“If you want to call me names, make jokes, doubt my intentions, go ahead,” Caitlyn Jenner said during her ESPY Awards speech on Wednesday night. “The reality is, I can take it. But for the thousands of kids out there coming to terms with being true to who they are, they shouldn’t have to take it.”
The quote was just one of many powerful moments as Jenner, the Olympic gold medalist formerly known as Bruce, accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award three months after coming out as a transgender woman. But the remark also came at an incredibly significant time on television.
That’s because by complete coincidence, at the same moment that Jenner was giving her speech, TLC was debuting “I am Jazz,” about a transgender kid coming to to terms with who she is. The series follows 14-year-old Jazz Jennings and her family as Jazz prepares to enter high school. Jazz has been an outspoken advocate for transgender rights since she transitioned as a young child — soon after she learned to talk, she was telling her parents she had a girl brain in a boy body.
It was fascinating to flip back and forth between channels, as the things Jenner discussed about future generations was actually playing out on the TLC show.
“All across this country, all across the world, right now, at this very moment, there are young people coming to terms with being transgender,” Jenner said. “They’re learning that they’re different and they’re trying to figure out how to handle that on top of every other problem that a teenager has.”
In the premiere, Jazz spoke very frankly about frequently being bullied and called names. At the same time, however, much of the episode centered not only on Jazz brushing off the cruelty and displaying a remarkable amount of courage, but just being an everyday teen. She joked around with her friends and stressed about school and went shopping and got pranked by her siblings.
“I am a teenage girl. 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,” Jazz said. “I’m also transgender, and I’m proud of that. But, you know, in the end, all these things come together and really just make me Jazz.”
Still, Jazz and her family spoke of the many challenges about being a transgender teenager, both physically and emotionally. Jazz told her friends that she’s upset because boys at school avoid her since she came out as transgender. Meanwhile, her parents worried about her estrogen levels since she’s about to enter puberty, which could lead to medical issues and possibly surgery.
“Jazz is a guinea pig … let’s just say she’s one of newer kids of this generation that has done this,” Jazz’s mother Jeanette says nervously, later admitting that Jazz occasionally has to reassure her that everything is going to be okay.
In her ESPYs speech, Jenner acknowledged the many difficulties ahead and urged education about transgender issues, particularly for younger people. She said she’s still haunted by the suicide of Sam Taub, the 15-year-old transgender young man who died a few days before Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer. “Every time something like this happens, people wonder: Could it have been different if spotlighting this issue with more attention could have changed the way things happen?”
Later, Jenner summed up her hope: “For people out there wondering what this is all about, whether it’s about courage or controversy or publicity, well, I’ll tell you what it’s about: It’s about what happens from here,” she said. “It’s not just about one person. It’s about thousands of people. It’s not just about me. It’s about all of us accepting one another.”
And nearly simultaneously, Jazz is working to make that happen by living out her story on television. At the end of the day, she said, “I’d like to be respected for who I am.”