Jazz Jennings on Elliot Page Being a ‘Beacon of Hope’

Getty Images

The YouTube star and LGBTQ activist praised Elliot Page for coming out as transgender

Umbrella Academy star Elliot Page has received a flood of support since coming out as transgender. Everyone from Hillary Clinton to his wife, Emma Portner, has praised the Academy Award-nominated actor for his decision.

Page first announced the news on Instagram, writing: “I can’t begin to express how remarkable it feels to finally love who I am enough to pursue my authentic self.”

We spoke with YouTube personality and LGBTQ activist Jazz Jennings, who identifies as transgender, about Page’s announcement.

Wake-Up Call: This past week Elliot Page announced he is a gender non-binary person! Have you talked to Elliot since?

Jazz Jennings: I reached out to Elliot via direct message on Instagram to say how proud of him I am and to offer any support.

Was it meaningful to you that Elliot was so public about his announcement? 

Yes, because it’s so important that the transgender community is as visible as possible; our voices need to be heard. So often the trans community is silenced, but with people like Elliot being open and honest about their journey, it can influence so many individuals in a variety of ways. Elliot and his story can be seen as a beacon of hope for other transgender people who are struggling with their gender identities. It can also serve to help those who are less educated better understand the trans experience and what we have to face. Overall, it aids in the balancing of our planet and creating a more loving, empathetic society that embraces people who are different. 

You were very public about your experience as a transgender woman from a very young age. Why did you decide to let people follow along? 

I was only 6 years old when I first appeared on television as a transgender child. The world was very different back then as trans youth were hardly even heard of. It was a very difficult decision to share our story at that time because my parents wanted to ensure that I would be protected. However, they ultimately concluded that the way our story could impact the world and help other kids like me made it worth sharing. After that, everything just kind of built up throughout the years until I was 14 years old and asked to participate on I Am Jazz. Like before, we eventually realized that the show could help so many more lives than we could ever imagine and we knew we had the power to use our platform for good and make a difference in the world. 

Netflix announced they will change Elliot’s credits on past films and Elliot will continue to play a female character on the Netflix show, Umbrella Academy. Does the overwhelming support give you hope that we’re moving in the right direction?

I do believe the needle is moving forward in the right direction. In the face of so much hatred and ignorance in this world, there is an even greater legion of love and acceptance that has risen to combat the cruelty. I think it’ll still take many more years before we live in a utopia society where everyone loves everyone, but I have always been and always will be a believer that the utopian outcome is possible and determined by us. 

How have attitudes towards the trans community changed since you first came out? 

I think people are a lot more aware of transgender people and that they exist— this is thanks to the visibility of so many trans spokespeople who were brave enough to come out like Elliot. When I first came out, no one was even talking about transgender people. In this modern age, however, transgender people are at the forefront of the civil rights movement and are consistently making headlines showing that we’re taking huge strides as a society.

What would you say to people who are thinking of coming out in 2021?

I would tell them to be confident and remain true to themselves. Don’t let fear control you and just listen to your inner voice. You have to know who you are and stand strong and firm in your identity. Come out to the right people who you know will support you and keeping being you!

The Biggest Barrier to Medical Care For Transgender People

Leading expert Dr. Joshua Safer explains…

In the fight for equal rights, the doctor’s office is a major arena — especially when it comes to the transgender community. Although medical professionals have come a long way in providing proper care, they still have an even longer way to go. Dr. Joshua Safer is a warrior leading the effort. He’s the Executive Director of the Mount Sinai Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery, and appeared in my documentary Gender Revolution. We chatted about the barriers to medical care that transgender people face and the current political threats to their access to health insurance.

Katie Couric: You’ve been deeply invested in transgender medical care for years now. Can you explain the realities transgender people in America face when it comes to access to healthcare?

Dr. Joshua Safer: The reality of access to healthcare for transgender people right now is one of transition. It has been the case that just about everywhere, medical providers, thought that care was too complex or that it required a mental health approach, because they had no training in the subject. Almost everywhere, people would be turned away from getting care. We’re now in an in-between period and we’re evolving a little bit out of that.

What are some of the surprising barriers to care that the transgender community deals with on a regular basis that others might not know about?

The biggest barrier to care for trans individuals is still lack of knowledgeable providers. Even if we’re in this transitional period, it’s still the case. People go to see their primary care provider and say, “I’m trans or I think I’m trans,” and “What should I do next?” Most of the time, the primary care providers will say, “I have no idea.” It used to be the case that the primary care provider would say, “I won’t even see you, let me send you to some other location where somebody might be willing to or able to help you.” Now, there’s a little bit more willingness to try to be helpful, but there’s still plenty of ignorance.

Why is there this lack of expertise among doctors?

It’s still the case that most medical schools, and most training programs for physicians don’t teach transgender care. What you have is trying to teach cultural sensitivity — where they’re maybe teaching some of the terminology and use of pronouns, and things like that, under a global LGBTQ sensitivity kind of training. But that does not compete almost anywhere with actually teaching medical providers what to do. There are some trainings available, but they’re all very much still oriented to people who are just interested. There isn’t any fundamental basic knowledge taught to everyone.

How do medical professionals learn how to treat transgender patients if they’re not taught in medical school?

Care for transgender people isn’t that complicated for somebody who is already medically trained in a given specialty. If you’re an endocrinologist, you already know how to use sex hormones in other circumstances. Learning how to adjust that for transgender care isn’t that dramatic — similarly for primary care and other specialities. Some of the surgical techniques are more sophisticated and require more training, but the rest I’d say is relatively straight-forward.

What sparked your interest in advocating for trans healthcare?

My own personal experience is a little random. I’m an endocrinologist by training and I ran some of the education programs at Boston University, which is where I was before coming to Mount Sinai. When I was wearing that education hat, the transgender patients accidentally became mine. One of my former fellow trainees took a faculty position at Emory University, and left me with the patients. And I knew nothing. “The convert becomes the zealot,” is the saying. I had to become educated very quickly and was in a position to change things a little bit, which is what I’ve been trying to do ever since.

You’ve written a set of guidelines. What sort of feedback have you received from the medical community?

People go into the medical professions in order to help people and the reason trans care has been so neglected has been more a matter of ignorance than bias, at least within the medical community. As people learn more about what’s really going on, and how to approach it in a scientific way, not in just a do-gooder way, they are overwhelmingly eager to learn the information and to apply it.

How far do you think we have come in recent years with trans health care?

We’ve come a long way in the past decade or so, but we have quite a bit more work to do. It’s important to note that your large, establishment medical organizations are very much aligned in terms of the approach to transgender care. We’re really talking about the main organizations, like the American Medical Association. They are very on-board at a high level, in terms of how to try to think about this from a scientific way, to improve people’s care. The bad news is that educating the clinical workforce across the United States and taking that internationally, is just in its infancy.

What advice would you give to parents trying to navigate this healthcare system for their transgender children?

That’s one of the biggest holes. When I say, ‘Go to your primary care doctor,’ and they say, ‘I don’t know what to do,’ I think that’s more true in pediatrics. Be proactive because it might take a while, to identify people who are knowledgeable enough to be helpful. If you’re lucky enough to have a kid expressing gender identity expansiveness before puberty, get support as soon as you can. If parents let the child express themselves, the child is not going to accidentally develop some identity that they don’t already have. Nothing irreversible happens early on. We don’t do medical interventions at all until people hit puberty.

What resources would you recommend people check out to educate themselves more on this important issue?

For the least knowledgeable, not medical audience, I like your documentary Gender Revolution. It’s something that’s really accessible to people who don’t have any background. There’s a great book called Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt, which is about conservative family with a transgender kid from Maine, and Balls: It Takes Some To Get Some by Chris Edwards. Jennifer Finney Boylan has written several books, including her memoir She’s Not There.

What health insurance barriers might patients face?

About 20 U.S. states mandate that transgender care should be part of any insurance package and the Affordable Care Act from the Obama administration includes some of the same language for all 50 states. There are a couple of things at risk right now. One of them is those provisions in the Affordable Care Act because the Trump Administration is interested in weakening or removing those provisions. If you live in one of the other states with no individual provisions, the potential rollbacks could impact your ability to access care. Thinking about this as a physician, we don’t target specific groups or specific people who have a specific medical condition, and say, “We’re not going to take care of you.” In some way you’re going to make something which is just medicine, political. The Supreme Court is actively debating whether the civil rights protection under the label “sex” applies for gender identity and sexual orientation. And if you don’t specifically label people as people you want to protect, it makes it harder to prove discrimination. As a rough rule, people who are vulnerable merit some extra protection.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

This originally appeared on Medium.com

Jazz Jennings on How to Talk to Kids About Gender Identity

The ‘I Am Jazz’ star has some really solid advice

In June, we continued our celebration of LGBTQ pride month this week with a conversation with Jazz Jennings, the teen activist and champion of transgender equality. I first met Jazz back in 2014 when I interviewed her as one of the emerging faces of transgender youth. Since then, Jazz has starred in the hit docu-series I am Jazz on TLC and just graduated high school as valedictorian! Read our conversation below to learn how she’s doing since completing her gender affirmation surgery and what advice she has for parents to help them talk with their kids about gender identity…

Katie Couric: When I interviewed you back in 2014, I asked you about what you’d say to those people who thought it’s impossible to determine your gender identity at such a young age. You said, “This is not a choice, this is just the way I was born, this is who I am.” That was five years ago… is your perspective still the same?

Jazz Jennings: Absolutely. Transgender people do not choose to be the way we are- we just are. The idea of gender identity being a choice is such a huge misconception; so many people believe there is a deliberateness in identifying beyond your biological sex, and that is simply not the case. Yes, while I would say there is definitely a greater deliberateness in choosing to move forward with medical aspects of one’s transition, the need to transition itself is not elective. People don’t wake up one day and decide they want to change genders. In being trans, there is an inner knowing of identifying with the gender and associated activities that don’t correspond with your biological nature. It’s as simple as that, and we need to understand that forming strict binary gender categories and forcing gender roles upon our children at an early age is going to cause outliers to emerge who don’t fit within the mold we’ve created. Consciousness and identity are spiritual (nonphysical) in nature and extend beyond physical anatomy. It’s important that we understand this concept: the core of who we are cannot be defined by our biology for our truth lies in our internal thoughts and feelings.

The fifth season of I am Jazz had a lot of ups and downs- you finally got your gender confirmation surgery, but there were some complications. How are you feeling now?

It was definitely a difficult journey, but I am feeling incredible now. Getting the surgery was so transformative on not just a physical level, but an emotional and spiritual level too. For my entire life, my physical body hasn’t reflected my internal consciousness. What the surgery accomplished was creating a mind-body alignment that had never been present within me before. Also, during the recovery, I had a lot of downtime to be introspective and reflect on past experiences while discovering more about myself and who I am. These conditions allowed a complete transformation to occur, and I feel like I came out of the experience as a better person with a greater understanding of my identity.

You just graduated from high school…as the valedictorian! Congratulations! How did it feel to walk across that stage? How did your parents help get you there?

It felt amazing! Being valedictorian was a goal I had set for myself as a way for me to extend beyond the label of being the “transgender girl.” I wanted to create success for myself based on my own merit, not simply because I happen to identify as the gender opposite to my biological sex. I put a lot of independent time and effort into reaching that goal, and I am proud of myself for being able to succeed in my ambitions. It definitely wouldn’t have been possible without the unconditional love of my parents and family. Without them, there wouldn’t have been a foundation of freedom and love for me to flourish in my authentic identity and I wouldn’t have been equipped with the tools to achieve the goals I set my mind to. My story is a message to all about the power of family love and how supportive parents can help any child step into the power and strength of who they are.

I’ve heard from a number of parents who have kids in schools with classmates transitioning. They’re grappling with how they talk to their kids about gender identity. What would you recommend?

I would encourage them to teach their children to be open-minded. Even if they themselves don’t completely understand the transition process or idea of being transgender, explain that people can have the freedom to express their identity in whatever way they choose, and you just have to accept and embrace all people regardless of their difference. At the end of the day, we are all different and uniquely distinct in our expressions of who we are. Not a single person in humanity is exempt from this as no two people are alike. It is imperative that we learn to embrace our collective diversity rather than hinder those who don’t abide by social norms. Everyone deserves to be free and everyone deserves to be happy. Just love and have empathy for every person on the planet, because we all share this human experience together. If they are curious or want to learn more, then do research: the internet is your friend. Don’t be afraid to have those conversations with your children because it is a necessary component of their learning and understanding of how to love and embrace all people.

The second season of “Pose” is now running on FX… have you been watching it? Are you excited for the new season? How does it feel to see such a strong representation of trans women in a popular TV show?

Pose is LEGENDARY!!! I am so proud of everyone who has collaborated on creating that show, and I can’t wait to see what else is in store. I’m so stoked for the next season and every season that follows it. Every time I see an advertisement or poster for the show, I feel my eyes tear up a bit. The presence of a show that focuses solely on queer history and storytelling is so needed at this time and brings me and many others so much hope for positive change in the future. Pose is already playing a huge role in creating that change.

How will you be celebrating Pride this year?

This year, I will celebrate as I always do — just by existing. I feel like every single day of my life is a celebration of pride. It is extremely challenging to exist as a queer person in this society, but each and every individual who identifies under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella should be proud for coming this far. However, pride is more than just a celebration of our community. Since the Stonewall Riots and the emergence of the Gay Liberation Movement, pride has always been about demanding our equal rights and protections under the law. All people deserve to exist freely in this world, and yet so many LGBTQIA+ experience discrimination, abuse, and violence. It is frightening that we still live in a world where youth are kicked out of their homes and forced into homelessness simply for loving who they want to love or identifying a certain way. This needs to change, and Pride is all about taking action and standing up to all injustices.

This interview originally appeared on Medium.com