Welcome to QueeReads, our monthly review of the queer books I’ve been reading. I’m frequently asked about books that feature LGBTQA+ protagonists, themes, or authors so I’m here to share what I’ve found and what I thought. If you have a suggestion for future #QueeReads, please reach out!
When Jodie Patterson’s three-year-old toddler confides, “I’m not a girl, I’m a boy,” she resolves to help. Although driven by this moment of discovery, Patterson’s memoir tells the story of her journey by dissecting pivotal moments of her life—from childhood to motherhood—to pinpoint her relationship to self-identity, her blackness, and her expressions and understandings of gender. The resulting work is deeply thought-provoking with an intersectional approach, such as connecting the Civil Rights battles of her elders to her current activism in the LGBTQIA community.
The Bold World opens with Patterson flipping through family photographs of the matriarchs in her family. She identifies with them, aspires to be like them, and aims to raise her daughters, Georgia and Penelope, fearlessly in their footsteps. But when trying to piece together this ideal with the life-altering conversation she had with her toddler, the image of her imagined future blurs.
In simplest terms, The Bold World is a memoir by a mother of a trans son—and thus is about her life. The first fifty percent of the book is about her personal development with memories from living in the Upper West Side of Manhattan as a child, attending the all Black women’s college of Spellman, and later growing her career and family.
This set-up functions brilliantly as a vibrant backdrop for her decision to help and learn to understand her son. Earlier in the memoir, there are scenes were she struggles with her blackness or her femininity; in middle school she stands in front of a mirror, examining all the issues she has with her body—thinking about how her skinny frame does not seem to reflect who she was on the inside. In another chapter, she ruminates how she feels “trapped” within the gender-based responsibility disparities in her marriage. These moments explore her connection with the feminine and the expectations attached to that gendering that are both relatable to any reader, and also can be relayed in describing how someone uncomfortable with their gendered body or their assigned gender may feel. Growing through these experiences, Patterson learns to make decisions for herself and for her children based on what she feels is fair and equal.
Thus, by the time Penelope is introduced to the narrative, the reader has essentially been shown all of Patterson’s cards. Her past grapplings with her gender and gender norms work to inform her understanding of how she can best help her child.
At times, this backdrop also functions as social commentary. Throughout the memoir, Patterson reflects on the intersections of her blackness and femininity as well as their effects on her burgeoning trans family solidarity. She also discusses the limitations of Girl Power! centric feminism. Patterson aspires to have a family where gender equality is the status quo, sharing anecdotes of her raising her first born daughter to walk proudly to school and not be diminished by others. This feminist view is echoed by a recollection about Penelope’s teachers and other school parents during Penelope’s transitional period. Although his classmates quickly accept Penelope as a boy, the adults assume Penelope is a tomboy and advocate for him in a way that presumes and supports him to be undeniably, fiercely female. “I keep telling my daughter that girls can wear pants and have short hair too,” says one mom to Patterson. “But she keeps insisting, ‘No, Mom! Penelope is a boy!’” This moment struck me because Patterson was able to demonstrate a blindspot in this well-intentioned feminism: the frequently excluded and/or forgotten transgender experience.
By laying out these relatable stories, Patterson calls to the reader to examine their own histories and relationships. One section that describes Penelope’s first tumultuous years from infancy to year three is written in second person to accentuate this purpose. As she writes near the end of the book, she knows she has to do more than recite statistics: “people don’t feel in numbers; we’re not moved by politics. We respond to stories.”
I loved this book because it is personal, historical, educational, and thought-provoking. I think anyone could read Patterson’s story and find some reflection of themselves in its pages. Personally, I’m looking forward to returning it one day as a parent when preparing to open up discussions about gender and, honestly, life with my kids.
The Short Review:
My rating: ★★★★★ 5 of 5 stars
Jodie Patterson is on a mission to make the world a better place for kids like her trans son, Penelope. However, her resulting memoir is not a rehashing of interviews, facts, and statistics about the transgender experience. Instead, Patterson dissects the pivotal moments of her life—from childhood to motherhood—to pinpoint her relationship to her self-identity, her blackness, and her expressions and understandings of gender. The resulting work is deeply thought-provoking with an intersectional approach, such as connecting the Civil Rights battles of her elders to her current work in the LGBTQIA community. I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in reading more about trans families or transgender topics, specifically to any parent seeking to be inspired by her anecdotes of discussing gender and race with their children.