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 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. Except this time, it will be through the eyes of a transgender youth.
It’s the latest show to shine a light on transgender individuals, along with Discovery Life’s “New Girls on the Block” and ABC Family’s “My Transparent Life,” and 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 to CNN.
But 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 skin care 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 online world 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.
But what is it that 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 trans people (adults or children) were scarce.
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. Jazz was 6-years-old at the time 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. The disorder 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 say that she began gravitating toward “girl things” at a young age and insisting that she had the wrong genitalia. At home, Jazz wore dresses. However, when she went in public, she wore pants to maintain a “gender neutral appearance.”
That all changed at her fifth birthday party, though, when she wore a one-piece bathing suit and told her friends she was a girl, Jazz’s parents told ABC.
The interview was the spark to a large flame that put Jazz and her family in the midst of the lime light.
Since then, 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&A’s, 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.