenda, she publicly discloses her personal journey as a transgender teen for others to relate to and seek hope in. The liberating words and impactful actions of Jennings demonstrate her universal heroism. She genuinely cares for the lives of transgender youth, and encourages them to prevail over emotional traumas with positivity. Jennings inspirationally speaks for the tolerance and equality of all trans individuals, which is immensely heroic considering the world’s myopic attitude. “Jennings told JamesMichael Nichols on the Huffington Post website that she wants people to know: ‘We are just people too. We should have the freedom to live our lives authentically without fear of being judged by society. We deserve to be accepted, respected, and treated equally for who we are’” (Authors Online, Gale 1). Jennings greatly empowers me because she reminds me to voice my opinions against society’s issues more often, and she reiterates my core value of overcoming hurdles with optimism. As a social activist, I have been to political marches, written letters to government officials regarding my views, and I’m involved with social issues at my school that I hope to change. I continue to express my views because Jennings motivates me to spark change in communities and pave a positive impact for other individuals. In light of the words of Rosenberg, Jazz Jennings embodies a definitive hero: providing help for coping with emotional setbacks, seeking purpose in pain, and using her powerful voice to ignite change in society. Be like Jazz. Verbalize ideas and opinions, and never hesitate to communicate personal experiences. Heroes are necessary in society, although their actions must consist of courageous dialogue and empathetic connection - just like Jazz.
Cart, Michael. "Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen." Booklist, 1 June 2016, p. 90.
Biography In Context, https://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A456094273/BIC?u=powa9245&sid=BIC&xid=4f5bf8c9. Accessed 15 Apr. 2018.
Human Rights Campaign. “Jazz Jennings Reads ‘I Am Jazz.’” YouTube, YouTube, 11 May
"Jazz Jennings." Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2017. Biography In Context,
https://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/H1000323839/BIC?u=powa9245&sid=BIC&xid=e3a26154. Accessed 5 Apr. 2018.
Rosenberg, Robin. “The Psychology Behind Superhero Origin Stories.” Smithsonian.com,
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