As “the face of trans teens,” Jazz Jennings is special. I have not followed Jazz’s story in any detail, but Jazz has a documentary series, a YouTube channel and advertising deals. Yesterday I caught sight of an interview between Jazz and Cosmopolitan. I read it and while I can’t say I felt particularly enlightened by a narrative which equates “plastic princess heels” being a girl, one thing did interest me: what it must be like to be the sister of Jazz Jennings.
Obviously I have no idea what it is like. I only know what it is like to be the sibling of someone “special” in other, less interesting ways. Growing up I had a role in a different family drama, one that was not filmed, nor the subject of interviews, but in which someone else, another child, played the “starring” role. My sibling was not the face of trans or any other kind of teens; my sibling was ill. But still it sucked up all the air until it was impossible to breathe.
In the Cosmo piece, the following exchange takes place between Jennings and the interviewer:
I read a Twitter chat you did where you said the hardest part of being trans is not being able to have your own biological child. Why does that stand out now, even though you’re so young?
It’s really hard for me to look at that because with such an amazing mom, I always wanted to be the greatest mom ever. People say, “Oh, you can always adopt,” and I completely agree with that. I can adopt. But, like, I’ll never have that moment where she comes out of my vag and I can say, “That’s my baby.” But since my sister has my same DNA, I’m convincing her to carry the baby for me.
Oh, good! It can come out of her vag.
We’ll take my hubby’s sperm and throw it in there and fertilize it.
I don’t know how serious such an exchange is meant to be. Jennings is 14, perhaps too immature to understand the full implications of pregnancy, surrogacy and birth (and certainly lacking a good understanding of DNA). I don’t know if Jennings’ sister is bothered by such flippant exchanges or not. What I do know is that when one child is positioned as special – more interesting, more needy, more unique – his or her siblings become bit-part players in the special child’s Noble Struggle For Self Realisation. It disturbs me to see such a narrative reinforced so harshly and so crudely, with no recognition of the other power imbalances (e.g. reproductive exploitation, secondary sibling status) which underpin it. Continue reading