When Jodie Patterson, 45, had a baby daughter in 2007, she was overjoyed. She already had two kids: a daughter who was 8, and a 1-year-old son. Another girl was exciting, and Patterson has always been proud of her womanhood. She couldn’t wait to pass it on to little Penelope.
But as soon as Penelope could speak, it was clear there was something different. Penelope screamed and threw fits whenever it was bath time or time to put clothes on. Penelope was always upset.
“I said, ‘What’s wrong baby, why are you always so upset?'” Patterson says in a new Cosmopolitan.com documentary. “And Penelope said, ‘Because everyone thinks I’m a girl … I don’t feel like a boy, mama. I am a boy.'”
Patterson says she felt like she must’ve done something wrong. Why hadn’t she managed to instill the same pride of being female she had in her daughter? Why did her daughter want to grow up to look like daddy and not mommy?
But she quickly realized that she couldn’t deny Penel. “As soon as we said, ‘OK, you’re a boy,’ he just kind of lit up,” she says. Now, she says, his older brother Cassius, 9, and younger brother Othello, 6, often help explain to other kids that even though their brother is called Penelope, he’s still their brother, and a boy. (Patterson also has an older son she adopted when he was a teenager, who is now 23. Neither he nor her older daughter are featured in the film.)
Patterson decided to share her family’s story with Cosmopolitan.com because she realized that gender politics is no longer a private conversation. “People are dying over it,” she says. “Until that changes, it’s important to speak out. All the evils — racism, genderism, all the isms — rely on silence. So in order to push social change, we need to speak up.”
Watch the video to see how Patterson plans to help Penel through puberty, her hopes for his future, and the most moving lessons she’s learned from her transgender son.