'I Am Jazz': Transgender Teen on Grappling with High School, Puberty

Jazz Jennings has a new reality show about her life called "I Am Jazz."

July 14, 2015, 2:20 PM

— -- Like many teenage girls her age, Jazz Jennings spent time at the beach this summer and loves playing soccer with her friends, but she’s about to face a new challenge when she starts high school in the fall.

“I’m a little bit worried because I’m not sure if people are going to be fully accepting,” she said. “I’ve noticed that boys are less accepting than girls.”

Jazz is transgender, and at just 14 years old, she is staving off puberty and medically transitioning her body to female, the gender she identifies as, by taking estrogen and puberty blockers. All the while, like her peers, Jazz is trying to navigate typical teenage issues.

“It's hard for me to talk about boys with my friends sometimes,” Jazz said. “All they have to do is stuck their butt out and then a boy's like, ‘Text me.’ For me, it's not like that.”

Jazz's family, whose legal last name is not Jennings, has been sharing its story publicly for nearly a decade, beginning with Jazz’s landmark interview with ABC’s Barbara Walters in 2007, when she was just 6 years old.

In the years since, Jazz has bravely remained in the spotlight, speaking publicly on transgender issues, and she co-authored a book entitled “I Am Jazz.”

Now Jazz and her family have decided to let cameras into their lives once again, this time on a new TLC series called, “I Am Jazz.”

“I just want to be as open as I can,” Jazz said. “It will show other people that being transgender … is OK, it’s not something negative at all. It’s something that I embrace, that my family embraces, and we just live our life, we face the challenges, we conquer them and we move on.”

While some would consider taking hormones to stave off puberty as a controversial move, Jazz’s parents insist it’s essential to her wellbeing.

“I feel that it was the right decision to make,” said her mother Jeanette Jennings. “Even though you’re worried about, it, what would be the consequences if she didn’t … we didn’t want a child that was going through life just hating herself.”

Jazz was assigned “male” at birth, but her mother said from the moment she could express herself, “she acted like a girl.”

“She liked anything sparkly, sparkly and pink,” Jeanette Jennings said. “And she’s so feminine.”

“Early on, we thought it was phase,” Jazz’s father Greg Jennings added. “Even though she was gravitating towards these things, we didn’t really think that much of it initially.”

When Jazz was 3, she was diagnosed with what is now called gender dysphoria.

“I was dumbfounded,” Greg said. “I didn’t know that a child could have issues like this. I never heard of it before.”

Jazz’s parents decided to let her live as a girl. Her fifth birthday party was Jazz’s public “coming out.”

“I got to wear the sparkly bathing suit for my party, I was a girl,” she said. “I was just … it’s happiness.”

As Jazz grew older, her parents said Jazz would have nightmares about puberty and how her body would change.

“She always said, ‘You’re not going to let me have a beard and a mustache,’ and I’m like, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll do what we have to do when the time comes,’” Jeanette said.

When Jazz was 11, the Jennings decided it was time to medically intervene and she had an implant placed in her arm that blocks testosterone production. In addition, Jazz takes a daily estrogen pill that helps her develop as the female she identifies as.

According to the Center for Transyouth Health and Development at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles, the largest transgender youth clinic in the United States, letting transgender children go through the puberty of their assigned gender at birth can be a deeply traumatic experience and may even lead to higher rates of depression and suicide attempts among transgender teens.

"Young people who experience puberty of their assigned sex at birth that is discordant from their internal gender," said Dr. Johanna Olson, the medical director for the Center for Transyouth Health and Development. "We see ... really high rates of thinking about suicide, of attempting suicide, and alarming rates of depression. We’re talking about rates that are five to six times higher than the youth population in general, in the United States.”

For those children diagnosed with gender dysphoria, according to the center, remittance after age 12 is almost non-existent in its clinical experience. Jazz’s parents say they don’t worry about Jazz remitting.

“Jazz has been insistent, consistent and persistent,” Greg said. “Every now and then we’ll check in, but it’s always the same.”

Managing Jazz’s hormones is a delicate balance and she routinely checks in with her doctor, but Jazz says the medical aspect is just one part of her journey.

“Being transgender is more than just medical books and everything, procedures,” she said. “It's something spiritual in which you're finding yourself and really discovering who you are and learning to love yourself.”

And when it comes to boys, Jazz’s older siblings Ari, Griffen and Sander have strong feelings about the possibility of her dating.

“If she ever does end up dating, I really hope she tells the person she's transgender and they completely are like, ‘I totally accept that,’” said Jazz’s older sister Ari. “So at least she will go through a relationship and get hurt the right way and not the wrong way because someone is transphobic.”

Jazz’s family says they have no regrets about sharing her story, and her journey is still unfolding.

“In the end, everyone just deserves the right to be their authentic selves, just be who they are,” Jazz said. “And I hope we can come to that place one day.”

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