I Am Jazz Explores What it Means to Be a Teenage Girl — & Trans

Photo: Courtesy of TLC.
The tone of I Am Jazz, TLC’s new reality show about transgender teen Jazz Jennings and her family, which premiered on July 15, is set in the first few minutes when fourteen-year-old Jazz is asked to describe herself. “I am a teenage girl,” she says. “I’m also a soccer player. I’m also an artist. I’d like to think I’m funny. I love hanging out with my friends. I’m also transgender and I’m proud of that.”

At its core, the show is a portrait of a truly charming family that would populate an incredibly upbeat sitcom. The parents are childhood sweethearts who joke about their shared youth, her older sister is completely game to take her little sis bathing suit shopping, and her older twin brothers are protective and teasing; they assure her guys will like her for who she is on a trip to the beach, and cover her sleepover guests in silly string that night.

Advertisement
It's also a show about the unique challenges a transgender teen faces. When Jazz — who is about to enter high school — nervously goes through the bikinis her older sister wants her to try on and insists she needs material over her “pudgy” stomach, it’s a scene any girl or woman can relate to. However, while the anxiety over how her exposed body will be received on the beach is universal, her fear over what overexposure could lead to-someone accusing her of not “really” being a girl, is unique.

Likewise, a conversation between Jazz’s mother and her parents (when Jazz’s grandparents curiously ask if she’s “developing” as she’d like) could be an awkward kitchen table chat with any family reminiscent of the familial feel-up scene in Sixteen Candles. Yet, Jazz’s mother Jeanette's concern over her daughter’s blood work, which will reveal if the hormones she's taking were properly balanced for female puberty, not male, is far from the average parenting experience.

That scene also features the show's most powerful moment, when Jeanette corrects her father for saying “transgenders” rather than transgender people, leading her mother to ask whether “trannies” is an acceptable term. Jeanette's small gasp and serious tone as she explains how inappropriate the term is makes it clear it’s offensive, but she doesn’t get angry. As her father said about learning he had a transgender granddaughter, “I educated myself.” It has obviously been a learning experience for the whole family, but what’s important is how supportive they’ve been of Jazz and their efforts to learn about transgender issues to support her.

With such a happy, loving family portrait drawn, it was a jarring but important moment when the camera captures a teenage boy calling Jazz a “tranny freak” while out to lunch with her mother. Jazz handles the incident with a poise that’s heartbreaking, but it’s obvious that nasty comments have become commonplace to her now. Her mother is obviously upset. She explains her reaction to Jazz as her instinct as a mother is to protect her children from harm, but to the camera, she explains her fear comes from knowledge as well — that transgender men and women are at a much higher risk for violence.

I Am Jazz enters a TV landscape which is featuring more trans voices, from Laverne Cox's character on Orange is the New Black to Caitlyn Jenner's similarly titled show I Am Cait, but it's also joining a wave of transgender teens on the small screen, living normal teenage lives. A transgender character on the ABC Family show The Fosters was introduced to depict the serious challenges transgender youths face, struggling to find accepting housing after his parents kicked him out and being hospitalized for getting hormones off the street. Although recently he's been able to just be another teen character on the show, hanging out with his friends and others who accept him.
I Am Jazz does a good job of gently educating its audience, but more importantly, it shows Jazz as another teen girl in a circle of friends, worrying about their bodies and giggling over makeovers. Jazz has a lot of decisions ahead of her that most of her peers don't ever have to think about: Surgeries and medications, and the threat of violence her parents worry about at night. Although Jazz is proud to be transgender, it is just one piece that makes up who she is.
Advertisement

More from TV

Here's what we know about the next season of The Bachelor so far: First, two-time Bachelorette runner-up Nick Viall is starring. Second, one of the women...
Update: That was quick. NBC released a statement regarding Mail Order Family — namely, it's not moving forward with the show. Per Vulture, it reads, "We ...
Hair chopping part 2 #strangerthings #chopchop the full video is in my bio! #nohairdontcare A video posted by Millie Bobby Brown (@milliebobby_brown...
The 2016 Emmy Awards were off to a great start when a surprising announcement came over the loudspeaker. A voiceover announced the next presenter: none ...
Bachelor nation, are you tired of seeing the same ol' casting cycle, with runners-up moving from The Bachelor over to The Bachelorette, Bachelor in ...
Everything about Luke Cage communicates strength. The burly Harlem resident seems patient and unfeeling. Bullets can’t wound Luke Cage, and knives can’t ...
Try as we may to separate the man from his work, it feels disingenuous to write about a Woody Allen project without so much as mentioning the personal ...
Kimmy Schmidt lives in her own world. It's a cross between middle school, the year 1999, and present-day New York. Mix in the fact that she was held ...
Julianne Hough has responded to Amber Rose's accusations that the dancer body-shamed Rose on Dancing With the Stars. Hough told Entertainment Tonight that ...
Every once in a while, a show comes along that we're super psyched about — and not just like, "This is a cool series you should consider watching," but ...
Every Wednesday, the Johnson family enters millions of living rooms across America. Dad Andre brings the laughs with his stubborn-but-silly antics, which...
Grey's Anatomy is back, and it's kicking off this week's episode with a Hamilton reference. Well, kind of. Technically, when Webber offers to be Bailey's...
We know what you're thinking: Gee, I really could use more Kardashian-Jenner-West coverage on TV. Just kidding. The only people who think that are E! ...
Amazing news, TV lovers of the world: Since we first published this story in 2013, there have been leaps and bounds in the number of streaming platforms ...