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How a transgender teen became a nationally known activist

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“I’ve always known exactly who I am. I was a girl trapped in a boy’s body.”

Those words come from 14-year-old Jazz Jennings, a transgender teen who has announced that she will open up about her day-to-day troubles and triumphs in dating, sleepovers and high school this summer in a new reality show on the cable TV network TLC called “All That Jazz.”

For the record, Jennings is not her real last name, according to TLC. While she has been called “the public face of transgender children,” her true name is not public, concealed because her parents fear for her safety.

In recent years, Jazz has become a prominent young activist in the transgender community. In 2012, she became the youngest person to hit the Advocate’s “Top Forty Under 40,” CNN reported. In 2013, she was honored at the GLADD Awards. She was recognized last year as a Human Rights Campaign youth ambassador, and she was named in Time’s “Top 25 Most Influential Teens” and the Huffington Post’s “14 Most Fearless Teens of 2014,” among other honors.

“With Time magazine, she was screeching, ‘Oh my goodness! I’m on the list with Malala!’ She felt the company she was with, she was not worthy,” her mother told the Miami Herald last year. “But she is worthy. To be compared in the same list as these people, it’s extremely overwhelming for her and she feels so flattered.”

She has co-written a children’s book based on her experiences called “I Am Jazz,” making her a voice for “transkids everywhere,” as her publisher put it. She said she wanted to let other transgender children and their families know that it’s “okay to be different.”

And just last week she became a new face in Clean & Clear’s new digital advertising campaign intended to encourage people to share their personal stories using the hashtag #SeeTheRealMe in an effort to promote natural beauty.

“I feel really honored to be part of the #SeeTheRealMe campaign,” she told the Huffington Post last week. “It’s really amazing, as it helps many teen girls who are struggling. 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.”

Jazz started questioning her gender identity when she was 2 years old. Her pediatrician told her parents she likely had a gender-identity disorder, and she was sent to a therapist. Until kindergarten, Jazz lived as a boy, wearing pants in public to appear gender-neutral. At home, she was embraced as a girl. But hiding who she really was wasn’t working for Jazz, her parents told Barbara Walters back in 2007. So, on her fifth birthday, she pulled on a one-piece swimsuit and told her friends she was a girl.

“They referred to her as a boy,” her mother said on ABC’s “20/20.” “But kids are very accepting at that age. They believe what you tell them. She is a boy but she wants to be a girl, so we let her wear a [girl’s] bathing suit.” At the time, ABC News described her as “one of the youngest known cases of an early transition from male to female.”

Indeed, Jazz stepped onto a very public stage, but her family still wanted to protect her identity for fear of bullying. Her parents were referenced by ABC News as Scott and Renee Jennings. Now they go by Greg and Jeanette, TLC said.

Jazz’s father told ABC News that he feared for his child.

“Every day I’m afraid that I might get a call that something happened,” he said back in 2007. “We have older brothers, and an older sister, that are always looking out for her. Keeping their eyes on her.”

Since then, Jazz has grown out her hair and pierced her ears. She paints her nails. She wears dresses, high heels and makeup. When she turned 11, she went on testosterone blockers.

“It blocked all the testosterone or else I would have a hairy beard right now, which I don’t, so I’m thankful for that,” she said last year in a video on her YouTube channel. Her parents have said that a few years after she started the testosterone treatment — if she still wished to identify as a girl — she would start taking estrogen and go through puberty. If she ever decides to have sex reassignment surgery, her parents said they will support her decision.

More and more, Jazz has started speaking out and, because of that, she has a steady following of supporters. More than 34,000 people subscribe to her YouTube channel, where she sometimes posts Q&As about what it’s like to be a transgender teen. She has more than 21,000 followers on Instagram. One of her most recent photos was for the NOH8 Campaign, an advocacy organization that popped up in response to California’s Proposition 8.

As for Jazz, she said she has found confidence in her gender identity.

“I wouldn’t change anything about myself,” she said in a recent YouTube video. “Not because I’m being cocky or anything, but because this is who I am and I’m proud of who I am. This is me, and I’m transgender, and that’s okay. It makes me a stronger person, a more confident person, and it just makes me myself.”