Jodie Patterson is showing the world what true love looks like.
In a video produced by Cosmopolitan magazine, Patterson shares how she and her family have come together to support her transgender son Penel, who was born anatomically female.
The video has been viewed more than 7 million times, and we can see why. Patterson’s grace, warmth, and open heart are all on display as she shares the emotional story of learning that Penel was trans. But what we love most about the video is how it captures Penel just being a kid: karate chopping, running around his home with his brothers, and getting a chance to just be. That chance to just be himself and feel at ease in his body may be one of the best gifts his mother could have ever given him.
Watch the video above, and read an excerpt from our Q&A with Patterson below.
Your son Penel coming out as transgender was probably very challenging… What was that like for you as a mom not having that blueprint and learning how to support him?
Penelope very clearly said, “Mommy, everybody thinks I’m a girl and I’m not.” At the time I said, “Well, however you feel is fine,” but then Penelope replied, “I don’t feel like a boy. I am a boy.”
Those words were really powerful and, in the beginning, really scary. Your mind goes to the worst-case scenario, and there are so many-worst case scenarios when it comes to being transgender. Suicide rates are very high for transgender children, gender bullying takes place, and there are laws that don’t make life very easy for transgender kids. You think, Who’s going to love my kid the way I do? Who’s going to understand him the way I do? Who’s going to try to out him and hurt him? Those are the first things we thought about, but when you get past that and just try to be active—and you get some definitions and are around other people who are experiencing it—you understand that it’s just another aspect of life. Ultimately, being transgender is just one thing that describes a person. Brown hair. Five-foot-seven. Transgender. Gay. These are just descriptors.
What advice would you give to other parents who are learning things about their children that feel difficult to deal with?
Be quiet. Listen. Be in the moment. Everything good comes from the inside of each of us. All you have to do is look out for the signs; kids give them to us all the time. Encourage them to be authentic.
Also, decisions are not irreversible. If a child says, “I am identifying as a boy,” many parents are scared to make that a reality because what if the person changes their mind? Then, okay, they changed their mind! You flow with the child wherever they are. The best thing about our identities is that they are fluid and we can change them if they change. How I see myself today might be totally different [from] how I see myself when I’m 50, and that’s my choice. I would tell parents not to be nervous about being engaged with their child at where they are [any] given moment because each moment is unique and there’s room for change and interpretation.
[And] read a lot. There are books on pretty much everything and parents can learn more about the things they don’t know anything about. Go outside of your communities and find smaller communities that tell you something about your kid’s [situation], whether it’s mental illness or musical genius or gender variance or scientific excellence or feminism. Find science groups, theater groups, gender groups, mental illness groups, feminist groups—whatever those unique things that you see in your children [are]. Take them on with pride so that you own it and it’s not so overwhelming. Nurture the things you get nervous about the same way you’d nurture something you’re typically proud of. It should be embraced with the same kind of love and care.