When it comes to sex and sexuality the lives of transgender men, women and children are still a mystery to many. Their experiences don’t receive much cultural attention or space — except to express derision — which is why you may not know that 20 transgender women were murdered this year. The latest victim was shot in the back while being savagely beaten by six men.
Enter Jodie Patterson, a beauty mogul who founded Doobop.com and Georgia By G & Company. She is a mother of five, including a 7‑year-old transgender boy named Penelope, or ‘Penel’. In a video for Cosmopolitan, Patterson speaks about her decision to believe her daughter when she said, “Mama I don’t feel like a boy. I am a boy.”
“Penel is my third child and we assumed girl. Perfectly, anatomically, perfect girl. Everything looked in order. Really early on there were signs that Penel was very different. Something was weighing on Penelope really really heavy. Every time we would try to put clothing on him or dress him or bathe him there was an intense reaction to his body from himself. Once Penelope started to speak it was like, “I’m not a baby.” That was one of the first sentences. “I’m not baby.” and “No.” No to clothing, no to shoes, no to hair brushing. And so one day I remember pulling Penelope aside and just being like, “What’s really wrong baby, like why are you so upset?” and Penelope said, “Because everyone thinks I’m a girl.” And so I said, “Oh baby it’s fine. However you feel on the inside is great.” and he said, “No I don’t feel like a boy mama, I am a boy.” And so that sentence was really hard because I was ill-equipped. Like what do I do with that. I don’t know how to handle that.”
Patterson says she questioned whether her parenting was responsible.
“I felt like I had kind of maybe dropped the ball in some area. All of my sisters and my mom raised me to really be proud of being a woman. And my child was like, “I don’t want to be a woman. I’m not a woman. I don’t want to be a woman. I love you mom but I don’t want to look like you. I want to look like dad.” So I just felt like, “What had I done? Had I forgotten to do something that’s really essential to self pride?”
Contrary to what many believe, Patterson said that childhood is not too early to have a conversation on gender identity.
“Identity is something that happens that early. I think when people say, “Well how does Penelope know that he’s a boy at age 2?” and I would say, “Well when did you realize you were a woman?” It was crystal clear what he was saying, “I don’t want to be mama. I want to be papa. I want a doctor to make me a peanut. I don’t want boobs.” I do remember at that moment in my head not considering Penelope “she” anymore.”
In an article for Essence’s print edition, Patterson spoke on her fears for Penel as puberty and adulthood approach;
“Sometimes I cry and it’s usually when I think of the near future. Who will be his first kiss? Who will love my baby? Who will understand Penel’s beautiful complexities as I do? What do I say if Penel asks for hormones? And then I think of the devastating notion that someone, one day will ridicule my Penel and show us for the first time how ugly the world can be.
We’ve had awkward situations where people have wanted to “out” Penel in public just to let others know that he “isn’t really a boy”. That hurt – more so to see the devastated look on Penel’s face than the confused look on all the faces of the adults. And in those painful moments I remember that it’s important to raise Penel with a progressive mindset. In 20 years when he’ll be a young man, ideas around gender and identity will be that much more advanced. In 20 years, when Penel is on his own and living out in the world, I don’t want him to be burdened by our current misconceptions and prejudices. I want him to be free and happy. So I think forward and I think big.”
And as for why she shares Penel’s story, Patterson said she wants to change societal perceptions of transgender people;
“As MamaBear, I’ve created an environment for our family that’s insulated. As protective as I am of Penel, I share his story with the world, so that we can change the prejudices against the LGTB community. My belief is that once you intimately know someone who’s transgender, everything changes. That’s exactly what happened for our family. I support Penelope’s complexities, regardless of the comments we hear: “She’s so pretty, just put a dress on her.” “Don’t encourage her to take it too far.” “She’s a tomboy and can grow out of it.” “Cutting her hair is extreme. Why do that to her?””
Watch the video here: