copyright 2021, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut
, No. 60, spring 2021

Queer stabilization of gender and queer regulation of sexuality in I Am Jazz

by Mary Zaborskis

In the contemporary United States, I argue that trans children are represented on television in queer ways [1]. Queerness does not manifest itself in representations of trans children’s non-normative sexual desires or the very fact of their gender identities. Rather, queerness emerges in vehement assertions of the stability of trans children’s gender identity as well as in an explicit hyperfocus on trans children’s sexuality. These assertions of gender stability coupled with candid sexual preoccupation ultimately serve to appease audience anxieties regarding trans children’s existence, perceived as inherently dangerous. Trans children’s queerness on television reifies their status as objects belonging primarily to the public, extricates them from the normative category of childhood, and ultimately restricts the gendered and sexual presents and futures they can inhabit. Queerness marks the denial of trans children’s privacy, self-possession, and exploration. In saying this, I am not suggesting that privacy, self-possession, and exploration are automatically granted features of childhood or equally accessible to all children in all contexts. Rather, I point out that there are features unique to trans childhood that ensure such rights and privileges will be unavailable to trans children on television.

Non-trans children experience policing of gender and sexual identity, but I argue that policing occurs in ways specific to trans children and are enabled by the medium of television. Media’s attention to the needing-to-be-stabilized sexuality of trans children stands in opposition to treatment of non-trans children who are permitted gender play and exploration in ways that trans children are not. And non-trans children’s sexualities are often a present-absence at the heart of media as a source of anxiety that is addressed in aslant, implicit, and coded ways. In addition, trans children have to adhere to restrictive scripts for gender identity that assert stasis and solidity in ways counter to modern childhood’s ostensible defining features of open, amorphous, unformed identity. Furthermore, such utopian features masquerade as universal to childhood but in fact are differentially available depending on a child’s race, class, ability, sexuality, and, as I will focus on in this essay, gender identity.

Trans children are represented on television in these ways precisely because of their supposed novelty. While Jules Gill-Peterson reminds us in Histories of the Transgender Child that there is nothing “fundamentally new” (viii) about trans children, a cultural narrative about their newness persists, in part, because of how the media frames their very existence. Trans children are offered to audiences as pedagogical objects; the media produces audience desire regarding trans children (to know them, understand them, have them explain themselves) through its framing of these children. The “didactic” work surrounding the depiction of trans children is then oriented toward responding to mainstream audiences’ imagined, voyeuristic questions and concerns (questions and concerns that are implanted and normalized via the representations):

The media require that trans children account for themselves in ways no one else—child or adult—has to, and a prescribed media structure demands these children’s intellectual and emotional labor if they appear on TV. In contrast, in terms of government regulation, an adult on TV speculating explicitly about a child’s genitalia would almost always be condemned a violation, but in the case of trans children, it’s permitted because the adult’s probing curiosity—one that often betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of relations between gender and sexuality—becomes valued above the child’s privacy and protection. The very fact of children’s trans identities voids their claims to either “right.” Television representations purport to help trans children by ostensibly making such issues more knowable to mainstream audiences, but these representations actually assist in restricting trans modes of existence, especially in childhood. On TV, trans children’s gender identities must be constantly asserted as static, and trans children’s present and future sexualities are allowed to be a public, explicitly addressed concern.

The public monitoring of trans children’s sexuality is accompanied by a language of care, concern, and hope for trans children’s future happiness. In terms of television, this supervision operates to address a mainstream audience’s anxieties and curiosities over trans children’s interior and exterior experiences of identity and desire. Since current representations of trans children on television are queer, this queerness is part of a larger cultural project that justifies violation of, surveillance over, and scrutiny into trans children’s bodies, identities, and desires. Queer features of represented trans childhood includes the hyperstabilization of gender and the frank discussions of their present and future sexualities. Such queerness does not liberate trans children, but rather it participates in objectification and othering under the guise of inclusivity and progress.

To explore the effects of these queer features of trans childhood, I consider in this essay one of the most mainstream representations of trans children on television today: TLC’s reality show I Am Jazz (2015-present). I Am Jazz demonstrates how television can both make visible and compound the queer features of trans childhood and thus enable trans children’s exploitation. In particular, such shows respond to an entertainment pressure to allow sexuality to be available for public display and does so here in ways that contradict U.S. cultural ideals regarding childhood. I Am Jazz’s seriality, participation in the genre conventions of reality television, and framing as family-friendly television present Jazz’s sexuality as a problem to be resolved across time, via repeating romantic arcs, and by the adults around her, in conjunction with what is framed as the stabilization of her gender through medical interventions. When the queer features of trans childhood look like normativity, this is precisely what enables their televisual production: here, the façade of family friendly television obscures the gender and sexual restrictions and inquiries to which Jazz is subject.

Through an analysis of I Am Jazz, I invite us to think about how the media’s figuration of Jazz works to impose a coherent, legible, sexual and gender narrative upon Jazz alongside Jazz’s own self-declarations that disrupt and refute that neat narrative. I will pay particular attention to the first season of the show to consider the expectations and groundwork the show lays in regard to Jazz’s gender identity and sexual desires. I will then consider this season in relation to the rest of the series, which follows Jazz’s dating life and gender confirmation surgery in acute detail.

The representation of Jazz in the series sets up the stability of Jazz’s gender identity in order to address potential audience anxieties over Jazz’s sexual development. To address these anxieties, the series addresses Jazz’s sexuality in ways that are both candid and voyeuristic. Children’s sexuality does exist, and I am not suggesting that there is an inherent problem in representing children’s sexuality on screen. Rather, I consider how and why the show addresses and frames Jazz’s sexuality in practical, logistical, and clinical terms, especially in relation to her gendered body, in ways that other children’s sexuality is not. Parents, grandparents, and doctors are shown talking to each other about a teenage girl’s ability to orgasm or not, the location of her clitoris, and how frequently she is masturbating. In fact, our cultural norms all but prohibit such conversation. (Of course, this taboo is paradoxical when we consider how much teenage girls are trained to experience their bodies and sexualities as not belonging to them in the public sphere—evidenced in quotidian forms like dress codes, cat calling, and photo leaking.) However, in this show, these topics come up as a matter of fact and occur frequently in conversations with and about the teenage Jazz in the later seasons of the show. Across the show’s trajectory, we are asked to question if Jazz’s ability to inhabit the category of woman as properly heterosexual will be “complete,” to use a word echoed across the series. We wonder what assurances of such completion will be provided. The family friendly features of the reality TV docudrama veil the televisual violations and excessive examination of Jazz’s body and desires.

These aspects of the show’s narrative trajectory respond to adults’ and audience’s desires for Jazz’s identity, sexuality, and future. This figuration of Jazz competes with the living, actual Jazz who tries to assert her subjectivity and desires. And her desires and personal views of identity aren’t just mediated but often ignored and abandoned by the show’s narrative impulse. In the first season, adults refuse to acknowledge or fully incorporate Jazz’s assertions. Jazz’s desires don’t get edited out of the series, so we cannot say they’re erased, but they’re unevenly apprehended, so if what she says affirms adults’ desires, those ideas get absorbed while Jazz’s statements that are unassimilable exist as excess to the show’s narrative trajectory. The unassimilability of Jazz’s desires, however, become even more assimilated as the series progresses. Jazz’s desires and disruptions to the coherency imposed upon and desired for her then become framed as problems to resolve through gender confirmation surgery. In what follows, I will consider the queer features of I Am Jazz that emerge in relation to Jazz’s gender identity and sexual desires in the first season alongside these moments of disruption, and then consider them in relation to the future that gets constructed for Jazz in the following seasons.

What is normative about I Am Jazz?

I Am Jazz is a TLC reality show that features the daily happenings, social life, and medical experiences of Jazz Jennings, a transgender youth and activist. The show began following Jazz starting at the age of 14 and has now aired for six seasons. The sixth season finished airing in March 2020, right at the start of the pandemic, and a seventh season has not yet been announced. Season 1 introduces us to Jazz; season 2 features the beginning of the conversation about Jazz’s gender confirmation surgery; seasons 3 and 4 track Jazz’s consultations and preparation for gender confirmation surgery; season 5 features her gender confirmation surgery; and season 6 follows Jazz in the aftermath of her surgery. Each season features 8 episodes, with the exception of season 1, which has 10, and season 5, which has 12. Season 1 episodes aired for 30 minutes each (except for the premiere and finale), while the remaining seasons aired for one hour. Woven throughout the seasons are regular discussions of Jazz’s mental health, dating, and desires, where an almost entirely predictable pattern for the drama of Jazz’s romantic life as a trans girl emerges. She laments not being able to find anyone interested in her because of her trans identity throughout the season and encounters a romantic interest in episode 6 or so. The final episodes of that season feature Jazz’s anxiety over dating and then a successful date that enables the season finale to end on a note of hope and relief regarding Jazz’s sexual future.

Like other programs in the reality television show genre, and especially the subgenre of the docusoap, I Am Jazz resolves the tension around the subject’s perceived non-normalcy by reinforcing aspects of her normalcy throughout the series. Jazz is a transgender girl, but she also plays soccer, hangs out with her friends, and wants to date. The program could be what Karen Tongson calls “normporn,” a show that on the surface appears to have queer content but is actually deeply invested in portraying a world that is “post-queer, post-racial . . . [and] that sanctions our reinvestment in the (usually bourgeois) dramas of everyday life.” Media scholar Joanna McIntyre notes that docusoaps “make a spectacle of trans subjectivities while simultaneously ‘normalising’ them and perpetuating transnormativity.” It’s a move that seems to have an ”affirmative and progressive impetus” but is “ultimately assimilationist” (10).

Moreover, Jazz represents a particular trans child, not all trans children. The show focuses on Jazz as a girl who started to socially transition at the age of five and who is part of a generation of kids accessing hormone blockers and cross-sex hormone therapy at a young age in a somewhat institutionalized (but not yet fully standardized) manner. This focus has led some trans scholars and critics to express concerns over the show’s ostensible transnormativity. McIntyre defines transnormativity as

“a regulatory model of transgender being that assumes and prioritizes certain trans experiences, representations, and behaviours. . . [it] grants legibility and legitimacy to otherwise marginalized folks . . . [but] establishes a hierarchy in which modes of gender alterity are diminished, obscured, and/or subordinated” (11).

In other words, the representation of Jazz functions to singularize the trans experience, sanctioning one pathway for trans existence that gets apprehended as universal.

This function is captured in the show: Jazz has trans friends who speak candidly about the fact that because they socially transitioned after puberty that they have a harder time navigating the world than Jazz. Early in the series, their inclusion in the show provides an important corrective to anyone who might apprehend Jazz’s story as universal. These are trans girls of different races and socioeconomic status from Jazz, with differential access to healthcare and capital. The show’s including a diversity of experiences, however, narrows across the series, which indicates that all these friends desire and will indeed follow the same path as Jazz. Thus, in Season 5, Jazz has a sleepover with three of her trans friends and asks, “Is everyone here going to get the surgery?” Everyone replies with their plans—scheduled consultations and medical appointments are already underway—and Jazz says, “I can’t wait until you guys join the vagina club.” This friend group is close, and given that they’re sharing doctors, information, and experiences, the fact that Jazz asks them if they’re getting the surgery functions as a performative gesture for the audience: of course, she would already know. It actually isn’t a question for this group, and the multiple ways to be trans are constantly being limited and literally edited out across the series. That Jazz “can’t wait” for her friends to “join the vagina club” suggests she is inhabiting a particular mode of trans identity that the others haven’t reached yet but will once they seek the same medical interventions that she has.

I describe this bit of dialogue not to condemn Jazz or her friends for seeking medical interventions, but to notice how the television series frames that surgery as an expected step on a journey with pre-determined, requisite milestones. It is a framing in the service of sanctioning certain modes of trans existence over others. Tey Meadow observes the vexed position of trans children, noting that while medical interventions and technologies “offer relief to many children . . . [they] simultaneously exert their own normalizing pressures to order, taxonomize, and measure gender transgressions.” In other words, some trans children’s efforts to survive and exist open these children up to being critiqued in terms of forces and structures beyond them. The children are critiqued for promoting gender norms and for accessing medical technologies that help them survive—a critique their non-trans peers don’t proportionally encounter. In other words, many children inhabit gender norms, but trans children’s inhabiting of gender norms is burdened with meaning: these children are criticized as responsible for the “normalizing pressures” some trans people are subject to. This burden is inappropriately placed on trans children instead of the gatekeeping structures that subject trans people to “normalizing pressure.”

Jazz, in particular, is also burdened with class, race, and generational ideals. Rebekah Sheldon and Jean-Thomas Tremblay have remarked how, in I am Jazz, Jazz is

“a powerful emblem of futurity, the iconic white, middle-class trans child of contemporary figurations [who] laminates racial innocence onto the history of deeply coercive and violent exploitation of children’s bodies.”

Jazz is representable—able to be an "emblem” and “icon”—on television because she inhabits other categories of privilege (though I would suggest that her Jewishness is an underexplored feature of her identity that complicates the dismissal of Jazz as categorically white). Because of the dearth of representations of trans children, the ways that Jazz’s singular experience gets taken up and framed by others as universal often coincides with criticism against her.

This essay is not a critique of the individual Jazz or her family, but rather an examination of the structures that facilitate someone like Jazz being imagined in a certain fashion. It’s a palatable depiction that seems representative of the trans youth experience, addressed to an audience largely unfamiliar with and even vehemently opposed to trans persons, experiences, and existence. In this way, I Am Jazz is what Gill-Peterson might call “a bad trans object of cis culture.” Jazz is permitted conditional entry into the category of human for a presumed cisgender audience. Her narrative of having “a girl brain and a boy body” has permitted her (always fraught and difficult) access to medical interventions that work to bring her gender identity and body into mainstream, culturally sanctioned alignment. The conventions of the reality television docudrama promote this entry. Jazz comes from a traditional, well off, nuclear family—two heterosexual parents, older twin brothers, an older sister, and a set of grandparents who are fixtures in her life. Her trans identity is presented in the context of white middle-class norms, values, and family-oriented plot points. Situating Jazz in the “normporn” world of such a family drama augments her palatability to an audience that might otherwise protest her existence. The melodrama of the white heterosexual family unit secures Jazz’s representability.

Interestingly, the representation of Jazz in the series diverges from typical representations of trans youth sexuality, where discusses of their sexuality are largely absent. Trans children often must affirm what Nat Hurley and Steven Bruhm articulate as the

“dominant narrative about children: children are (and should stay) innocent of sexual desires and intentions. At the same time, however, children are also officially, tacitly, assumed to be heterosexual” (ix).

In The Queer Child, Kathryn Bond Stockton notes how when it comes to trans children in the media, there is “strikingly, decisively, no mention . . . made of object choice, attraction, or sexuality in reference to these children, not even for the teens. And this, perhaps—this absence of any sexual conceptions—is why” (8) they can be represented. In other words, before I Am Jazz, the representable trans child was a child sanitized of sexuality. Sexuality might be a feature of adolescence that can, at times and under certain conditions, be represented, but sexuality in relation to trans children is apprehended as an ontological threat. The trans child cannot be sexual without risking losing the already precarious validity of their gender from the social milieu and its institutions. Picking up on Stockton, in a discussion of an OWN Network special on Jazz and her family—the precursor to the TLC series—that aired in 2011, Gabrielle Owen asks, “Is the trans child a queer child?” (96). Owen, in part, responds by saying the more apt question is “not whether the trans child is queer in essence, but rather where and how the trans child is allowed to emerge as queer” (98).

Elsewhere, I have argued that the most queer television programs airing in our contemporary moment are reality shows featuring children. In this genre—which ranges from docusoaps to competition shows—we encounter slews of children exploring and defying gender norms and discipline. Exploring gender is never the premise of these shows, but it is inextricable from the cultural landscape in which these shows operate. The conventions of television also ensure the representation of this gender exploration, particularly on reality television; the confessional mode often operates to augment the humor of child particpants, frequently juxtaposing children’s self-descriptions against adults’ contradictory claims, a framing that often reminds us of adult projections onto children. From boys vs. girls challenges on cooking competitions to inventing romantic tension between boy and girl partners in a dance number, gendered scripts circulate within and determine the drama that these shows manufacture. Children often reject or comment on the gendered norms being imposed on them, and relations between the disciplining of children’s genders and the failure of that discipline makes for campy television. Reality television creates space for many children to explore gender; indeed, it’s almost a genre mandate.

What’s different—and differently queer—about I Am Jazz is that Jazz’s gender isn’t disciplined on the show—it’s her sexuality that’s explicitly disciplined. Her gender doesn’t have to be disciplined because it’s necessarily asserted as a static, non-negotiable fact. Her gender confirmation is framed as something that will deepen and “complete” her identity, but the stability of her gender is a given—Jazz progresses but the experience of her gender identity remains fixed. I don’t want to suggest that Jazz’s gender isn’t stable in the ways she asserts, but rather to emphasize that this assertion is a requirement for Jazz’s representability and for her to get validated in medical, legal, and cultural spheres. The space for exploration afforded to children elsewhere in reality television shows isn’t permitted to Jazz—and that is quite queer. Asserting the stability of Jazz’s identity coupled with explicitly discussing her sexuality reverses the usual pattern we see with children’s representation on television, which relies on exploration of gender but silence around childhood sexuality. It also distinguishes Jazz from other representations of trans youth that erased their sexuality entirely.

As a trans child, Jazz must adhere to gender norms more strictly than other children in order for her identity to be considered valid by audiences and gatekeepers of trans futurity—doctors, policy makers, and other authority figures. This adherence is exceptional to trans children—non-trans children are not required to assert the stability of their identity in the rigorous and epistemically violent ways that trans children are. The show’s figuration of Jazz works to assure audiences that her sexuality is going to properly align with her gender; indeed, that is the anxiety that the show works to domesticate across six seasons. Owen argues,

“When it comes to identity, childhood and adulthood are ideologically interdependent oppositions: childhood is conceptualized as open and unformed so that adulthood can manufacture an arrival at stable identity. This dynamic is what queers all children (according to Stockton) and also what allows children to inhabit queerness without appearing non-normative” (103).

Yet this mode of “queerness” for “all children”—the “open[ness]” and "unformed[ness]" of identity—is vehemently denied to Jazz. Her gender identity and the inhabiting of that identity have to be presented as static, solid, and already arrived in order for her to a) continue to access the medical interventions she seeks for her gender and b) to normalize her for a mainstream audience. The fixity of Jazz’s gender—and its work to help fix Jazz’s sexuality—is also what permits the show to continue to stay on the air. The narrative stabilization of Jazz’s gender enables her to be represented in ways that have the potential to be assimilated into mainstream understandings of gender as static across one’s lifetime.

The fixity of Jazz’s gender is reinforced by her access to medical interventions. Medical interventions are accessible because of this gender fixity and help to strengthen it. Such a fixity, coupled with Jazz’s public facing trans narrative on I Am Jazz, constructs what Kadji Amin might call

“an organized, progressivist temporality that joins both continuity and change as a form of what queer theorist Elizabeth Freeman has termed ‘chrononormativity,’ a social patterning of experiences of time in conformity with normative frameworks” (220).

Amin says that trans narratives in the media, such as TV talk shows and in the press, seemingly

“implant . . . normative narratives of sexed development, continuity, and coherence. To say that transsexual autobiography is chrononormative is not necessarily to say that it is bad but rather to illuminate the ways in which it produces an experience of healing and empowerment for certain trans subjectivities and one of fragmentation and invalidation for others. Attending to the vagaries of transgender and transsexual experience, on the other hand, may necessitate a recognition of what some theorists have described as a ‘queer’—that is, nonchronological and nonnormative—form of temporality” (220).

Here, Amin is saying that divergences from the dominant trans narrative in the media and elsewhere might be read as forms of queer temporality that defy the chrononormative. I want to claim that even when we are discussing the trans child accessing medical intervention that seemingly contributes to this progressive, teleological model of gender development and stability, that is still queer because it requires a temporal securing of gender that is out of sync with other modes of childhood. Trans childhood, then, may enact a kind of queer temporality, which can be captured in the seemingly low stakes world of the docusoap.

Regulating sexuality in season 1 of I Am Jazz

The first season of I Am Jazz features many unassimilable moments of Jazz’s assertion of potential sexual non-normativity. Jazz frequently questions her sexuality, but these moments don’t get apprehended or reinforced in the trajectory of a non-threatening narrative of Jazz’s asexuality and/or heterosexuality. The show toggles between wanting to provide space for Jazz’s questioning of her sexuality while also still affirming heterosexuality as the likely default that she will inhabit. I am interested in moments of unassimilability in the face of the narrative impulse toward her heterosexuality. I follow them as what Pete Coviello might name as the “any number of broken-off, uncreated futures, futures that would not come to be” (20). The first season does not makes an effort to assimilate these moments into the telos of normative sexual development and narrative of gender transformation. In contrast, I consider what these moments mean for the seemingly transnormative subject and how they interplay with the queer features of Jazz’s trans childhood: gender fixity and explicit sexual preoccupation.

Before the show works to represent and discipline Jazz’s sexuality, it first establishes the stability and fixity of Jazz’s gender identity. The first episode, “I Am Jazz,” introduces us to 14-year-old Jazz and her family—parents Greg and Jeannette and siblings Ari, Sander, and Griffin. Jazz’s gender transition from boy to girl is firmly asserted as an event of the past. Her medical transition, which is explored across the series, is ongoing, but she socially transitioned from boy to girl, and that aspect of her transition is complete and reflects her stable, unwavering gender identity. The family instead speaks of Jazz’s current gender shifts in terms of temporality. While the camera cuts from one environment of domesticity to another—the family dinner table to the domicile (where the confessionals take place)—Jazz’s mother Jeannette explains, “As she’s transitioned from a young girl into a young lady . . . I really don’t know what to expect and I’m nervous.” Jazz’s “transition” now is linear and progressive—she will move from “girl” to “lady” at the pace dictated by proper gender development. “Lady” connotes that part of this proper development will be properly sexual, racialized, and classed—she will appropriately occupy the category of upper middle class white woman. “Girl” has been a time of presumed and culturally desired asexuality, and “lady” will be a time of racialized bourgeois heterosexual desire.

The show presents the medical interventions that are part of Jazz’s particular gender transition as facilitating her proper sexual development. In the first episode, Jeannette visits her parents without Jazz, and they discuss the “medical component” of Jazz’s gender transition. While Jeannette acknowledges that Jazz is a “little behind her friends”—suggesting a temporal lag to her gender development—she quickly asserts that the estrogen and puberty blockers are contributing to Jazz “developing nicely like a young lady.” The show acknowledges potential anxieties about Jazz’s gender asynchronicity—which could yield sexual non-normativity—and then dismisses these anxieties by asserting that Jazz’s gender and sexual development is that of a “young lady.” Notably, this discussion about the anxieties regarding the temporality and outcomes of Jazz’s development happens in the absence of Jazz. Adults, including strangers, regularly discuss Jazz’s gender, sexuality, and body in her absence, modeling a public possession over Jazz that then justifies audience voyeurism —the (il)logic is that these strangers are just wondering and saying aloud what everyone wants to know. Janet Mock has discussed the way that trans people are subject to excessive scrutiny and violation in the public sphere under the guise of “bridging an understanding gap” between the trans person and the presumed non-trans audience, who are, through this, positioned as the authorizing force in regard to trans identity.

Jazz discusses her bodily insecurities throughout the show, and while she asserts firmly that these insecurities are tied to her gender dysphoria, her family re-narrates her insecurities as bound with heterosexual desire. While at a sleepover, the camera cuts between Jazz socializing with her friends to Jazz in her confessional describing what it’s like, as a transgender girl, to bond with other girls over physical development anxieties. Jazz says that her desire to develop breasts and a nice figure is about both feeling and being recognized as the girl that she is: “For me, it’s mostly about fitting in and being another girl” so that she can “look like a girl to everyone else.” She then states that this desire, “for other girls . . . [i]s mostly about boys.” While perhaps an oversimplification of the whole range of complicated desires and pressures that emerge in relation to non-trans girls going through puberty, Jazz feels this distinction is important. She wants to assert that her desire for her body to look different is about her gendered desires and not about her sexual desires.

Jazz’s brothers, Sander and Griffin, nonetheless elide Jazz’s gendered desires with sexuality. On a trip to the beach, Jazz sits behind her brothers in the car and laments to them about her bodily insecurities. Her brothers surround her in the shot, and they dismiss her anxieties. This framing foregrounds masculine energy and dominance and minimizes Jazz’s concerns as silly teenage girl worries that have to do with being overly concerned with boys. The scene cuts to Jazz’s brothers in a confessional, immediately connecting Jazz’s insecurities with her ability to be involved romantically with men in the future. They go from discussing Jazz’s concerns to discussing all teen girls’ concerns: “Most girls are just like, ‘Oh, I don’t have any boobs, no guys are gonna like me.'” The camera cuts back to the car, and the brothers tell Jazz that personality matters more to a guy than any one body part. The camera cuts to the boys back on the couch explaining that “guys kind of shy away from [Jazz] because she is transgender.” Jazz’s concerns about her body are apprehended, asserted, and presented as anxieties over not being desirable to the opposite sex, despite Jazz’s attempts to explain otherwise.

In this episode and other early episodes in the season, Jazz identifies as being “boy crazy,” and when discussing romantic possibilities in the future, she and others imagine her paired with a boy. The seventh episode of the season, entitled “I’m Ready to Explore Boys,” appears to reinforce this heterosexual narrative, but it’s in this episode that Jazz’s unassimilable desires are most evident. The episode opens with Jazz at the beach with her siblings. She talks with her sister, Ari, and says,

“All of my friends are starting to, you know, like, do their thing with guys, and everyone is in that age right now, and I’m still, like, exploring my sexuality. I don’t even know who I’m attracted to.”

Jazz describes herself as being out of sync with her friends—they’re “in that age right now,” but she sees herself as in another time because she’s still “exploring her sexuality.” She isn’t at the time to “do [her] thing with guys now” because she doesn’t know if her sexual object choice will be a guy.

The camera cuts to Jazz speaking in a confessional, and she explains further:

“Although I do have some physical attraction to boys, I haven’t had a crush for, like, two years, so I can’t definitively say that I’m attracted to boys, because I think I might be, but you know, maybe girls are on the spectrum, too; I—I don’t know.”

When Jazz says “to boys,” she holds her hand up to her mouth and whispers “to boys,” performing a highly stylized gesture that signifies how she is embedded in the heterosexual landscape—she has been properly trained to keep her desires, as a girl and lady-in-training, minimal, while also acknowledging that they exist for the proper object. However, she is not completely disciplined by this imposed narrative—she isn’t willing to say that she is “definitively” attracted to one sex or the other. She gets exasperated by the time she says, “I don’t know,” throwing her hands up and speaking in a different register and with less fluency (“I—I don’t know”). Juxtaposing the performative gesture of the whispered “to boys” with the more unrestrained and riled “I—I don’t know” suggests that Jazz feels the pressure of the heterosexual mandate being imposed on her, while she is also trying to carve out space for exploring her sexuality on her own terms, unbound from expectations for what her sexual future and the orientation of her desires should be.

As the episode continues, the vexed relation between desires for Jazz to be heterosexual and Jazz’s resistance to declaring herself one way or another continues. Jazz meets up with her friends and announces, “I’m ready to explore boys!” She then qualifies this statement with, “But I’m still exploring my sexuality, like, I don’t know which one I go to.” The title of the episode is drawn from this conversation—“I Am Ready to Explore Boys.” This title erases non-heterosexual possibilities for Jazz. Despite her consistent claim that she has to explore in order know to whom she is attracted, the framing of the episode participates in the larger framing of this season (and ultimately, the series). The show asserts Jazz as a proper heterosexual subject in a way that occludes the discipline that goes into making this a fact versus an orientation that Jazz comes into.

Later in the episode, Jeannette takes Jazz to a transgender support group so that Jazz can discuss some of her concerns regarding sexuality and dating. The conversation in the group illustrates how desires for heterosexual futures for trans youth exist even within the trans community. This isn’t to criticize trans adults or their desires for trans futures, but rather to note how the show presents the normalizing impulse of Jazz’s sexual desires.

The group is run by transgender actress, author, and activist Rajee Narinesingh. By some counts, Jazz seems to be Rajee’s opposite: Rajee didn’t have access to discourse, support, or services that would have enabled her to transition as a child, while Jazz does. The camera cuts to Rajee introducing herself to the TV viewing audience in a confessional. She describes herself as a once “effeminate gay male” who didn’t know anything about transgender identity growing up. The camera then cuts to Jazz explaining how Rajee got “disfigured” trying to access medical interventions by having a “back alley surgery.” As Jazz explains that some transgender women “feel they need to do procedures and surgeries to get rid of their masculine features,” the camera pans over the other trans women in the group, juxtaposing adult trans women with the voice of a trans youth explaining matter-of-factly about the difficulties they have faced. The show’s decision to pair Jazz’s voice with these women’s faces may be an attempt to suggest progress—Jazz has a handle on the discourse, facts, and history of trans experiences, and she has access to a trans childhood that they didn’t. They aren’t presented as co-present but rather as existing on uneven temporal ground, with Jazz representing the future and progress and her trans peers representing the past and an earlier historical moment.

Rajee invites Jazz to talk about her experience, and we witness the imposition of desire onto Jazz’s future. Jazz first says that when she compares herself to her friends, she realizes that she has “always been a little bit behind.” This echoes the language used in the first episode of the season, when Jazz’s mom described Jazz as being “a little behind her friends” in regard to gender and sexual development. The return of this language here to describe Jazz’s sexuality suggests that Jazz has internalized the anxiety that exists around her gender and sexual development. But this anxiety doesn’t dictate or mitigate her honesty in regard to where she is. She explains that she is watching her friends get into dating, to which she adds,

“I’m like, ‘Oh, maybe I could try this out and explore my love life.’ But I just don’t know where to begin. I almost want to look for them, but, like, I don’t know where to look; I don’t know if I should look; I don’t know what to do.”

The coupling of “I don’t know” with throwing her hands in the air echoes earlier in the episode when Jazz was talking about the possibility of liking girls. She asserts that she is exploring and that there is no definitive object of her exploration—she doesn’t know where to start “look[ing] for them,” purposefully using a gender neutral pronoun to capture any potential future love interest.

The group creates the space for Jazz to acknowledge queer possibilities, but the response she gets reasserts Jazz’s heterosexual future. Rajee asks, “What kind of boys do you like?,” and Jazz replies, “The thing is, I haven’t explored it so I’m not really sure . . . I just don’t like cocky guys.” Jazz has tried to assert her undetermined sexual future, but in the space of the trans support group, she is still presumed to be heterosexual in the future when asked, “What kind of boys do you like?” She tries to hold onto queer possibility by reasserting that she’s not really sure, but she ultimately tires out and discusses what “guys” she doesn’t like. She then calls her ideal love interest “Prince Charming.” Despite Jazz’s articulation of not knowing what sexual orientation she is, the trans women in the group hail her as a heterosexual subject who will one day find a boy. This moment when trans futurity (projected onto Jazz) and trans histories (marked by the older women in the group) touch is the moment when queerness both becomes possible and gets occluded. Jazz tries to insist on her queerness, here and across the episode, but she cannot fight the force of history, narrative, or medium. The supposed inclusivity that her existence on television represents occludes the forceful extinguishing of her sexual possibilities.

Jazz’s mother reinforces the elision of Jazz’s exploration of sexuality with an assertion of her heterosexual future. The other women in the group tell Jazz stories of how and when they came into dating, and the camera cuts to Jeanette in a confessional. Earlier in the scene, she discussed how much anxiety she has over Jazz dating because of the high rates of violence against and murder of trans women, especially in romantic situations—a sobering fact that has led her to tell Jazz she must always disclose her transgender identity upfront to anyone she might consider dating. The very real fear that Jeannette feels about Jazz’s safety appears to evaporate in this confessional. The camera pans over the women in the group, and Jeannette says, “These young ladies went through puberty and all the trials and tribulations of that.” [ We cut back to Jeanette in the confessional and she continues, “And they’ve just jumped right into dating, and they have boyfriends.” The camera pans back to Jeanette smiling in the group, and she says, “I was really encouraged by that.” We cut back to the confessional and Jeanette concludes by saying, “I want that for Jazz.”

Here, Jeanette is trying to analogize these trans women’s experiences with her daughter’s experiences. The earlier panning by the camera of the group served to distinguish these trans women from Jazz—they didn’t have access to the same resources that would enable trans survival and flourishing as Jazz. Now, the panning across the group happens at moment when Jeanette is falsely linking how “these young ladies went through puberty” with how her own daughter is “developing nicely into a young lady.” The editing of Jeanette’s desires to flatten the disparate temporal experiences of trans persons in the room is an attempt to alleviate her anxiety over Jazz’s future. Seeing these women in alignment with her daughter enables her to envision a heterosexual future for Jazz in which she, too, can “jump into dating” and “have boyfriends.”

The episode concludes with Rajee asserting that Jazz has “such a bright future” and will “meet that Prince Charming.” The show permits space for Jazz to express questions about her sexuality. However, the show edits the responses to Jazz’s declarations and assertions of exploration and non-definitive sexuality so as to ignore any meaningful acknowledgement of that exploration. Jazz can explore her sexuality, but this exploration can only be apprehended as heterosexuality. She can “be behind,” as long as she thinks about guys and Prince Charming. The explicit preoccupation with Jazz’s sexuality distinguishes her from other children in the reality show genre. Here, the discipling of this sexuality under the guise of natural and normative development in the face of Jazz’s resistance to defining her sexuality makes for queer television, and this isn’t a liberating queerness.

Across the first season, Jazz tried to articulate her queerness only to be met with responses that have ignored this queerness. When Jazz first introduces the idea of dating to her parents, they articulate surprise because they think it’s “too soon,” they don’t want her to “rush,” and they have always seen her as a little “behind” in regard to her friends. In the finale, a boy that has taken an interest in Jazz shows up to her graduation party. Jazz’s parents watch from the window and say, “I’m so glad this is finally happening….It’s so innocent. It’s really so nice.”

In her work on trans childhood and adolesence, Owen claims that in the trans child,

“Queerness is masked by innocence, erasing desire, submerging it under the guise of childhood. Childhood innocence is conferred to transgender phenomena by association, but this projection of innocence simultaneously prevents the recognition of transgender children as self-directed agents in their own lives” (103).

Jazz’s “innocence” in this scene is about the comfort of adults around her who have spoken of their herculean efforts to support and affirm their child’s identity but who cannot leave space for that same child’s potential queerness. Innocence must be imposed and narrated in order to reduce the threat that Jazz poses by virtue of existing as a trans girl. Her sexuality is innocent now because it’s with the proper object of desire. The first season has successfully asserted Jazz as a non-threatening gender and sexual object, establishing Jazz as a palatable trans subject for future consumption.

The queer regulation of Jazz’s sexuality across the series

The first season lays the groundwork for how Jazz’s gender and sexuality are apprehended: her gender is stable, but the narrative arc of the series ultimately purports that her sexuality cannot be secured until she gets her gender confirmation surgery. The unassimilability of Jazz’s desires are assimilated in these seasons—they are edited and apprehended as effects of not having yet had gender confirmation surgery. Jazz’s gender and sexuality get framed as inextricably linked. Her sexuality persists as an explicit subject across the series, and ultimately the participants cannot discuss Jazz’s present or future sexuality without discussing her body, which they can only consider in relation to normative concepts of gender (i.e., a particular, singularized synchronicity among body parts, identity, and expression). At times, the relation between Jazz’s surgery and her sexuality seems to be about Jazz’s feelings and gender dysphoria, but more frequently those around Jazz frame it as a concern they hold and an elision they make. In other words, their preoccupation with Jazz’s sexuality and sexual development reveals an anxiety over what kind of sex she can have with whom based on her body parts, and what that will mean for her ability to fully and properly occupy the category of woman socially. This preoccupation results in a hyper monitoring of Jazz’s body, sexual desires, and sexual practices that children are not generally subject to on network television.

While the show remains on TLC across the series, the family-friendly elements of the show get somewhat tempered, beginning in Season 3. Almost every episode begins with a disclaimer that states:

“This episode of I Am Jazz features frank discussion of gender confirmation surgery, and may not be suitable for younger audiences. Viewer discretion is advised.”

Jazz is a trans youth, but this disclaimer positions Jazz in opposition to children. That is, discussing her experiences—a discussion that viewers want in exhaustive detail and that is keeping the show on air—requires “discretion.” Trans childhood is a threat from which other children must be protected. Trans childhood can only be consumed by adults, who must surveil it to ensure that trans identity will not pose a sexual threat to the social. Fascinatingly, this disclaimer remains a fixture for the remainder of the series, shifting only for the episodes where Jazz actually undergoes gender confirmation surgery and related subsequent surgeries:

“This episode of I Am Jazz features graphic footage and discussion of gender confirmation surgery and may not be suitable for all audiences. Viewer discretion is advised”

While this disclaimer is aligned with what appears at the beginning of most medical docudramas, regardless of how censored or not the actual featured procedures are, the logic for the shift from warning just “younger audiences” to “all audiences” is the “graphic footage.” Jazz’s body is discussed in graphic detail throughout the series: viewers have heard doctors describe the length of her penis, the size of her scrotum, and the depth of her vagina alongside probing questions about her ability to masturbate and orgasm. The disclaimer attempts to protect adults from having to see something they might not want to see; protecting Jazz from audience desires for discursive graphicness does not shape the series.

The show frames Jazz’s body, sexual desires, and sexual practices as an inevitable public problem instead of a private matter between Jazz and any sexual partners she may have in the future. In Season 2, Jazz’s grandmother has lunch with some of her friends, some of whom haven’t met Jazz (Jazz is not at the lunch).They begin to inquire about Jazz’s romantic life, and one asks if Jazz “foresee[s] herself as having a boyfriend.” Her grandmother replies that she does, and the camera cuts to a confessional featuring both the grandmother and grandfather. The grandfather states: “Let’s call a spade a spade . . . No matter how attractive she is . . . she will be looked at in high school as the girl who has a thingy down there.” The camera then immediately cuts back to the luncheon, where another friend asks about the surgery. The editing of these moments together explicitly merges the question of Jazz’s romantic future with the status of her genitalia.

Later in the episode, Jazz describes her desire for gender confirmation surgery as, in part, a matter of proving her identity to the public: “bottom surgery will let everyone know I’m a girl.” The thing is, no one looking at Jazz—or anyone for that matter—knows what body parts they do or do not have based on looking at them. These framings—by both Jazz and her grandmother—are paradoxical because there is no way to publicly identify someone’s body parts in the absence of disclosure. And yet, Jazz has to face public scrutiny over her body parts and how these body parts have a bearing on her sexual future. Jazz is forced to face everyone’s questions about her as fair and legitimate inquiries by virtue of existing as a person who is out as a trans girl. Jazz’s body and her body’s relationship to sexual possibilities are presented on the show as a public concern, an anxiety held by the audience that they feel entitled to have addressed under the guise of curiosity, education, and concern for Jazz’s well-being.

Later in this season, Jazz is asked on a date by a non-trans boy, Alex. Jeannette tells Jazz’s grandparents, who are immediately suspicious, asking why a non-trans boy would be interested in a trans girl, suggesting it could be a sexual “experiment.” In a confessional, the grandmother suggests that Jeannette’s excitement about a “young man” in Jazz’s life “bring[ing] Jazz into a more mainstream world” is clouding her judgment. The grandparents, in other words, are anxious that Jeanette’s desire for Jazz to inhabit a proper “mainstream” sexuality could lead to perceived improper sexual engagement at this moment in Jazz’s life pre-surgery. This anxiety prompts Jeannette and Greg to have a conversation with Jazz about sex, and Jazz is completely taken aback: “Does it look like I’m really doing anything sexual?” This question reflects how Jazz has internalized the way the world has approached her: that looking at someone somehow provides insight into their private information and activity. She thinks that looking at her could somehow reveal that she is not sexual. What she means, however, is that she does not have the body to engage in sex in the way she’d like: she asserts, “Clearly I can’t have sex yet.” When they ask why, she doesn’t answer directly and instead the camera cuts to Jazz in a confessional: “I’m not trying to have sex right now, especially when I haven’t had bottom surgery, I can’t do much anyway.” This view is affirmed in the next episode by Jazz’s mother. Jeannette explains that Jazz is “a late bloomer when it comes to boys and dating because for the most part guys out there don’t want to date a girl with a male body.” Later in the episode, she states that most boys “just see Jazz for Jazz and not the girl who has a boy body.” These statements iterate that gender confirmation surgery is all but requisite for Jazz to fully inhabit proper sexuality.

The desire for Jazz to inhabit proper heterosexuality is reinforced across the seasons. In the Season 3 premiere, her grandfather repeats that Jazz is “not complete until the surgery is complete.” Jeannette agrees, stating that Jazz needs surgery “in her heart to feel complete and I think also when it comes to love, that’s a big problem, unfortunately, there’s people out there that are attracted and might think she’s lovely, but you know what? I don’t want to be physical with her.” Jazz's desire for surgery to address her gender dysphoria is not enough in and of itself; her desire for surgery gets apprehended as a response to other people’s problems with her as a sexual being. Jazz’s grandfather reiterates that

“to be a complete woman as much as one can be being transgender the bottom surgery is absolutely necessary if you want to have a somewhat normal relationship with the opposite sex.”

The gender confirmation surgery isn’t just about permitting Jazz sexual experiences, but heterosexual experiences. Later in the episode, Jazz goes for her first consultation regarding gender confirmation surgery. The doctor asks Jazz if she’s “orgasmic,” then says, “It’s nice to have a neurological sensation in your vagina.” He explains, “These issues are not necessarily important to you now but they will be when you meet Mr. Right. And you’re gonna want to have penetrating sex and you want to be able to, you know, have a relatively normal vaginal depth.” The doctor tells Jazz what “will be” important to her when she meets a man and what kind of sex she will “want” to have to be “relatively normal.” Seeking information about gender confirmation is not framed as strictly about Jazz’s sexual health or care for her to have pleasurable sexual futures: it’s about orienting her toward proper heterosexuality.

Gender confirmation need not have any bearing on sexual desires and possibilities for trans people, but the series promotes that the former is a condition for the latter. Jazz does not have the surgery until season 5, and seasons 2, 3, and 4 each follow a similar structure: as Jazz prepares for gender confirmation surgery across the season, she gets an opportunity for a date by the end of the season. The date happens, and even when it seems to go well, the next season begins with minimal follow up and the assertion of the same statement: no one is interested in Jazz because of the perceived asynchronicity between her body and gender identity. This statement is repeatedly asserted, despite the fact that romantic interest in Jazz is built into each season’s arc.

What does shift is Jazz’s own statements about her sexuality. Whereas these statements were unassimilated in the first season, they get assimilated into the arc of the series as being a problem that will be resolved with gender confirmation surgery. In season 3, Jazz announces that she is pansexual, explaining that that means she is “fluid about who I’m attracted to.” However, she still struggles with feeling like, in her words, “the odd man out” among her peers because she doesn’t feel fully connected to being attracted to or interested in anyone. Jazz goes on dates with two boys and a girl (none of whom identify as trans), but she increasingly explains that while she wants to explore dating, she sees it as incompatible with not having the surgery. In the season 3 finale when she returns home from a date, she explains that “if someone that I like is ready to have a relationship with me, then I do feel like it’s kind of letting them down that I’m not ready for sex yet.” Jeannette tries to explain that Jazz can explore having a relationship without having sex, but Jazz has internalized the belief system that the series has promoted: she must think about her body and ability to engage with sex not just in relation to her desires, but in relation to assumptions about what someone else might want. Jazz states, “I do want a sexual relationship in the future, and after all of these consultations, I can’t imagine myself having sex without having a beautiful vagina.” Jazz’s wording suggests that it’s “all of these consultations” that have sedimented the belief she can’t have a relationship, sexual or otherwise, without a vagina. The consultations have been focused on how she will have a vagina with depth, discussing in implicit and explicit ways how this will be compatible with penetrative sex with someone with a penis. Jazz’ is embedded in a network orienting her desires toward a heterosexual future.

Jazz has her surgery in season 5, and this season and the following (which is also the most recent) assimilate Jazz’s apprehensions about her sexuality as resolvable through surgery. In the season 5 premiere, she explains that she “want[s] a relationship with a guy . . . I don’t know exactly what I like, however, physically I think I’m more into guys and I just see myself being more compatible with a guy.” She tells her trans friends, “I think maybe after the surgery I’m gonna be more confident when it comes to dating, but in reality, I think the way it’s gonna change is that guys are gonna be more open to dating me.” Jazz has been open about being pansexual, but the season that features her gender confirmation surgery opens with Jazz more definitively asserting an interest in guys that will be easier to explore post-surgery. The surgery is explained as something that will make guys “more open to dating” Jazz, not the other way around.

In the next episode, she fights with her mother regarding the fact she is having trouble dating. She shouts dating is hard “Because I [expletive] have a [expletive], mom!” (Technically, the expletives are bleeped out, but the second one is the word “dick,” as the “d” and “k” sounds aren’t silenced.) Jeannette follows up in a confessional by stating: “She wants to love somebody with a body she loves.” The camera cuts back to the fight, and Jeannette says, “You think it will be better after the surgery . . . you’ll be more open to finding love?” And instead of getting Jazz’s response in the moment, the camera cuts to a confessional where Jazz elaborates: “It could be easier for me to date after the surgery. I think more people are going to be open to dating me, especially if they are attracted to a girl who has a vagina rather than a penis.” While Jeannette tries to assert that Jazz’s discomfort with dating is about her own feelings regarding her body, the editing of the scenes features Jazz rescripting her inability to successfully date as a problem located in other people—a problem that will be resolved “after the surgery.”

While Season 5 focuses on Jazz’s surgery, it follows the same arc as previous seasons: in the latter half, Jazz encounters a romantic interest. In this season, Jazz meets a non-trans boy online, Ahmir, whom she announces as her boyfriend. Everyone remarks on how fast Jazz went from recovering from surgery to entering a relationship. Jazz explains that while her sexual desires remain inactive, she’s “excited to figure it out” with Ahmir. Toward the end of Season 5, she states that she feels like she’s “going through that 11-12 year old phase. I didn’t go through that phase when I was younger, I’m going through it now.” Jazz’s surgery is enabling her to explore dating from a new position, in her mind, and now she is able to catch up. In this way, the asynchronicity between her gender and sexual experiences begins to shift, and she assures the audience that she’s approaching temporal normativity. Later in the same season, she sees her doctor for a follow-up appointment and asks when her body will be ready for sexual activity. Including this information in the season assures the audience that Jazz is almost approaching temporal synchronicity between gender identity and heterosexuality.

Jazz and Ahmir end their relationship, but the series has resolved the problem of Jazz’s unassimilable sexual desires by editing these moments to be about her “incomplete” gender identity. Her gender identity is asserted as stable and unfixed for her across the series, but in the public’s eyes, this gender identity will not be fully secure until her sexuality is secured as non-threatening and normative. Instead of offering ways of understanding gender and sexuality as not necessarily contingent on one another, the series is edited to promote their inextricable relationship, and a relationship that is cause for concern in the case of Jazz. Jazz’s sexuality is an explicit focal point across the series precisely because it is a source of anxiety for the viewers until she has gender confirmation surgery. The most recent season diverges from the formula of previous seasons—instead of focusing on Jazz’s dating life, there’s surprisingly little air time given to it. Instead, the focus is on Jazz’s mental health, college search, and friends. Jazz’s sexuality can occupy the backdrop in this season because she has had the surgery. The queer preoccupation with trans children’s sexuality, then, is about a desire to impose a singular, standard trajectory onto trans persons, one that aligns the body, identity, expression, and orientation in ways that adhere to cultural norms for gender and sexual normativity.

The queer trans child on television

This investigation of I Am Jazz invites us to observe which gender, sexual, and temporal norms are made available for trans children to inhabit on screen and under what conditions. We must listen to trans children when they try to defy the norms imposed on them by the adults and communities in which they’re embedded. We must also pay attention to the ways that the medium of television amplifies the impositions and pressures placed on trans children. Jazz’s trans childhood as it is represented on television is a version of queer childhood. This queer childhood is an important representation—not because it expands trans possibilities, but because it reveals how non-normative approaches to children’s genders and sexualities can instantiate as much harm as normative approaches.

To approach trans children as queer requires care—not care in the ostensible adult mode of protection of trans children that is actually about adults’ comfort, but rather so as not to repeat epistemic violence to trans children that stems from the quotidian and structural material violence they encounter. Trans children are doubly subject to figuration when considered by queer studies. Building on earlier work by Susan Stryker, Gabby Benavente and Gill-Peterson have observed the ways that

“trans people in particular become exceptionalized in a certain strand of queer theory, serving as a figure for a kind of anti-binary subversion of gender . . . we are struck by how persistent this theoretical figuration of trans people has remained . . .even if not the dominant paradigm of the field around gender and transness” (24-25).

Similarly, queer theory’s approach to children often elides children with Children. (Rightful) critiques of the figural Child, often invoked to justify discriminatory presents under guise of creating better futures for children (Edelman 2004), leave literal children, queer and otherwise, behind. In her engagement with Gill-Peterson’s Histories of the Transgender Child, Rebekah Sheldon notes that Gill-Peterson’s scholarship “demands that we recognize the ways that children have been made into figures for adult ideas but are, in fact, not so plastic that they might take on whatever figural labor adults happen to require.” In other words, trans children are vulnerable to projection and objectification when critiqued and theorized, and care must be taken not to further compound the harms they already experience.

This care is especially urgent in the context of television studies. In her reflection on the state of the field of queer television studies, Lynne Joyrich notes that the proliferative generation of television content in the form of “ongoing textuality” (135) can maintain and reproduce “heteronormative (or homonormative) vision[s]” (136). The medium itself relies on logics of futurity, progression, normativity, and reproduction. These are always vexed concepts, and they will be that much more so when representing and figuring the trans child. To acknowledge Jazz’s queerness—even if that queerness is not about liberation or progress but actually about seeing the strange imposition of restriction, static-ness, and silence onto her and her identity—is to try to create more space for her humanity and not to participate in processes to further dehumanize, objectify, or project onto her.


[1] For the purposes of this essay, I am thinking about trans children who self-identify as trans and are out about that identity, but it is important to note that these are not all trans children. There are many trans children for whom that identity, discursively or otherwise, isn’t available. And there are many recognized and less recognized ways to gather under the banner of the trans child, some of which overlap with ways that the field has identified queer children. And still there are other persons, including adults, who might identify with or inhabit modes of trans childhood that couldn’t be lived out and yet co-linger with adult queer selves—a different version of Kathryn Bond Stockton’s “ghostly ‘gay’ child” (27).

Works cited

Television episodes

“All About Jazz,” I Am Jazz, 15 July 2015.

“I’m Ready to Explore Boys,” I Am Jazz, 5 August 2015.

“Baby Jazz is Growing Up,” I Am Jazz, 26 August 2015.

“Your Body May Be Rejecting the Implant,” I Am Jazz, 28 June 2016.

“We Scare Most Boys,” I Am Jazz, 19 July 2016.

“Bottoms Up,” I Am Jazz, 26 June 2017.

“In the Line of Fire,” I Am Jazz, 8 August 2017.

“The Final Countdown,” I Am Jazz, 31 December 2018.

“Scared & Unprepared,” I Am Jazz, 7 January 2019.

“Your Girl Jazz Has a Boyfriend,” I Am Jazz, 11 February 2019.

“Missing in Action,” I Am Jazz, 18 February 2019.

“Enemy in the Family,” I Am Jazz, 4 March 2019.


Amin, Kadji. 2014. “Temporality.” TSQ 1, vol. 1, nos. 1-2, pp. 219–222.

Benavente, Gabby and Jules Gill-Peterson. "The Promise of Trans Critique: Susan Stryker's Queer Theory." GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, vol. 25, no. 1, 2019, pp. 23-28.

Bruhm, Steven, and Hurley, Natasha, eds. 2004. Curiouser: On the Queerness of Children. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Coviello, Pete. 2013. Tomorrow’s Parties: Sex and the Untimely in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: NYU Press.

Edelman, Lee. 2004. “The Future is Kid Stuff.” No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Gill-Peterson, Jules. “Feeling Like a Bad Trans Object.” Post45 9 December 2019.

Gill-Peterson, Jules. Histories of the Transgender Child. University of Minnesota Press, 2018.

Joyrich, Lynne. 2014. “Queer Television Studies: Currents, Flows, and (Main)streams.” Cinema Journal vol. 53, no. 2, pp. 133-139.

McIntyre, Joann. 2018. “They’re So Normal I Can’t Stand It”: I Am Jazz, I Am Cait, Transnormativity, and Trans Feminism” in Orienting Feminism: Media, Activism and Cultural Representation, eds. Catherine Dale and Rosemary Overell,pp. 9-24.

Meadow, Tey. 2014. “Child.” TSQ 1, vol. 1, nos. 1-2, pp. 57-59.

Owen, Gabrielle. 2016. “Is the trans child a queer child? Constructing normativity in Raising Ryland and I Am Jazz: A Family in Transition.” Queer Studies in Media & Popular Culture, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 95-109.

Sheldon, Rebekah. “Listening/Loving/Liking.” The Rambling 26 November 2019. <https://the-rambling.com/2019/11/26/issue6-sheldon/>

Stockton, Kathryn Bond. 2009. The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century.Duke University Press.

Tremblay, Jean-Thomas and Rebekah Sheldon. “Introduction.” The Rambling 26 November 2019. <https://the-rambling.com/2019/11/26/issue6-tremblay-sheldon/>

Tongson, Karen. “#normporn.” Public Books 1 August 2015. <https://www.publicbooks.org/normporn/>