Jazz Jennings Opens up About Her Experience as a Young Transgender Woman

June 28th 2016

Lucy Tiven

In an interview on Friday with Paper Magazine, 17-year-old TLC star Jazz Jennings opened up about her experience with depression as a young transgender woman.

Jennings described an obstacle many transgender people encounter in the health care system and everyday life: the assumption that mental illnesses are directly related to their gender identities.

“My depression has nothing to do with me being transgender,” Jennings told Paper. "It's just genetics; my mom has it."

For transgender people, seeking help from a mental health professional can be traumatizing.

“Many people see being transgender as a form of mental illness and thus attribute any non-normative mental and emotional states in trans people to that,” Joshua Jennifer Espinoza, a 28-year-old transgender poet, told ATTN: over email. “In fact, many trans people suffer from mental illness that is directly linked to how we are treated by our families, friends, doctors, the police, and society in general.”

While she did find a trans-friendly therapist in her area, she had to get a referral from a primary care doctor first.

“I was forced to simplify and misrepresent myself as someone whose identity and experiences as a trans woman were a form of mental illness,” she explained. “Instead of the truth, which is that my mental illness is exacerbated by the way I am treated as a trans woman. I was diagnosed with ‘gender identity disorder’ (a horribly outdated concept), incorrectly gendered as male, and sent on my way.”

Espinoza stressed the importance of giving trans people opportunities to share their experiences and offering support.

“We’re still at the point where it is considered fair game to force us to publicly debate people who would quite honestly hate our existence and would rather see us dead,” she said. “It’s awful and humiliating, and we need to move past that. It’s important to trust us when we tell you that what we are experiencing is real. Just listen to what we have to say and leave your assumptions at home."

Jennings, who stars in the TLC series "I am Jazz," said her mother's support greatly helped her deal with mental illness.

"I had my mom by my side," Jennings explained. "She would sleep with me in my bed every single night. She would cry, hoping that I would get better, hoping for my happiness. That's what pulled me out, knowing I had that support."

Though research has shown transgender people are more likely to suffer from mental illness than their cisgender peers, a groundbreaking March study reported by NPR found that transgender kids with supportive parents did not have higher rates of depression.

"They had exactly the national average for depression," Kristina Olson, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Washington, told NPR. "They are no more or less depressed. They show a marginal, like, a tiny bit of an increase in anxiety, but nowhere near the rates that previous work has found."

[H/T Paper Magazine]