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Op-ed: Jazz Jennings Is TV's Unsung Trans Heroine

Op-ed: Jazz Jennings Is TV's Unsung Trans Heroine


Caitlyn gets all the attention and publicity, but TLC reality star Jazz Jennings may be doing even more for visibility.

This summer, TV viewers had the opportunity to tune into two shows with very similar titles -- E!'s I Am Cait and TLC's I Am Jazz. While Caitlyn Jenner's docu-series has received much (well deserved) attention, less has been written about I Am Jazz, starring 14-year-old Jazz Jennings and her family. And yet Jazz's story is perhaps more indicative of what the future looks like for transgender people.

I-am-jazz-low-touch-bannerx633Jazz Jennings is a girl who also happens to be transgender. Jazz began her transition before the age of 5, and has been talking about her story in the media since being interviewed by Barbara Walters for a GLAAD Media Award-winning 20/20 special about trans children back in 2007.

I Am Jazz stars Jazz, along with her parents, grandparents, and three siblings as they go about their daily lives in suburban Florida. The show allows viewers to watch as Jazz worries about starting high school, playing on the girls; varsity soccer team, and planning her junior high graduation party. The show also recognizes that while Jazz's life is very similar to that of her nontrans girlfriends, she also has challenges that are specific to her experience as a transgender girl.

RELATED: I Am Jazz: 14, Transgender, and Star of My Own Docu-Series

She wonders why boys greet her girlfriends with a hug but reach out to shake her hand. She is concerned that people will think she's good at soccer because she's "really a boy," rather than seeing that she has worked hard and practiced long hours to be good at the sport she loves. She has to make decisions, with the help of her parents and her doctor, about the medical aspects of her transition, as she goes through a carefully managed female puberty alongside her peers. But because of her family's support, Jazz will not go through puberty as a male, an experience that torments so many trans women who are not able to transition in childhood.

While Jazz's family is one of the first families to be so public about listening to and accepting their transgender child, they are not the only family to do so. In addition to being the director of programs for transgender media at GLAAD, I am also on the advisory board for Transforming Family, a support group for families with transgender and gender-nonconforming children in Los Angeles. Formed in 2007 (the year Jazz chatted with Barbara Walters), the group has grown from a handful of families seeking support to well over 150 families. I have known many kids like Jazz who socially transitioned as soon as they could speak their true identities, who went on hormone blockers to prevent them from experiencing the wrong puberty, and who were safely placed on hormones at the appropriate age so that they could mature into teenagers and young adults along with their peers.

Caitlyn_jenner_eonline_01x633Because families like the Jenningses are sharing their story, because parents have access to information online, and because medical providers like Dr. Jo Olson-Kennedy at Children's Hospital Los Angeles understand how to treat transgender children, we will hear fewer and fewer stories in the future about people who are only able to start living as their authentic selves at age 65. I'm thrilled for Caitlyn Jenner that she has made a break for freedom and authenticity, and her story clearly illustrates that it is never too late to transition and live your truth. But I also hope that people will listen to Jazz and children like her, because 10 years from now, the world will be filled with young adults who transitioned in grade school, and they will challenge every preconceived notion and stereotype about what it means to be transgender.

The first season of I Am Jazz ended this week, but it is available on On Demand and via iTunes.

Nick-adamsx100NICK ADAMS is GLAAD's director of programs, focusing on transgender media.

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