Fol­low­ing own path

‘I Am Jazz’ an up­lift­ing TLC do­cuseries, puts spotlight on a trans­gen­der girl and the fam­ily that loves her

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - ENTERTAINMENT - BY FRA­ZIER MOORE

Like many 14-year-old girls, Jazz Jen­nings goes to school, plays soc­cer, hangs out with friends, has a thing for mer­maids and loves so­cial media, kind of wishes her tummy were a lit­tle bit flat­ter and lives life feel­ing good about her­self.

She’s also trans­gen­der. She was as­signed male at birth yet was sure as young as two years old that she was a girl. She tran­si­tioned into Jazz at 5.

Since be­ing in­ter­viewed on ABC’s “20/20” by Bar­bara Wal­ters at age 6, Jazz Jen­nings has emerged as a lead­ing ad­vo­cate, role model and ex­plainer for the trans­gen­der com­mu­nity. She wrote a chil­dren’s book about her life. She makes heart-to­heart YouTube videos that get hun­dreds of thou­sands of views.

Now she’s open­ing the door to her ev­ery­day rou­tine on “I Am Jazz,” an 11-episode un­scripted se­ries pre­mier­ing on TLC on Wed­nes­day at 10 p.m. EDT. (An il­lu­mi­nat­ing com­pan­ion piece: the re­cent doc­u­men­tary “Grow­ing Up Trans,” avail­able on the “Front­line” web­site.)

“I think it’s go­ing to be a great thing,” says Jazz, a re­mark­ably poised young woman with big brown eyes and a daz­zling smile, dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view. “We’re just the av­er­age fam­ily, be­ing our­selves. We love one another. But it also shows how we han­dle the fact that I’m trans­gen­der — how we em­brace it and move for­ward.”

Fam­ily in­cludes Jeanette and Greg, her par­ents, sis­ter Ari, 19, and her 17-year-old twin broth­ers Grif­fen and San­der, with whom Jazz shares a com­fort­able home in South Florida (the fam­ily doesn’t say just where, or dis­close its real sur­name, for se­cu­rity pur­poses).

The se­ries doesn’t soft-ped­dle the chal­lenges the fam­ily has faced.

Jazz started hor­mone block­ers about three years ago to ward off male pu­berty, and two years ago be­gan es­tro­gen treat­ments. It’s a del­i­cate drug reg­i­men that, in the first episode, Jeanette ac­knowl­edges is “ex­per­i­men­tal stuff. I am mess­ing with my kid’s body.”

In another telling scene, Jazz and her mother are chat­ting at an out­door cafe when a teenage boy brushes past and blurts out, “Tran­nie freak.” Jeanette is suit­ably en­raged, but Jazz shrugs. She’s heard it be­fore.

“I face most of my dis­crim­i­na­tion from the boys,” she tells her gal pals dur­ing a bed­room con­fes­sional, “be­cause they think they’re gay for lik­ing another ‘boy.”‘

And when Ari takes Jazz to buy a swim­suit, she con­fides she doesn’t re­ally like shop­ping: “I have to look at it a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ently be­cause of ‘my area.’ Also, when I’m swimming I have to make sure I’m wear­ing skirts or shorts over the bikini bot­toms so that no one will see any­thing.”

With ad­mirable grace, Jazz has set­tled, early on, what likely is the au­di­ence’s most press­ing ques­tion, how­ever mis­guided it may be.

“Ev­ery­body thinks it’s what’s be­tween your legs that mat­ters,” she says dur­ing the in­ter­view. “But what re­ally mat­ters is what’s be­tween my ears. It’s my brain that makes me a girl, makes me feel like a girl, makes me know that I’m a girl.”

Yes, surgery is an op­tion down the road.

“But it’s not about the med­i­cal stuff,” Jazz says. “It’s about know­ing who you are and em­brac­ing that.”

That is what “I Am Jazz” is re­ally about: Some­one who, from in­fancy, has known who she is, born to a fam­ily that gave her full sup­port in its ex­pres­sion. Ev­ery­one should be so lucky.

“I am proud of the fact that I’m trans­gen­der,” Jazz de­clares, “be­cause it shaped the per­son that I am to­day.”

“She’s faced a lot of dis­crim­i­na­tion in her short life,” says Jeanette, who has joined Jazz for the in­ter­view.

“But she han­dles her­self with dig­nity and pride.”

AP PHOTO

In this July 8, 2015 photo, trans­gen­der teen Jazz Jen­nings, 14, left, poses with her mother Jeanette in New York. Since be­ing in­ter­viewed on ABC’s “20/20” by Bar­bara Wal­ters at age six, Jazz Jen­nings has emerged as a lead­ing ad­vo­cate, role model and ex­plainer for the trans­gen­der com­mu­nity. Her new se­ries, “I Am Jazz,” an 11-episode un­scripted se­ries pre­mieres on TLC on Wed­nes­day

AP PHOTO

In this im­age re­leased by TLC, trans­gen­der teen Jazz Jen­nings, right, and her friend, Rachel, ap­pear at the li­brary in a scene from “I Am Jazz,” an 11-week un­scripted se­ries pre­mier­ing on TLC.

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