When Jazz Jennings was 6 years old, she showed Barbara Walters and a 20/20 crew her ultra-girlie room, then warbled a bit of her favorite song, “In My Own Little Corner” from Cinderella: “In my own little corner, in my own little chair, I can be whatever I want to be. On the wings of my fancy, I can fly anywhere, and the world will open its arms to me.”
It was a poignant moment for reasons well beyond the charming sight of a pretty little girl singing a princess song to her famous guest — because Jazz Jennings was born an anatomical boy, but knew from the time she understood the difference between genders that she is a girl. And from that time on, she’s been on a mission to make the world open its arms to her and to the rest of the transgender community, exactly as they are.
Determined to help that mission, Jazz’s parents, Greg and Jeanette Jennings, quickly enlisted a team of specialists who diagnosed Jazz with gender dysphoria and are helping her navigate the path to adulthood in a culture that can be cruelly narrow-minded. And Jazz? Jazz has shown the world a beautifully feminine face, sparkling personality and empathetic soul that make her a natural and energetic spokesperson for the transgender community, even at her tender age.
“Sometimes it is overwhelming when so many people look up to you and you have a lot riding on your back,” the now 14-year-old admits, “but then I realize this isn’t just about me. It’s about my message and it’s about the community all together. We’re working together, hand in hand, and we’ll do this together and accomplish our goals of overall love, acceptance and tolerance.”
But Jazz also wants her fans — especially other transgender kids — to know that most days her life is a typical teen mix of school, friends, sports, crushes and hanging out with her mom, dad and three siblings. And sometimes getting completely bummed out. Beginning this month, she’ll get the chance, starring with her close-knit clan in the new TLC reality series I Am Jazz.
“When I’m out there speaking, I really don’t display my vulnerable emotions because I want people to think of me as strong and a role model,” says Jazz, who has her own popular YouTube channel on which she talks candidly about her life and shows off her considerable creative flair. “I think that once they see that I also have my moments when I cry, they might admire me as a person more because they will realize that I’m human and that I make mistakes, too.”
But mostly she’s a whole lot of fun, says her proud mom Jeanette.
“When she’s speaking, she’s very serious. People think of her as this serious, focused child who just makes speeches and does great in interviews,” Jeanette says, “but that’s just a small part of who Jazz is. I think people will be surprised to see just how goofy she is. Jazz is a full-blown, goofy, big-personality person and that will come across in the show.” Along with the fact that the little girl who has always known exactly who she is, is growing up quickly.
“I want everyone to understand that this is who I am,” says Jazz, who is now taking testosterone blockers and considering what the future holds in terms of a full transition. “It’s not a choice; it’s just the person that I am on the inside. I think an overall message of the show at first is me transitioning from a boy to a girl and then a girl transitioning into a woman. I’m really excited for people to follow along that journey with me as I approach womanhood.” With a proudly supportive family and a growing network of fans from all walks of life.
“She is a natural-born leader,” says Jeanette. “She is a natural-born speaker. We didn’t know that when she was only 6 years old, but she’s evolved into this wonderful young lady who is a spokesperson for all transgender youth. As long as she wants to keep being an advocate, we’re going to be right there by her side.”
I Am Jazz premieres Wednesday, July 15 on TLC.
Photos courtesy of the Jennings family