Sunday, March 15, 2015

Jazz Jennings: initiating cultural acceptance for the transgender community

by Melissa Scott

Already highlighted as one of Time Magazine’s twenty-five most influential teens of 2014, Jazz Jennings continues to make waves in her campaign to promote equality and understanding for transgender youth. Jennings, an energetic, outgoing, and self-assured fourteen year old, was born a male, but displayed a strong association as female by age two. At five, Jennings was diagnosed with gender dysphoria—a persistent unease with the characteristics of one’s gender, accompanied by a strong identification with the opposite gender. Jennings’ parents supported her gender discomfort, and decided to allow her transition from male to female while she was in kindergarten.

Although Jennings admitted she suffered teasing and harassment on occasion, she remained adamant with her gender identification, and confident in herself. Jennings expressed a desire to help other struggling transgender children like her, having understood the difficulties faced during the transition. She co-authored a book, I am Jazz, detailing her own memoirs from the early days of her diagnosis, gender transition, and feelings of misunderstanding at school. While aimed at reaching out to trans-children and their parents, Jennings’ book extends not only to the LGBTQ community, but any other kids struggling to “fit in.”

As a devoted transgender activist, Jennings also contributed to a segment with Yahoo Global News Anchor, Katie Couric, further spreading her story and support for other children feeling lonely or confused. Recently, she announced the development of her new TLC reality television show, All That Jazz. And just when it seems Jennings plowed every course of action in her movement, she takes another headlining leap.

For the first time in the company’s history, Johnson and Johnson’s Clean & Clear revealed Jennings as the new face of their ad campaign. Jennings stars in Clean  &Clear’s new commercial, which both advertises the skincare brand and promotes a social media driven campaign, “See the Real Me.” The campaign strives to support natural and inner beauty, and encourages others to use the #SeetheRealMe to send in their personal stories. Clean & Clear’s decision to use Jennings as the leading face of their brand campaign compares to CoverGirl’s breakthrough placement of Ellen DeGeneres as ambassador for their products. Both mark a significant shift in marketing attitudes towards the LGBTQ community.

“I’ve always known who I am,” Jennings asserts in the Clean & Clear video. “I was a girl trapped in a boy’s body. Growing up has been quite a struggle being transgender especially in middle school…sometimes, I’ve even been called an ‘it.’” The video shows Jennings, a beautiful young teenager, surrounded by friends, and happy with who she is. Jennings admits her previous tendency to keep to herself during her transition, afraid that she wouldn’t fit in with her peers. In Clean & Clear’s commercial, however, Jennings gladly refers to her newly established friend circle, and insists she feels comfortable and accepted.

Speaking of her role in the company’s national campaign, Jennings contends, “It’s really amazing, as it helps many teen girls who are struggling.” Interviewing with the Huffington Post she says, “It helps them to find themselves and be true to who they are. I hope they can learn to be brave and not care what other people think about them, because if they just stay positive and spread love, then others will be true friends who will accept them no matter what.”

With a staggering forty one percent of trans people attempting suicide each year in the U.S., compared to roughly four percent of the general population (according to National Transgender Discrimination Survey), the visibility and communal acceptance of transgender individuals is in drastic need of a change. Positive reception of gay rights and acceptance in the community has integrated gradually, but transgender perception remains unsteady.

Photo Clean & Clear
Jennings’ young age, innocent demeanor, and charming attractiveness certainly help steer empathy for her cause. She doesn't resonate visual stereotypes of an outcast, a transgender prostitute, or a pitiable victim of violent transphobia. She is a sweet girl, fighting for equality and change. While the bullying and rejection she faced throughout her childhood echo the horrible misunderstandings of transgender people, she at least underwent the transition early. Other transgender people re-identify much later, resulting in tormenting confusion within themselves and others regarding the past years and even decades of their life as another sex.

But Jennings’ public activism is nevertheless powerfully changing transgender stereotypes. Her example and cause represent both those struggling with gender dysphoria at her age, and those who experience it much later. Jennings’ courage launched Clean &Clear’s choice to market her leadership, thus spreading media awareness on a national scale. She may appeal as an ideal transgender advocate, but there is no doubt her work is effective. She single-handedly facilitates remarkable progress in a social attitude shift.

Unafraid to share her story publicly, and showing that her transition was worthwhile and constructive, Jennings carves a positive path for others who may feel secluded or improper—all before even reaching the age of a legal adult. Resilient, she declares, “[Transgender individuals] have to express themselves the way they are on the inside—that’s finding their inner beauty—and then bring that outward so that everyone can see.”


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