by Emanuella Grinberg
The transgender community is celebrating several recent milestones thanks to one teen doing her part for transgender visibility.
Activist and YouTube star Jazz Jennings will star in a reality show debuting on TLC this summer, the network announced last week. “All That Jazz” will feature the 14-year-old and her family dealing with typical teen drama through the lens of a transgender youth.
It’s the latest show to focus on transgender individuals, along with Discovery Life’s “New Girls on the Block” and ABC Family’s “My Transparent Life,” on the heels of Amazon’s Golden Globe-winning comedy, “Transparent.”
“Jazz’s story is universal, yet unique, and we’re proud to partner with her family to share it with TLC’s audience. Jazz may be known as an author and activist, but she’s first and foremost a teenage girl with a big, brave heart, living a remarkable life,” TLC General Manager Nancy Daniels said.
Wait, there’s more. Jazz is also the latest face of Clean & Clear’s “See The Real Me” digital campaign.
Jazz appears in a video for the skincare company sharing the trials of growing up transgender.
“I’ve always known exactly who I am. I was a girl trapped in a boy’s body,” Jazz said in the video, which encourages teens to be “your true self.”
The Internet welcomed the news, applauding Clean & Clear and TLC for giving Jazz a platform.
“All this support is so overwhelming! I love you all so much,” she said in a tweet in response to the outpouring of support.
Then, Jazz lent her image to the NOH8 campaign, a marriage equality movement started in response to California’s Proposition 8 against same-sex marriage.
Why all the fuss?
Recognition of transgender people in the media shows mainstream America “we’re real people,” said Christine Connelly, a member of the board of directors of the Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth who came out as transgender woman five years ago.
What makes Jazz so “special,” in the words of transgender actor Laverne Cox?
Her trajectory is unique, starting with her early debut in the public eye at a time when stories of transgender people — adults or children — were scarce.
“She was the first young person who picked up the national spotlight, went on TV and was able to articulate her perspective and point of view with such innocence,” Connelly said.
Her parents also demonstrated their unwavering support for her early on, something transgender children can’t always count on, Connelly said.
Jazz and her family first appeared in the public eye in a 2007 television interview with ABC News’ Barbara Walters. She was 6 years old and had just started appearing in public as a female, in what the report called “one of the youngest known cases of an early transition from male to female.”
The segment with Walters said Jazz was diagnosed with “gender identity disorder,” a term long considered stigmatizing by mental health specialists. It was eliminated from the American Psychiatric Association manual in 2012 and replaced with “gender dysphoria,” a condition in which people feel strongly that they are not the gender they physically appear to be.
Jazz and her parents said she began gravitating to “girl things” at an early age and insisting she had the wrong genitalia. At home, she wore dresses but in public she wore pants to maintain a “gender neutral appearance.”
That all changed at her fifth birthday party, when she wore a one-piece bathing suit and told her friends she was a girl, her parents told ABC.
The interview catapulted Jazz and her family into the spotlight. Jazz has appeared on various television networks and news outlets, including an ABC update with Barbara Walters at age 11, a segment with Katie Couric, a report on 60 Minutes, and an Oprah Winfrey Network documentary, “I am Jazz: A Family in Transition.”
The exposure has shaped Jazz into a transgender advocate and spokesperson who uses social media to connect with fans and followers. She has more than 20,000 Instagram followers and 33,000 subscribers to her YouTube channel, where she posts her speeches, DIY craft tutorials and musings about being a transgender youth.
Occasionally, she responds to questions in video Q&As, fielding tough questions about her hormone treatment and bullying with grace and ease. She began using testosterone blockers at age 11 to stop her from growing body hair, “or else I would have a hairy beard right now, which I don’t so I’m thankful for that,” she told fans in her most recent Q&A video.
Her outreach has earned her recognition from some of the country’s top LGBT advocacy groups. In 2014 Jazz became the youngest person ever to be recognized in the Advocate’s annual list of “Top Forty Under 40.” She was honored at the 2013 GLAAD Awards and named a Human Rights Campaign youth ambassador in 2014. She also made TIME Magazine’s Top 25 Most Influential Teens of 2014 and Huffington Post’s 14 Most Fearless Teens of 2014 list.
It may seem like a charmed life but Jazz says she still faces bullying and mistreatment from people who don’t understand her. The comments on her social media accounts are littered with profane attacks on her and her family.
The question came up in her Q&A: “How do you feel when people judge you?”
Clearly, it’s a topic she’s given some thought to.
“I don’t care what people think. The only opinion that really affects me is my own opinion of myself because I determine the way I am, not anyone else,” she said. “If someone says something hurtful to you or makes you feel down on yourself then you just gotta stay positive and keep moving forward because they might not know much about you or they may not understand the situation.”