At 14, Jazz Jennings is not just a transgender girl, but she’s also one of the youngest transgender activists you’ll find. Diagnosed with gender dysphoria at 3, the South Florida teen has undergone a rollercoaster of experiences as a trailblazer for young trans kids.
She appeared on 20/20 with Barbara Walters in 2007 and has openly told her story to further the cause for equality. She founded the TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation with her parents the same year, wrote the children’s book “I Am Jazz” in 2013, was named one of "The 25 Most Influential Teens of 2014" by Time magazine, is a Human Rights Campaign youth ambassador, and is one of the faces of Clean & Clear. Now, she and her family are starring in the TLC docu-series, “I Am Jazz,” taking America into the world of the Jennings family and its ups and downs.
Needless to say, she’s busy.
“Until trans people are treated equally I will continue to share my story. I want people to understand that we are just like everyone else,” Jazz said.
South Florida Gay News had the opportunity to chat with Jazz and her mother, Jeanette, about their show and sticking up for transgender people everywhere.
Your family has been very open about their journey, why?
JEANETTE: Transgender people are discriminated against more than any other group of people that I know of. About 50 percent of trans youth will attempt suicide before they are 21. Dozens of trans people are murdered every year. If our show can help lower these statistics by changing and saving lives, we are more than happy to lose some privacy by welcoming cameras into our home.
What were the signs in Jazz that she was transgender?
JEANETTE: From the moment Jazz could express herself, she never acted like a stereotypical boy. She was always drawn to everything girly. She only wanted to play with dolls and dress up as a girl. Jazz was always very feminine. At first we thought it was just a phase, but a phase ends, while her feminine behavior became stronger. When Jazz was 3 we brought her to a specialist who diagnosed her with gender identity disorder (now called gender dysphoria). She was persistent, insistent and consistent -- three markers of kids with gender dysphoria. So we knew she was transgender at a very early age.
How important is the support of your parents and siblings?
JAZZ: I’m so grateful to have the love and acceptance from my family. They have helped me discover my true self along this journey. I’m so proud of them for being the greatest family I can ask for. The main thing they do to help me get my message across is by participating and involving themselves in the community as well. They live their lives authentically like myself and that helps show people that we are just a normal family who loves each other.
There’s been struggles, including getting Jazz to play on a girls soccer team. Tell us about that.
JEANETTE: Trans youth are entitled to be treated just like cisgendered kids. They should be allowed to play on a sports teams with the gender they identify as. It is wrong to deny them this right. It was a violation of Jazz’s rights to be told that she was a boy by the soccer league and therefore she was only allowed to play with the boys. It’s blatant discrimination which Jazz, my husband, and I fought until she was granted the right to play.
You always seem to be so confident and proud of the skin you’re in. Is it always that way?
JAZZ: I was born with a natural confidence, but thanks to the love and support my family provided, I was able to discover that confidence and embrace it. During my advocacy work, only one side of my personality emerges. When I participate in a short project or give a speech I’m smiling in an effort to encourage others. However, there’s another side of my personality that is vulnerable. I’m just like everyone else. I have bad days, and times when I feel self-conscious. Through the TLC program it is possible to invite others into my life to show others that I’m just a regular teen.
Your line of mermaid tails, Purple Rainbow Tails, has really taken off! Tells us about the company.
JAZZ: I’ve always been fascinated by mermaids. When I was little you could always find me with a mermaid doll in my hand. Many trans girls love mermaids because there is nothing below the waist but a beautiful tail. I made my first cloth mermaid when I was 7. When I was 12 I began constructing silicone mermaid tails. It’s a complicated process, but the tails look very real. I decided to start selling tails and use proceeds to help our foundation, the Transkids Purple Rainbow Foundation.
Do you have people reach out to you?
JAZZ: I get hundreds of letters from trans people of all ages, but mostly youth. Some are looking for guidance and advice. Others want to thank me for speaking out or tell me that I inspired them to feel confident enough to transition.
We’re loving your show already, what else can we expect?
JAZZ: A typical episode will basically depict a struggle that I may face as both a teenager and a transgender individual and how the love from my family and friends helps me get through it.
I hope by inviting the audience in our home, we can show them that I’m just like any other teenager except for the fact that I’m transgender. But I want them to understand that being different is okay and that it’s something to embrace. In the end, I want to educate people, open up hearts and minds, and help those who may be struggling.
JEANETTE: I want to show other families that we are very typical. We are just an ordinary family with an extraordinary daughter. I hope that by opening our home to the outside world we can educate minds and open hearts.
What would you tell other trans kids and their parents?
JAZZ: I want to let trans kids know that they are not alone and that it’s okay for them to step out of their shadows. They need to be true to themselves and live authentic lives in the gender they identify with.
JEANETTE: Parents need to support their transgender children and follow their lead. From an early age children express their gender. The most important advice I can give parents is the give their kids unconditional love. It’s a child’s birthright to be loved. Parents need to put their own egos aside and put the wants and needs of their child above all else. All kids deserve to be happy.