Jazz Jennings knows the spotlight better than most. Having come out as transgender at age 5, she quickly became an equality champion as a teenager when she began speaking forcefully about the rights and needs of transgender kids just like her.
Shows like 20/20 came calling, and she became the subject of her own TLC docu-series, I Am Jazz. A subsequent reality show followed, and Jazz soon became a spokesmodel for Clean & Clear dermatology products.
Now 18, and starting at Harvard University in the fall, Jazz took time to chat with LGBTQNation about her latest initiative: a partnership with Macy’s and The Trevor Project to help end LGBTQ teen suicide. Through June 30, 2019, Macy’s will donate $4 of the purchase price of these t-shirts and $2 of the purchase price of these socks to The Trevor Project. And if you round up your in-store purchases through June 17, the extra change will go to Trevor to expand its life-saving crisis intervention and suicide prevention programs to serve more LGBTQ young people.
How does it feel now when you look back on your coming out?
My coming out was very different than it is for most other transgender people. In fact, my entire trans experience is very unique in that I expressed I was a girl from as soon as I could verbalize the words. It’s crazy looking back and knowing that I had the awareness and conviction to express my truth as early as age 2 and 3.
What was your first exposure to The Trevor Project, and why were you drawn to its mission?
When I was 11 years old, I received a youth courage award from the Collin Higgins Foundation and spoke at a Trevor Project gala. That was the first time I was exposed to Trevor, and I was just so proud and in awe to see an organization that was so active in working to provide a resource for LGBTQIA+ people who feel like they have nowhere to turn.
Even though we have achieved a measure of equality in America, there is more need for The Trevor Project than ever. What do you think explains this seeming contradiction?
At the same time that LGBTQIA+ are stepping out of the shadows more than ever, there is a proportional increase in the backlash directed toward our community. In the current political climate, people feel more empowered than ever to express their views, even if their opinions rest on trying to dictate the lifestyle and identities of those they don’t understand and aren’t directly affected by. It saddens me to know that The Trevor Project is more needed than ever, but I’m grateful that we have an organization doing what they do and I have hope that progress will be made.
That’s also why Macy’s support is so important, because their round-up campaign will raise awareness of LGBTQ youth suicide prevention nationwide, and their contribution will help Trevor support even more young people in crisis.
How has being open at such a young age prepared you for adulthood? What about your story resonates with young people today?
Identifying as queer my whole life has created a fearlessness about me. When you are trans, you have to form a thick skin and become completely unbothered as to how others perceive you. I think my story resonates with young people because I’ve always been unabashed in living my truth. While I’m far from perfect, I do know a lot of Gen Z-ers can relate to my (mostly) positive attitude and fierce confidence. No matter how hard or bad something seems, I always know it’ll get better and that I can persevere. Even when I experienced my surgical complication [last year during sex reassignment surgery], I knew I would come out the other side stronger and make it through that experience.
You’re a showbiz pro at this point. What was it like filming The Trevor Project/Macy’s PSA?
Filming the PSA with Trevor and Macy’s was awesome! I loved meeting everyone at Trevor, and it’s always fun to get hair and makeup done and do my thing in front of the camera. I also was able to visit Harvard University the day following the shoot, which helped me make my ultimate decision to attend there. If you’re reading this, you should definitely check it out – the message Macy’s sends is so heartwarming!
What’s your advice to young trans kids?
Just be who you are and don’t let anyone tell you what to do. Be kind, be loving—to both yourself and others—and always stay aligned with your inner truth. Kids are naturally able to express themselves authentically, and it’s only once we impose our ideas and rules upon them that they start conforming to socialized behaviors. To the transgender kids out there, I encourage you to just always speak your truth and not let anyone—even parents at times—get in the way of them being who you are.
Who are your queer heroes? What does Stonewall at 50 mean to you?
People like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy are true queer heroes who have paved the way for me to exist in the privileged way that I do now. In this day and age, Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, Munroe Bergdorf, and Indya Moore are four strong black queer people who are expanding culture’s understanding of transness and the social justice issues that matter. To me, Stonewall 50 is about honoring the blood, sweat, and tears it took for our community to get where we are. I feel so blessed to live in a time where I can be supported and loved unconditionally by my family and friends and have opportunities to attend schools like Harvard. Unfortunately, that privilege is hardly the reality for most trans people, but I and many others are committed to creating an equal existence for all people.
Where do you think this community will be during World Pride?
I think LGBTQIA+ will be invigorated with the passion and demand for justice that was present at Stonewall 50 years ago. We are seeing the government blatantly discriminate against our community with policies like the transgender military ban, and we are more fired up than ever to unite in love and demand an equal space in this world.
Give us your take on both the distinctions within the LGBTQ moniker and the overall similarities.
The letters are distinct in that each one represents a different way of labeling one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Beyond those specifications, the queer umbrella refers to people who are living a truth that doesn’t comply with heteronormative and binary behaviors. In our society, we have been conditioned to think a certain way about what sexual relations and gender should mean. The queer community is coming in and saying, “No, I refuse to limit my gender and sexual expression to the confines of a socially constructed system and I choose to identify in the way that I want. You can’t stop me because this who I am.”
When you have moments of fear in this difficult cultural moment of backlash—and it happens to all of us—what do you do?
I have numerous moments of fear. A lot of people think I’m almost “perfect” based on how I present myself, but I 1000-percent have my vulnerable moments. During those times, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and confused while being swarmed with negative thoughts, but I have a few techniques that help. I just try to breathe and do a quick meditation. During that meditation, I broaden my thoughts and choose to focus lovingly on the big picture by adopting a more universal perspective. Once I do this, I can slowly build more and more momentum back to positive thinking. It only takes a few minutes, but it’s important to be a deliberate thinker and reset your thoughts when needed.
Through June 30, 2019, Macy’s will donate $4 of the purchase price of these t-shirts and $2 of the purchase price of these socks to The Trevor Project. And if you round up your in-store purchases through June 17, the extra change will go to Trevor to expand its life-saving crisis intervention and suicide prevention programs to serve more LGBTQ young people.