The Bold World is described as a memoir about raising a trans child, but it is far more than that. Author Jodie Patterson’s youth, education, and early years didn’t happen as a prelude to parenting her child, that is not how life works. Her story had meaning and value before she became a trans parent. That she was raised to be bold, even when she didn’t feel bold, would have served her well in any circumstance, but sure was useful when her three-year-old informed her that he was a boy. In an amazing and revelatory exchange, Penelope says, “Everyone thinks I’m a girl, Mama–and I’m not.”

Personally, I was impressed with Patterson’s response. “However you feel is fine. It’s what’s inside that counts.” And here is where this little three-year-old drops the mic. “I don’t feel like a boy, Mama. I am a boy.”

That this happens more than halfway through the book reflects that Patterson lived a full life. She comes from a long line of strong women. Her father was a force of nature. The family lived a life always aware of their own Blackness and their responsibility to the Black community, of activism and empowerment. For example, her father would only pay for her to go to a Black college. He and her mother fostered a woman who knew to be bold even if she didn’t know what she needed to be bold for. Of course, her father’s support of her bold self-determination was limited by his deep belief in traditional gender roles.

Patterson reacted pretty well to Penelope’s announcement. She approached it like any overachiever, researching everything and ready to tear apart anything and anyone in the way of her son’s happiness, but she had four other children and a husband. Learning balance was important, giving them room to support Penelope was also important. It all mattered.

I often start a new book as I approach the last quarter of the book I am reading. I will read a chapter, maybe two. I like knowing what is coming, I guess. Rarely, almost never, that book will grab me and hang on until I finish it, even when there is only a little bit left to finish something else. That’s what happened with The Bold World. Actually, it’s worse than that. I opened it about 1:00 a.m. thinking I will read a few pages and go to sleep. I finished it before I fell asleep sometime in the wee hours.

I loved this memoir. Patterson never uses the word international, but her life centers at the axes where the different valences of oppression intersect. She is raised steeped in the history of the Civil Rights Movement and African-American arts and culture. Gil Scott-Heron wasn’t just an inspiration but an “uncle.” Feminism also becomes central to her life with her father’s expectation that she be content with an M.R.S., not an M.A. Likewise, the self-imposed expectation of bearing all the domestic obligations, including childrearing. Not that the men in her life objected to her doing all the work!

However, imperfectly she navigated these barriers, she became an unstoppable force when she discovered she had a three-year-old boy who needed her to forge a path for him in a world that is constantly defining normal as more than a dryer setting.

I received an e-galley of The Bold World from the publisher through NetGalley

The Bold World at Ballantine | Penguin Random House

Jodie Patterson – author site and blog