Last night at the ESPYs, everyone wanted to meet Caitlyn Jenner as the former Olympian made the most of her biggest platform yet to deliver a landmark speech at the most testosterone-filled awards show of the year—perhaps no one more than 14-year-old transgender activist and YouTube star Jazz Jennings.
“It means so much to me to see Caitlyn Jenner coming out, just by being her authentic self, staying true to who she is, and just living her life,” Jennings told The Daily Beast as she hit the ESPYs in downtown Los Angeles with her older siblings in tow.
Hoping to cross paths with Jenner, Jennings praised the Keeping Up With The Kardashians and I Am Cait star for daring to go public with her transition. “She’s made such a difference just by sharing her story,” said Jennings. “People watching the story will see that she’s just being herself and loving who she is. We all should do the same thing. It’s definitely brought a visibility to the subject of being transgender and has moved the movement forward by years. She’s really creating a change in our society.”
It’s been three months since the world learned the name Caitlyn Jenner and turned her into an instant figurehead for the transgender movement. Jennings should know what Jenner’s going through: She’s been out longer than Caitlyn. Wednesday night also marked a big moment for Jennings: Her reality show I Am Jazz debuted to warm reviews, and on TLC no less—the former cable home of the controversial and transphobic Duggar family.
The Florida teen was born a biological boy but declared herself female at the age of 3 to her parents, becoming one of the youngest persons publicly diagnosed with gender dysphoria. By 5, she was living as a girl with the support of her family. At 6, she was profiled by Barbara Walters on 20/20, making television appearances as the transgender movement’s youngest spokesperson long before trans hit the mainstream. In 2011, Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network aired a documentary about Jennings’s life.
For the curious, Jennings’s plan is to undergo gender reassignment surgery when she turns 18. But her TLC series, which airs in 11 30-minute episodes, tracks her mundane everyday reality rather than the medical transition—life with her family, hanging with friends, getting crushes on boys, and the general teen angst of being a ninth-grade girl in the ’burbs.
Wednesday night at the ESPYs, Caitlyn Jenner shared her story of enduring decades of secret-keeping, self-torment, and enormous pressure from the outside world to live as others saw her with no outlets for expressing her true self. In many ways, Jennings’s story is the polar opposite: Encouraged and assisted by loving parents to live authentically from an early age, the vivacious, soccer-loving Jennings found YouTube, the great connector for a new generation of trans youth.
“It’s definitely been scary,” Jennings told me of the decision to share her story with the world. “But you know, the reason why we share our stories isn’t for us. It’s for other people. And it’s not about us, but more about our message. We just want to help people understand that it’s okay to be transgender and they’re just like everyone else.”
“I want to help transgender individuals who might be struggling realize that they have to love themselves and stay true to who they are because if they keep moving forward, and keep a positive attitude, then things will get better.”