Being a preteen and teenager is an especially difficult time in life, but all the struggles, insecurities and social pressures that everyone goes through must be compounded for a teen experiencing gender dysphoria, and facing massive medical interventions in order to present to the world the way the wish to present. Jazz Jennings is going through all that, but with even more pressure because she’s doing it on reality television and in the headlines. The past few episodes of I Am Jazz highlighted exactly how complicated and physically taxing gender transition can be, and the complications that can rise when gender transition procedures start at an early age.
Jazz, her family, and her doctors are very open and frank about the gritty details of what Jazz is going through. Because Jazz has been on puberty stunting hormone blockers since age 10 and estrogen since age 12, she will not need top surgery. However, because this medication regimen stunted Jazz’s sexual development, she will be unable to get a tradition vaginoplasty. One option for Jazz is to get a colon vaginoplasty, which involves taking out part of your intestines. The negative for that, Jazz tells her friends, is that “it smells.”
In the last episode, Jazz traveled to Pennsylvania to consult with Dr. Christine McGinn, who is transgender herself. “The majority of my patients have to live a life where they identity as female and they have wake up in the morning and get dressed and see parts that don’t match. Over a lifetime that can cause a lot of destress.
“The simplified version of surgery is to take everything apart into its parts, resize them into female proportions and put it back together into female positions,” she explains. “It’s very important for you to not just focus on the aesthetics of this, but he function.” Jazz has expressed a lack of sexual interest, and the doctor confirmed that her hormone therapy may be surprising libido.”
Dr. McGuinn also let Jazz and her family know that post-op depression is very common. This was a particular cause of concern for Jazz’s family because Jazz was diagnosed with depression at a very early age and is prone to experiencing low mood. She started antidepressants in sixth grade. “It’s normal to feel a little blue for a few months after,” Dr. McGuinn says. “It doesn’t mean you’re having regret.” She does emphasize that before going into surgery, she needs to be sure Jazz is mentally stable enough “to do what you need to do to recover from surgery.” She explained that not healing with post-surgery depression can have lifetime consequences.
After Dr. McGuinn examined Jazz, she came to the same conclusion as the previous doctor Jazz consulted with. “My concern now is that we are just now getting these children who have been on puberty delaying hormones so when it comes to the surgery we don’t have the raw material we’re used to.” Dr. McGuinn thinks that she can still go through with a standard vaginoplasty, but she would need to do two separate surgeries. Jazz did find it scary that Dr. McGuinn had only done five previous surgeries on “suppressed teens” like herself.
Jazz also got a dose of reality from some post-operative trans girls staying at Dr. McGuinn’s bed and breakfast. They detailed the pain of the surgery, and noted how “a lot of girls think getting a vagina is going to be a fix for a lot of the problems they’re having . . but it’s not.”
As of right now, Jazz still hasn’t gone through with the surgery, but she still plans on it. “With any surgery, there’s always fears. And I know my mom, she’s especially fearful because she doesn’t like me going under anesthesia and all that stuff,” Jennings explained. “But for me, I’m not really worried about it. I’m actually kind of excited. This is something I’ve always looked forward to. I don’t know — it’s going to be fun.”
16-year-old Jazz says told US Magazine why she decided to talk about bottom surgery, a subject that is often taboo for transgender people. “I know a lot of trans people don’t like to talk about [bottom surgery] and everyone says what is in between your legs doesn’t matter and I agree, but I also think it’s important to talk about,” she said. “Someone needs to step forward so they can see. It’s rude to just ask people if they have had their bottom surgery, but I want to talk about it so people will know so they can stop asking.”