There have been few stories as widely discussed in recent months as Caitlyn Jenner’s journey from Olympic gold-medal-winning male track star to transgender woman. In June, as Vanity Fair’s cover made its rounds online, South Florida native Jazz Jennings sensed her own life would never be the same. The 14-year-old transgender girl, who was assigned male at birth, is an activist for trans rights and a voice for trans youth. She says Jenner is the biggest thing that's ever happened to the trans community.
“She's opened her doors for others to learn by watching her,” Jennings says. “It's certainly impacting my life. When I have to explain to people that I'm trans, I'll just say I'm a younger version of Caitlyn Jenner.”
Jennings herself has been a face for the trans community since 2007, when, at age 6, she appeared as transgender in a 20/20 interview with Barbara Walters. Now she's about to go even more public about her journey, with a TLC show set to launch next week. I Am Jazz premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m.
The show will invite viewers into Jennings’ home and family life, introducing her parents Greg and Jeanette, sister Ari, and twin brothers Griffen and Sander. It will show Jennings’ typical teenage life, which includes a passion for soccer and art.
“I’m going to show everyone that I'm just like any other teenager,” she says, “except for the fact that I happen to be transgender.”
But it will also explore how she has battled the dark moments in her life and how she is fighting to change perceptions around trans youth.
Jennings was diagnosed with gender dysphoria at age 3. She first presented as a girl at age 5, but not everyone was immediately accepting. After the United States Soccer Federation would not allow her to play on girls' teams, her parents fought a two-and-a-half-year battle, which resulted in the USSF changing its policies to allow trans students to play on their gender-identified team. And she has faced her share of harsh words and bullies.
“Over the years, I've tried to ignore the bullies at school,” she says. “I surround myself with friends who love and support me... I remind myself that what others think doesn't matter.”
For her outspoken activism, Jennings was named one of Time's 25 Most Influential Teens of 2014 and was the youngest person ever featured on Out’s Out 100 and the Advocate's 40 Under 40 lists. She is a spokesmodel for Clean & Clear's "See the Real Me" digital campaign and the winner of Equality Florida's 2014's Voice for Equality Award. Last year, a children's biographical picture book was published about her life. And she has her own mermaid tail company, Purple Rainbow Tails, which raises money for transgender children.
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“I want other transgender kids to know that they aren't alone and should be proud of themselves for having the courage to live as their authentic selves,” she says.
That’s her hope for I Am Jazz, which comes on the heels of unprecedented change in the LGBT community in the United States.
“It's obvious now that things are improving for the LGBT community and that our country is more progressive than ever,” she says. “I truly hope the positive energy resonates with others who want to find out more about transgender youth too.”