Transgender is a term used to describe people whose gender identity differs from the sex the doctor marked on their birth certificate. Gender identity is a person’s internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman (or someone outside of that gender binary). For transgender people, the sex they were assigned at birth and their own internal gender identity do not match.
-GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation)Now that you’re familiar with the terms if you weren’t already, let’s get to what this article is about…Jazz Jennings, the girl enlightening the world.
For the most part, Jazz the star of TLC‘s reality show, I Am Jazz, is your average 15-year-old girl, dealing with the trials and tribulations that all teens deal with on a daily basis; dating, high school, fitting in, learning how to drive and freedom, self-consciousness, and family and friends.
However, Jazz also deals with challenges that most teens do not have to–ones that are much more complicated. While dating, driving, fitting in and family and friends is a huge part of her life, she also deals with feelings of discomfort in her own skin (and not your typical “I’m fat/ I’m ugly/ My nose is too big” kind of typical teen self-consciousness). Her life involves surgeries, hormone replacement therapy, instances of depression, mental and emotional struggle, and contentious, ignorant haters. The reason Jazz has to endure these challenges is because she, along with the estimated 700,000 other Americans, identifies as transgender.
Jazz, who has been called “one of the most articulate and well-adjusted [teens] you could be fortunate enough to meet”, lives in South Florida and is the daughter of Greg and Jeanette, and the youngest of four children; her sister Ari, and her brothers – the twins, Sander and Griffen. As we follow the lives of the Jennings family as we watch the show, we see just how fortunate Jazz is to have the family she does. While some families cannot accept that their loved one is transgender, the Jennings’ support their daughter 100 per cent as she attends and speaks at conferences and organized ceremonies, endures surgeries and medical treatment, and by simply always being there for her like any loving parent would.
In the first episode of I Am Jazz, Jazz, right away, shared memories and moments of her early life, inviting viewers into her world. She jumps into her story right at the beginning:
“At first my family was confused,” says Jazz of her earliest memories of feeling like she was a girl stuck in a boy’s body.
“They’d always thought of me as a boy. As I got a little older, I hardly ever played with trucks or tools or superheroes. Only princesses and mermaid costumes. My brother told me this was girl stuff. I kept right on playing. My sister says I was always talking about my girl thoughts, and my girl dreams, and how one day I would be a beauuutiful lady. She would giggle and say, ‘You’re a funny kid.’”
Jazz also shares with us details from (in her own words) the “amazing day, when everything changed”.
“Mom and Dad took me to meet a new doctor who asked me lots and lots of questions. Afterward, the doctor spoke to my parents and I heard the word ‘ transgender’ for the very first time.”
Unsurprisingly, Jazz had the support of her parents right away. “That night at bedtime, my parents both hugged me and said, ‘We understand now. Be who you are. We love you no matter what.’ This made me smile and smile and smile.’”
Jazz basically taught America what it means to be transgender. In 2007, the public was introduced to a transgender child for the first time when Barbara Walters interviewed then six-year-old Jazz. This was nearly a decade ago, when the cultural awareness of transgender people was dim at best. Since then, Jazz has continued to shine and make a huge impact within the LGBTQ community, along with the entire world…just take a look this extensive list of her many accomplishments:
2007: Jazz and her parents founded the TransKids Purple Rainbow foundation, which lends support to transgender kids and their families, and commits to educating and enlightening the world on what it means to be transgender.
2011: I Am Jazz: A Family in Transition, a documentary about her life and family, premiered on the Oprah Winfrey Network
2013: (1)Founded the Purple Rainbow Tails, a company in which she fashions rubber mermaid tails to raise money for transgender children. (2)In a follow-up interview with Barbara Walters on 20/20, Jazz and Walters discussed Jazz’s two-and-a-half-year battle with the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), the governing US body for the sport, to allow her to play on girls’ teams. Aided by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, she succeeded in changing the USSF’s policies to allow trans students to play.
2014: (1) Co-wrote the children’s book, I Am Jazz with Jessica Herthel, the director of the Stonewall National Education Project. The book details her life as a transgender child. (2) Was a guest at the GLAAD Media Award. (3) Was named one of “The 25 Most Influential Teens of 2014” by Time Magazine. (4) Was recognized as the youngest person ever featured on Out’s “Out 100” and Advocate’s lists. (5) Named in OUT‘s 2014 Trans 100 list and named a Human Rights Campaign Youth Ambassador (6) Received LogoTV’s 2014 Youth Trailblazer Award. (7) Became a spokesmodel for Clean & Clear’s “See The Real Me” digital campaign and shared “the trials of growing up transgender”. (8) Modeled for the NoH8 Campaign. (9) Authored a piece for Time magazine’s “100 Most influential People” list, writing the entry on transgender actress, producer, artist and LGBT advocate, Laverne Cox. (10) Received LogoTV‘s Youth Trailblazer Award. (11.) Became a spokesmodel for Clean & Clear’s “See The Real Me” digital campaign and shared “the trials of growing up transgender”.
2015: The Jennings family is featured in TLC’s I Am Jazz which premiered in July 2015 on TLC TV.
2016: Published her memoir, Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen
Although Jazz does a very good job maintaining and portraying sense positivity and self-confidence, it isn’t always easy to do. On her show, I am Jazz, viewers have seen instances when Jazz has had to deal with haters head on. She has received anonymous threatening phone calls, faced discrimination from students and parents regarding Jazz using the girls’ restroom, and has had to overcome other difficult instances.
One instance involved Jazz’s place on her soccer team. At 14, Jazz was kicked off her town’s traveling team by the sport’s association because players’ parents and other teams argued that it was “unfair” that Jazz and her team were at an advantage because she had the athletic abilities of a male (physically). However, she was allowed to play again after her parents approached the United States Soccer Federation.
In a recent episode in which we watched Jazz guest host on a LGBTQ radio show and was attacked by a caller. when Jazz gave listeners the opportunity to call with questions or comments for her. the teen male jumped right into it. “I’m just trying to wrap my head around this.” He began. “How do you even approach dating?…Because honestly you may as well kill yourself back where I’m from…trying to date in school in your condition…”. Jazz, who, was clearly caught off guard and bothered and disgusted by the caller’s words, had to take a deep breath before responding, choosing her words carefully to avoid saying something back that she would regret. She took on the caller with confidence, maturity, and class.
It’s very possible, even likely, that members of the transgender population endure the most severe and frequent emotional, physical, and verbal abuse out of any other population. Jazz however, has learned how take on the world and face criticism and hate with an incredible amount of strength despite how difficult it may be to do so at times. She makes it look easy, even when it clearly isn’t. In her short 15 years, this amazing young woman has has taught us to be who we are despite how others see us, helped other trans kids feel comfortable with who they are, proved to the world that gender can be defined as what is in the brain and heart, not just what’s in between the legs, and most importantly, she has shown taught us how to love others, and most ultimately, love ourselves.
As I said earlier, Jazz is your average 15-year-old girl, who deals with the trials and tribulations that all teens deal with on a daily basis; dating, high school, fitting in, learning how to drive and freedom, self-consciousness, and family and friends.
But she is also not your average 15-year-old girl, as most of them cannot add “started a revolution that will change the world” to their resumes.
The season finale of I Am Jazz will air next Wednesday at 10 pm on TLC. Full episodes are available on TLC.com.