Shockwaves rippled through the Black community last spring when actress Gabrielle Union and her husband, retired basketball star Dwyane Wade, were spotted rallying around their daughter Zaya, as their parade float rode through Miami's annual pride event. At the time, the world knew Zaya as Zion. Over the next few months, we gained insight into Zaya's full story as she revealed her true essence to the public with the vocal support of her parents lighting her path. The Wades were framed as the standard for modern day Black familial acceptance by some, and condemned as blasphemers to those with hateful homophobic and transphobic ideologies.
Although celebrity tends to take up space in identity narratives, there are millions of families like the Wades all over this country. Social activist, entrepreneur and author Jodie Patterson is a proud member of this cohort. Her son, Penelope, told Patterson that he was a boy at 3 years old. Since that moment, the mom of five has worked relentlessly as an advocate for trans people and their families.
xoNecole spoke to Patterson about her family, the Black community, and why we have to adjust our language and understanding of gender to ensure the health and happiness of current and future generations of Black children.
xoNecole: There was uproar in our communities when Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade expressed support for their trans daughter, Zaya Wade. Why do you think Black people can be so resistant to parents accepting their kid for who they are?
Jodie Patterson: The time that I spent looking at it and thinking about it, it's not our people--it's just people. I think people have a harder time changing from one pattern to the next. I think people have a hard time going outside of their perspectives. But Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade and my family and millions of families are seeing our old habits no longer apply. The language we use around 'he' or 'she' and the associations we put to 'he' and 'she' no longer apply. And particularly, they don't apply to our children. Our children are asking us to see things differently, to say things differently, to live differently. And if we don't, if we aren't flexible like Gabrielle and Dwyane and others, we just we won't be with our children. We just won't be with our kids anymore.
What constructs of this adjustment did you personally battle with? Were there any beliefs you had to undo?
In my family, girls and boys have always done great things. Women have run businesses. Men have raised children. We are all very involved in our families and in our economic strength and in our community. But underlying underneath that there were certain biases that I held. You know? I was speaking to my girls in one way, and I was talking to my boys with a sterner voice. I was buying butterfly diapers for my daughter, and I was buying superhero diapers for my son. I had to not only change my language, but change the way I interacted with the world. I had to let all of my children experience all of life. And when I started doing that, I had to do the same thing because I realized I was holding myself back. I was trying to think of what a good woman should do--what a responsible wife was supposed to be saying and what a 50-year-old woman looked like. And in reality, I want to do everything in life. Not just the things carved out for 50-year-old women. So like this whole bias and all of the breaking down of barriers and constructs, it doesn't just apply to my trans kid it applied to all of my children and to myself and to the world.
Courtesy of Jodie Patterson
"I had to not only change my language, but change the way I interacted with the world. I had to let all of my children experience all of life. And when I started doing that, I had to do the same thing because I realized I was holding myself back. I was trying to think of what a good woman should do--what a responsible wife was supposed to be saying and what a 50-year-old woman looked like. And in reality, I want to do everything in life. Not just the things carved out for 50-year-old women."
How did you shield your child from feeling uneasy if you were uneasy or unsure about any of it?
It's difficult and tricky to figure out what to share with your children and what not to share, and then what to share with the world and what not to share. Like my life seems very open on social media, but not everything is expressed in the moment. Sometimes I take a step back to be quiet, to process, put it in perspective, to sort it out in my own brain and in my own heart, and then I start to share with my kids or with the world.
How did your husband react at the time? Were there any quarrels you all had to resolve as a couple to be on the same page for what raising Penelope looked like?
We were on the same page in love. The reason why I married him was because we all believed in family so deeply. But we weren't always on the same page. I wanted to go really fast. I wanted to be public. I wanted to share with everyone I knew. Dad was very respectful of the questions he still had, and what he wants, but much slower. It took us some time to find a middle ground. Our relationship didn't last as a couple, but the family structure around our children was never broken, ever. And it didn't break. You know, the fact that Penelope is transgender absolutely wasn't going to break us as a family.
Did you have your own “mourning” process? I’ve heard some folks describe accepting their child/partner’s trans identity felt like a loss to who they thought they were in some ways?
I know that that is a reality for many people. But I would say I did not experience any loss. In fact, we've never taken down pictures. Penelope never wanted to change his name. In fact, he said, "Why would I change my name? That's my grandmother's name, and I love her." I mourn some of the time that I hadn't understood. I mourn some of the time that I was confused; I mourn the time when I just wasn't getting it.
Courtesy of Jodie Patterson
"Penelope never wanted to change his name. In fact, he said, 'Why would I change my name? That's my grandmother's name, and I love her.' I mourn some of the time that I hadn't understood. I mourn some of the time that I was confused; I mourn the time when I just wasn't getting it."
You said there were behavioral differences in Penelope before he explained he was a boy. Is there any behavior you would advise parents to look out for in case their child can’t articulate how they are feeling yet?
We should ask ourselves, what is our child rejecting? Because Penelope would stomp on a dress and grab and reach for [his] brother's pants or brother's shirt. Penelope would throw the pink toothbrush out in the bathroom and pick up [his] brother's Spiderman toothbrush. So look for disruption. Look for anger. Look for bullying. Penelope had actually become a bully--pushing kids and pushing siblings around, really an angry kid. Well, he was angry with the place that we were putting Penelope in.
You had a Ted Talk called “Gender Is Obsolete”. How do you talk to people who still hold the belief that anatomy and gender are one and the same?
There's no amount of talking I can do or sharing I can do if the individual doesn't take one step in, one step on their own, to do some basic research. The basic research shows that scientifically that gender is not found in our anatomy. So even without my womb, I'm a woman--even without my breasts, even without my fallopian tubes, I'm a woman. And so when we look at the science around identity, it is in the brain. Identity is formed in the brain, not with trans people or certain people, but for all people. My identity is not in my vagina. So that's awesome.
"Even without my womb, I'm a woman--even without my breasts, even without my fallopian tubes, I'm a woman. And so when we look at the science around identity, it is in the brain. Identity is formed in the brain, not with trans people or certain people, but for all people. My identity is not in my vagina."
What advice would you give to soon-to-be mothers about labeling their child “boy” or "girl” before birth? Would you have done anything differently?
If what we think about our children turns out to be inaccurate, just shift. It's OK. Think about, "How flexible can I be? How flexible is my mind?" We have African naming ceremonies, like my children's father is from Ghana, and we did African naming ceremonies for each one. And there is a lot of that that I would do again and again and again if I could have my children again. And we would do some of the same ceremonies and rituals. And then, if it came to a point when it felt that I was inaccurately making assumptions of my kid or my kid was telling me, "Mom, that's not who I am," I would shift.
The Bold World: A Memoir of Family and Transformation is available on Amazon now. Patterson also has a children's book coming out called "Born Ready", which details Penelope's perspective on himself and his community.
Featured image courtesy of Jodie Patterson
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From Monogamy To Polyamory: 'I'm In An Asexual Poly Marriage With My Husband Of 7 Years'
Have you ever wondered what it's like to be asexual and in an open marriage? Relationship Coach Mikki Bey shared her first-hand experience with us as well as answered some of our burning questions.
Like a lot of people, Mikki met her now husband, Raheem Ali, online. As soon as they met, they instantly fell in love and got engaged on their first date. Just 90 days after they met, the couple tied the knot and have now been married for seven years. Raheem and Mikki aren’t your typical married couple, and despite being married for almost a decade, their marriage is anything but traditional. Mikki and Raheem have what she calls an "asexual polyamorous marriage."
Defining Her Sexuality
It wasn't until last summer that Mikki found the language to define her sexuality. "I didn't have the language for it until last summer," she explained to xoNecole. "Looking back, I just thought sex wasn't my thing. It was never enjoyable for me, and I'd go years without even noticing.”
Mikki always thought she was broken because she had no interest in sex. Mikki noticed after her friends came to visit and started discussing their sexual fantasies that she realized something was different about her. “At that point, I knew something was definitely different about me since I do not have sexual fantasies at all. It was truly news to me that people are at work thinking about sex! That was not my experience.” This led to Mikki researching asexuality, which she soon realized fit her to a T. “It felt like breathing new air when I was able to call it by name," said Mikki.
"Looking back, I just thought sex wasn't my thing. It was never enjoyable for me, and I'd go years without even noticing it."
Asexuality refers to people who experience little or no sexual attraction, experience attraction without acting on it sexually, or experience sexual attraction differently based on other factors. Like most things, asexuality falls on a spectrum and encompasses many other identities. It's important to remember, however, that attraction and action are not always synonymous: some asexuals may reject the idea of sexual contact, but others may be sex-neutral and engage in sexual activity.
It's possible that some asexuals will have sex with someone else despite not having a libido or masturbating, but others will have sex with a partner because it brings a sense of connection.
From a Traditional Marriage to Kitchen Table Polyamory
Although Mikki never really had a high sex drive, it wasn’t until after the birth of her son, that she noticed her sex drive took a real nosedive. “I never had a high sex drive, but about a year after my son was born, I realized I had zero desire. My husband has a high sex drive, and I knew that it would not be sustainable to not have sex in our marriage at that time.”
She was determined to find an alternative to divorce and stumbled upon a polyamory conversation on Clubhouse. Upon doing her own research, she brought up the idea to their husband, who was receptive. “It’s so interesting to me that people weigh sex so heavily in relationships when even if you are having a ton of sex, it’s still a very small percentage of the relationship activity," Mikki shared.
They chose polyamory because Mikki still wanted to be married, but she also wanted to make sure that Raheem was getting his individual needs and desires met, even if that meant meeting them with someone else. “I think that we have been programmed to think that our spouses need to be our 'everything.' We do not operate like that. There is no one way that fits all when it comes to relationships, despite what society may try to tell you. Their path to doing this thing called life together may be different from yours, but they found what works for them. We have chosen to design a marriage that works for us,” Mikki explained.
"We have chosen to design a marriage that works for us. We both consent to each of us having everything from casual sex partners to lifetime partners if it should go there. We believe love is abundant and do not limit ourselves or each other on how we express it."
She continued, “We both consent to each of us having everything from casual sexual partners to lifetime partners if it should get there. We believe love is abundant and do not limit ourselves or each other on how we express it. Our dynamic is parallel with kitchen table poly aspirations.”
Kitchen table polyamory (KTP) is a polyamorous relationship in which all participants are on friendly terms enough to share a meal at the kitchen table. Basically, it means you have some form of relationship with your partner’s other partner, whether as a group or individually. A lot of times, KTP relationships are highly personal and rooted in mutual respect, communication, and friendship.
Intimacy in an Asexual Polyamorous Marriage
Mikki says she and her husband, Raheem, still share intimate moments despite being in a polyamorous marriage. “Our intimacy is emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and physical, although non-sexual. We are intentional about date nights weekly, surprising and delighting each other daily, and most of all, we communicate our needs regularly. In my opinion, our intimacy is top-tier! I give my husband full-body massages, mani-pedis and make sure I am giving him small physical touches/kisses throughout the day. He is also very intentional about showing me his love and affection.”
Raheem and Mikki now use their lives as examples for others. On their website, thepolycouplenextdoor.com, they coach people interested in learning how to be consensually non-monogamous. “We are both relationship coaches. I specialized in emotional regulation, and Raheem specializes in communication and conflict resolution. The same tools we use in our marriage help our clients succeed in polyamory."
Mikki advises people who may be asexual or seeking non-monogamy to communicate their needs openly and to consider seeking sex therapy or intimacy coaching. Building a strong relationship with a non-sexual partner requires both empathy and compassion.
For more of Mikki, follow her on Instagram @getmikkibey. Follow the couple's platform on Instagram @thepolycouplenextdoor.
Featured image by skynesher/Getty Images