Meet Jazz Jennings, a 16-year-old teenager who is the youngest person to become a national transgender figure.
Although Jennings was assigned male at birth, she was just six years old when she told Barbara Walters in a 20/20 interview that she was “a girl.” It was the first time a child had publicly spoken about their transition from one gender to another, and it put Jennings front and center as the face of the young trans community.
Now, nearly ten years later, Jennings has started her own YouTube channel, co-founded a charity, and even published book. She’s also staring in her own TLC show, I Am Jazz, documenting her life and growth with her family. Here’s what you need to know about Jennings:
1. Jennings Received National Attention After Her ’20/20′ Interview With Barbara Walters
Jennings made her first TV appearance when she was just six, speaking to Barbara Walters on 20/20 about identifying as a female. From there on out, the young girl was, for all intents and purposes, the face of the young trans community.
The 20/20 segment said Jennings was diagnosed with “gender identity disorder,” a term that has since been eliminated from the American Psychiatric Association manual, in 2012. Jennings told Walters that she had been drawn to “girl things” and officially identified as a girl when she wore a one-piece bathing suit at her fifth birthday party.
Recently, Jazz has been featured in the news for opening up to Larry King about her ‘bottom surgery’. Speaking to the TV host on Larry King Now, she says that she wants to focus on bottom surgery, which has “become a big part of [her] life.” She joked to King, “I say, ‘I’m on the search for America’s Next Top Vagina.” The teen has acknowledged that the surgery comes with its fair share of risks, and both her and her family are aware of those possibilities. But Jazz says she thinks it’s a necessary change. “I feel like this is the last step for me to complete who I am as a person,” she reveals. “I know I’m a girl, but this just confirms that. I’m ready.”
2. She Co-Founded TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation With Her Parents
Jennings and her parents co-founded the TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation in 2007 to assist transgender youth and help children during the difficult time of transition. According to the Foundation’s site, their mission includes:
TKPRF is committed to enhancing the future lives of TransKids by educating schools, peers, places of worship, the medical community, government bodies, and society in general, in an effort to seek fair and equal treatment and of all transyouth.
In 2013, Jennings founded her own off-shoot of the Foundation, the Purple Rainbow Tails, a company that produces fashion rubber mermaid tails to raise money for transgender children.
3. Jennings Hosted a Series of YouTube Videos About Her Life
After her first series of TV interviews, Jennings took her life to YouTube, debuting her own videos to discuss everything from her transition to her crushes, and even her favorite movies.
Of course, Jennings has faced plenty of criticism on social media but the teenager has found a way to respond to, what she refers to as, the haters. She told Cosmopolitan:
A lot of people say, “Jazz, you should delete the haters’ comments because they are venomous to your page.” And I say, “The haters are what motivate us and help us learn about their misconceptions.” When I see someone that is just completely intolerable or is cursing me off … there’s nothing I can do, so I either ignore it or deal with it. But I never delete it.
4. She Co-Wrote a Children’s Book, ‘I Am Jazz,’ Last Year
Jennings published her story last year when she co-authored the children’s book I Am Jazz with Jessica Herthel, the director of the Stonewall National Education Project. The book details what it’s like to live life as a transgender child.
Since the publication of her book, Jennings has continued to grow her public persona in an effort to bring focus transgender youth and the struggles they face. She is now the spokesmodel for Clean & Clear’s “See the Real Me” digital campaign and is also featured in Out‘s ‘Out 100’ and Advocate‘s ‘40 Under 40‘ list.
5. Jennings Fought to Allow Transgender Children to Play Soccer in the United States
For nearly two and a half years, Jennings was banned from playing girls soccer in her state. Throughout the time she fought with the United States Soccer Federation to lift the ban and, as a result, is leading the charge to allow transgender athletes to play soccer with their self-designated gender.
Her battle was documented in a recent edition of Sports Illustrated and Jennings not only joined her school’s soccer team but also the tennis and track teams. Since taking on the USSF, Jennings has also battled the Minnesota State High School League to help other transgender youth have the chance to compete for their school. The organization approved its transgender policy late last year and she told the Minnesota Post:
First of all, I am a girl, and need to be treated just like all other female athletes. I love to play sports. I’ve been an active athlete for as long as I can remember. Like other transgender kids, I face enough discrimination and just want peace and the right to participate in sports on the team that matches my affirmed gender identity, and it is harmful to our health and well-being to keep us from doing so.