When Jazz Jennings was 6-years-old, she was interviewed by Barbara Walters. The year was 2007, and Jazz took on the role of educating the public about what it meant to be a transgender child. Now a teenager, Jennings has become a celebrity, LGBT activist, and star of the TV show I Am Jazz, reported the Village Voice.
In that reality TV show, which is broadcast on TLC, Jennings reveals the typical teen aspects of her life (school, pals, and parties) combined with the challenges that occur because she is transgender. While reality TV shows have included children before (as 19 Kids and Counting illustrates), Jazz is the only one thus far to explore what it means to be a transgender teen.
Jennings has authored a memoir, Being Jazz, and one book signing occurred only a few days after 49 people were killed at the Orlando gay bar Pulse. Consequently, she had additional security to protect her during that signing.
When it comes to speaking about what she represents, Jazz puts the emphasis on the community.
“It’s beyond myself,” emphasized the teenager. “It’s not about me.”
Life in Florida includes a sister and twin brothers as well as her parents, all of whom are supportive. Early on, her mother and father recall that Jazz wanted dresses, and she contradicted them when they described her as a boy.
Greg, her dad, admits at first he struggled with “a bit of denial.” But as the years passed, they changed to accepting and boldly supporting Jazz. Her mom, Jeanette, is particularly vocal in urging that trans children’s rights be recognized.
“People don’t give enough credit to two-year-olds. They know what they want.”
In turn, Jennings expresses her gratitude for the unconditional love and support that she has received. As she has grown into a recognized role model and activist, Jazz knows what a difference it makes.
“I wouldn’t be able to share my story so proudly without their love and support,” declared the teenager.
“We all deserve to be loved by our families. We all deserve to love ourselves.”
But Jazz and her family have not always found it easy to be famous. They have received terrifying phone calls, and there are those who are cruel and even threatening online. Jennings is enlightened about the dangers, aware that 41 percent of transgender people try to end their lives.
“I’ve seen the suicide rates,” revealed the high school student. “I know the truth.”
Her dream for the future is to spread her message to the world, perhaps through movies and books. But whether she is an author, director, or both, Jennings seeks a way to make a difference.
“I want to create films and books with really good messages that will help people to better understand themselves,” added Jazz.
As for life as a teen, the question of dating arises. Jennings currently doesn’t “talk to boys at all,” she admitted, noting that she is not sure how they regard her. But aside from the everyday aspects of teenage life, Jazz has a vision for herself, and that’s to be treated with respect.
“Being transgender is normal,” she emphasized. “It doesn’t differentiate me from any other person. I am a person as well, and I want to be treated like a person.”
The path that Jennings is following comes with risks. One episode of I Am Jazz, for example, shows what happens when she goes with her parents to California for surgery. The t-blocker replacement surgery is designed to avoid having Jazz experience male puberty, according to People.
With the possible risks detailed as well as the knowledge that general anesthesia is involved, her parents are concerned.
“I just want to get the blocker in as soon as possible. I just have anxiety. That’s easier for me. I’m just asleep,” pointed out the 15-year-old.
But although Jeanette, her mother, remains anxious, she wants to make the right choice for Jazz.
“I’m definitely nervous about the surgery with general anesthesia. Every mother’s worst fear is, ‘What if they don’t wake up afterward?'” admitted Jeanette.
And it’s Jazz who notes that hope is the key amid uncertainty.
“I want everything to go smoothly, but you can never be sure about anything,” said the philosophical teenager. “You can only hope.”
[Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for GLAAD]