What it’s really like when your daughter becomes your son
Amid unprecedented trans visibility and just days after former Olympic champion, Bruce Jenner went o...
Many people have asked me “Why put your business on the streets? Why point the spotlight on ...
What it’s really like when your daughter becomes your son
Amid unprecedented trans visibility and just days after former Olympic champion, Bruce Jenner went on National television and came out as transgender, I was asked to join the team at PIX Channel 11 to tell my story as a trans-mom, and the mother of a trans-boy, Penel.
When my child told me at two years old, “Mom, everyone thinks I’m a girl and I’m not. I’m a boy. I don’t feel like a boy, I am a boy, mama.”
I had to stop and listen, do the research, expand my understanding, and ultimately lead with my heart. Transgender people are a healthy, normal and important part of our human condition. And to not see them as such is to deny their civil rights as human beings. It’s that basic. My son is a transboy, I’m a trans-mom and my life is better now that I understand the spectrum of identity.
Family is what you gravitate towards. It’s the reason for staying and the impetus for doing. Family is the everything that matters at the close of each day.
Michele Crowe visited with us at home in Brooklyn and snapped us as we were that day…a bit of everything.
Occupation: Mom, model, jeweler, creative thinker
Passion: Music and art
Work philosophy: I enjoy going to work with people I truly like. I’ve never really played ‘the game’ in the fashion industry. I always hope people book me because they enjoy working with me and like me as a person. (Being able to sell the product helped too.) But I was never interested in paying the kind of ‘ego games’ that go on in most entertainment industries – models fall into that field. I’ve had great success, but could have probably been even more successful if I had subscribed to that philosophy.
Biggest mistake: Naïveté
A treasured success: My longevity and consistency as a working model. I’m still on a busy schedule after 25 years!
A credit to my success: I’m actually very funny and much wilder than I outwardly appear!
Daily beauty routine: I wash then use an organic Marula anti-oxidant face serum, followed by an organic moisturizer with Damas rose and coconut, Tamanu, and vitamin E oils. Then, a heavier moisturizer with SPF 30. Plus an organic anti-inflammatory eye cream. I wear mascara everyday because I have such thin lashes.
Hair routine: I wish I had more time to spend on my hair. I brush with a Denman bristle brush. It’s made for extension so the bristles are are long and have more space between each bristle, plus the bristles are harder so it really goes through my hair. I use Olio Relax by Kerastase. Expensive but you don’t need much so it lasts forever.
What does beauty mean to you? Being secure in your own skin.
Beauty Mantra: Always wash your face at night, even if you don’t have on makeup.
There’s nothing more moving than to clean up behind your kids (as we do every damn day) and stumble upon something (tucked deep under a pillow) that so genuinely reflects who they are at that singular moment in time. A gentle note of reminder to that lazy tooth fairy who somehow forgot to show up several nights in a row. A crayon drawing of all five siblings in size order – plus an unidentified sixth child grinning from ear to ear. A not-so-nice note about mommy being a Mean-y-Pants and Papa being a Stupid Grownup. A song, beautifully and slowly written by your son – about his grit and endless heart.
I might be a ninga
But I got a hart
I be tough
But I got a hart
I’m like that
From the start
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
Babby eho Babby eho
My legs as hard as steel
I’m not despicable
Oh no Oh yes Oh no Oh yes
There was a time in my life when I was painfully uncomfortable with my looks. I felt small and awkward. Boyish and goofy. The polar opposite of pretty. In fact, next to my graceful and womanly older sisters, I wanted so desperately to fade away. Most of the time I did just that, I shrank away from cameras and onlookers and sat close to mama. For many years, I was a voyer to everyone else’s fun at the party.
What I didn’t know at the time was, our beauty is not surface. It literally comes out of us. Joyous, or melloncolly, mysterious, or brazen, shy or roucus – our beauty is first an emotion. It wasn’t until my late 30’s I realized I could use my feelings (a ton of which I had) to ignite my beauty. There is nothing more gorgeous than a woman who highlights the very thing that bubbles up from inside of her. For me it’s enthusiasm – I can’t keep it at bay and thankfully it is the very thing that will keep me forever young and glowing.
When you feel a certain way, jot it down so you can remember it. Keep a journal of what’s going on in your head and heart. Add one more category of Notes in your phone and each time you feel something, type in exactly that feeling. I like to clip pictures of anything that catches my eye, and usually the things that do catch my eye are the very things that resemble my feelings. By the end of each month, my black Moleskine is filled with quotes, photos, even color swatches – things that reflect who I am (or want to be).
Make up and product can be the perfect tool to express your inner feelings. Use them to amplify your emotions (aka, your inner beauty). Take your own ‘black book’ of mood memories, and study it. Once you’ve gotten to know yourself on that deeper level, choose make up, lotions and potions that reflect who you are. In the words of my dear friend, Bevy Smith, “Beauty is what bubbles and pops.”
Many people have asked me “Why put your business on the streets? Why point the spotlight on such a personal conversation? Why expose yourself and your family to ridicule and danger?
Everything in me told me to share, educate and make a difference. Gender variance is a deep issue. Essentially it’s an American story. One that says: “Accept me for who I am. I am no less than or more than you.” Speaking outloud on raising a transgender child was difficult, but I’m focused on making sure my son has the beautiful life I have and better. I want him to move through life with freedom, confidence and love. The rest – the details of his life are up to him.
I told our TRANSfamily story in Essence Magazine’s November 2014 issue. And I told it with pride. Our family’s story is one of Love, Flexibility and Belief. Bellow is the UNEDITED version of that piece.
I’m a mother of five amazing children each yielding a unique influence over the family and with a particular purpose in life. One came to us at nineteen through circumstances I didn’t control and subsequently, made us all believe in karma. Another is a gentle soul who keeps our collective heart soft. Yet another we call The President who reminds us that perfection is in each of us. The youngest is our rascal who pushes our understanding of patience further than we could have ever imagined. And then there’s my Rock Star, Penel, who opened my eyes to something so basic and fundamental, that he disrupted everything I knew to be true and gave me a better world to live in. Penel is our family’s link to unconditional love, and the center of our transfamily story.
Our fourth child was born Penelope Adjua Ghartey. Named after my mother-in-law and the Ghanaian day of the week on which I went into labor. Penelope was born anatomically a perfect girl and we were so proud to name our child after one of the matriarchs in our family. We were all so happy to welcome a baby girl into our lives. In my mind I was thinking, ‘Yay, another girl! Piece-of-cake. I know girls like the back of my hand.’ In actuality, I had no idea how complex our lives were about to become.
As Penelope grew over the years, a very unsettled child emerged. In every way possible, Penelope displayed signs of anger, anxiety, fear and disruption. It was as if Penelope were fighting a force so big that it was taking up every bit of energy. Dressing became a fight between Penelope and anyone trying to move the process along. By the age of two, Penelope was a chronic bed-wetter, nail biter and sufferer of reoccurring nightmares. And most noticeably, Penelope had quickly turned into a bully – pushing siblings and throwing toys at friends. Watching my child at odds with the world was heartbreaking. Ironically, bullies are often the ones who are hurting the most, inside.
In a quiet room alone one day, I asked Penelope, “What’s the matter love? Why are you so angry all the time?” Penelope responded with a flood of tears, “Because everyone thinks I’m a girl, and I’m not.” I knew at that moment it was important to say something that would convey my unconditional love and support. I remember saying: “Baby, you’re free to be whomever you feel. What’s inside is what counts”. Without a second delay, Penelope spoke up clearer than I’d ever heard before and looked directly into my eyes, “Mama, I don’t feel like a boy. I am a boy.” Those simple words shook me to my core. What Penelope was talking about was deeper than what I knew. I was talking about self-expression. Penelope was conveying knowledge of self. This was about: Being vs Feeling.
I listened carefully to Penelope tell me about how he hated his body and wanted a doctor to make him a ‘peanut’. How, his ‘tomorrow’ will be worse than his ‘today’ because “soon my body will look like yours, mama”. He spoke of how he didn’t want tomorrow to ever come. All the while sobbing – deep heavy sobs. I listened so carefully as if a professor were giving a lecture. For an hour, I didn’t move from that room. Penelope spoke and I took mental notes, minute after minute. My two-year-old child was giving me my first real lesson in self-identity.
Four years after that initial conversation, I understand a very important truth: we are who we are, and there’s very little we can do to change our core. If we’re asked or even persuaded to change, there’s a chasm so deep inside of us it threatens our very life. And subsequently, the person who asks another human to change his core, is inviting death upon that person. It’s my duty as a parent to keep Penelope alive.
Penel is a boy regardless of physical attributes. From the time he could speak, he’s consistently and unanimously proclaimed ‘boy’ to the world. Even in quiet, creative moments when he’s not thinking of how the world sees him, Penel sees himself as a boy. In his dreams, his drawings and his writings, Penel is always a boy. When he projects into the future, he imagines himself as a dad and a husband – never the opposite. Everything about Panel’s’ internal compass points to boy. Over the years, he’s never once swayed.
I confess, I don’t fully understand transgender. I have to go deep to find meaning. And what I now know is that gender is a spectrum with some extremes and even more grey areas. Penel is not like his brothers exactly, and neither are they like him, exactly. Penel, as we now call him, is a transgender boy. That makes him unique.
Over the last four years I’ve lead our family on a quest to understand what transgender feels like. Through research, conversation and observation, we’ve become knowledgeable. This hasn’t always been easy. Penel’s dad and I have fought over this. I’m brazen and he’s conservative. I said, “Ok, let’s embrace it! Take it head on.” He said, “Slow down. Let’s not make any hasty assumptions.” It’s taken our family on a tempestuous journey that has brought us closer together. I consider us a transfamily and our son has opened a new and better world for all seven of us. To get us past the discomfort and embarrassment, I talked about it all the time with loving friends. And as a family we snuggled together and watched age appropriate videos of other transfamilies – listening to stories of kids similar to Penel and families just like ours. I made sure we said the word TRANSGENDER out loud, when others preferred to whisper it. I made sure we were outspoken. I spoke of it so frequently that it became funny, and made us smile.
By the time Penel was 4, we had fully embraced him as a boy. One of my proudest moments was writing a letter announcing the change and explaining what we were all going through.
Penel has lost not one friend on this journey. Everyone whom we’ve ever loved and all his friends have remained just as close if not closer to us. They leaned in and loved more compassionately as we took on one of the biggest challenges of our lives. Most times this has been a joyous journey. Sometimes I cry and it’s usually when I think of the near future. Who will be his first kiss? Who will love my baby? Who will understand Penel’s beautiful complexities as I do? What do I say if Penel asks for hormones? And then I think of the devastating notion that someone, one day will ridicule my Penel and show us for the first time how ugly the world can be.
We’ve had awkward situations where people have wanted to “out” Penel in public just to let others know that he “isn’t really a boy”. That hurt – more so to see the devastated look on Penel’s face than the confused look on all the faces of the adults. And in those painful moments I remember that it’s important to raise Penel with a progressive mindset. In 20 years when he’ll be a young man, ideas around gender and identity will be that much more advanced. In 20 years, when Penel is on his own and living out in the world, I don’t want him to be burdened by our current misconceptions and prejudices. I want him to be free and happy. So I think forward and I think big. I think that Penel is wonderful and brave. I think that we as parents have a serious mission. I think that we have God’s work to do. I think that Penel is lucky to know so deeply who he is.
As MamaBear, I’ve created an environment for our family that’s insulated. As protective as I am of Penel, I share his story with the world, so that we can change the prejudices against the LGTB community. My belief is that once you intimately know someone who’s transgender, everything changes. That’s exactly what happened for our family. I support Penelope’s complexities, regardless of the comments we hear: “She’s so pretty, just put a dress on her.” “Don’t encourage her to take it too far.” “She’s a tomboy and can grow out of it.” “Cutting her hair is extreme. Why do that to her?”
These days, Penel is a self-proclaimed ‘rock-star’. He excels in school, air guitar and sports. In karate he’s a shinning star with a mean, stiff-torso push up. One day, his coach called out, “Little Dude, come to the front of the class and show these weaklings what a real push up looks like!” Wrestling, check. Skateboarding, check. Basketball, check. He is relentless in his pursuits. What he wants, he grabs. What he likes, he makes his own. He’s phenomenal. My son took something as ominous as transgender and made it something so basic you barely even notice it. Now, what we notice first is just Penel.
There are few people who intrigue me like Tai Beauchamp. I think it’s because she’s so darn elusive. She’s tall and stately. Doe-eyed and elegant. Red lipped, well spoken and so very, very well dressed. She’s Spelman College educated (of course) and ridiculously accomplished. And that’s just the seductive part. The sure-thing part is that she’s relentless. Tai Beauchamp has worked harder than most, day after day, year after year to become the most sought after beauty boss under forty. She gracefully straddles the worlds of corporate and niche and in less than two decades, she’s become the go-to-woman that big brands dial up when in need of authenticity and small brands holler at when in need of popularity. Television, live experiences, web, print – Tai is everywhere that matters in the world of beauty, fashion and lifestyle.
I’m a fan, and to get on Tai’s calendar is like trying to grab lunch with Anna Wintour. After several back and forths and multiple conversations with her team members, we carved out a solid half hour together to chat while she relaxed in her Miami hotel room just weeks before the launch of TheTaiLife.com and days before she was to appear on The View.
My Name is: Tai Beauchamp
I live in: New York or on a plane
My job is: to empower women through style!
My hustle is: 18/7
My inspiration is: my Mary and knowing God’s purpose for me.
My favorite song is: anything by Stevie Wonder.
My beauty Mantra is: if you seek beauty, you will find beauty. Seek ugly and well…
My skin looks like: honey coated almonds.
My hair is usually: in need of a cut.
My favorite feature is: My eyes because they take up most of my face and they’re honest.
What does beauty mean to me: Beauty means life, all of its imperfections, its perfect moments, smiles at strangers, laughter with friends and family – and tears too. Beauty means knowing that even when my thighs rub or my hair is damp with sweat that I am beautiful. Beauty is a gorgeous pair of new shoes. Beauty is a new fragrance or a tried and true old favorite. Beauty is the perfect red lipstick. Beauty is a hand written love note. Beauty is democracy.
I’m gearing up to launch TheTaiLife.com which is a content based hyper blog. It’s not so much about my life as it’s about the things that touch me. I use those things to inspire others. I’m not that person who likes putting my life and what I’m wearing on display, but I do realize that some of these elements inspire people. This is not about attention – I don’t need attention. And I’m not a blogger that has to build an audience – I already have relationships. This is about my mark on the world. My life on a day-to-day basis is rich. Imperfect, but rich with experience and love. I’m here to share whatever wisdom and knowledge I have from my own living and to allow others to see their possibility.
I ask my self, “What is my mark on the world?” Is it children? Is it a husband? Is it empowering women in a greater way? I connect with people through beauty, fashion, prose, conversation. Social media enables me to do that even more now. I make it a point to respond to people and talk to them, because I really do care. That’s what makes my work meaningful and purposeful. The blog is a natural evolution, and I’m excited.
I have this saying when I love something so much: “That makes me wanna apply lipstick!” The simple act of beauty makes me happy. It’s important to tell someone how pretty she is and how much you love her lipstick. It will change the mood of an otherwise disgruntled and ugly situation to something beautiful. It will even soften a ‘hater’. Beauty is an action. It’s a movement.
WHAT’S IN MY CABNET:
Georgia by Jodie Patterson Luxury Body Lotion: Let me just say, I love the way the lotion looks in my beauty pantry! It conjures up memories of apothecary style potions that rested on my grandmother and great grandmother’s dressers. But this lotion is a must-use! It’s light weight, but hydrating. And when my hands get dry, guess what I reach for?
Georgia by Jodie Patterson Gold Luxury Skin Cream in Lemongrass / Eucalyptus: Luxury is an understatement! This souffle is whipped decadence. My skin is feels like silk from morning to my bedtime shower.
In more Beauty Boss News: I was recently invited for a complementary wash and style courtesy of Verizon Wireless. This sounded suspicious to my mom who’s nearing 70, but for my generation and younger, beauty and technology go hand in hand. (Think Doobop, my recently launched Beauty e-commerce site) These days, I’m surrounded by gadgets and product, geeks and enthusiasts, beauty and technology.
On an ordinarily balmy June day I popped into Salon Bohemia in Park Slope, Brooklyn for a simple wash and blow dry. I was expecting an average experience. but nothing out of the ordinary. When I sat in Kiki’s chair I knew I was in great hands. She never even flinched when I pulled out all my annoying moves. First, I always bring my own product. That day I was trying the amazing line, Purely Perfect. Three genius items: a detergent-free shampoo with Aloe and oils that naturally grab dirt. A turbo-charged leave in packed with anti-oxidants and a heat protector that resists humidity. I like the simplicity of the line, so I bring it with me everywhere. Kiki just smiled when I gave her my arsenal.
Next I gave her the script: “Darling Kiki, my hair is fragile, thin and it doesn’t need much heat. A solid blow-dry and a light flat iron will do. I like it straight, parted in the middle and slightly bumped at the ends. My curls revert easily, but no, I don’t wish to have a keratin treatment.” Kiki smiled again.
Then something really cute happened. Verizon gave me an iPad mini to pull up hairstyle references while sitting in my chair. That was smart – so of course I pulled up pictures of myself on Instagram (I figured I was the best reference for what I wanted to look like.)
New Yorkers are smart; they actually told me I could keep my mini and use it for my family road trip to Niagara Falls. I took a slew of beautiful pictures throughout Canada. And now in total gratitude, I’m writing this post to say, “Thanks Verizon for reminding me how much I love New Yorkers, beauty and technology!”
And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.
I know Dr. Angelou as my parent’s neighbor on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. My father and she share April 4th as a birthday. In 1968, my dad, John Patterson, and Maya decided to throw a joint birthday party. Living on the same floor of the same building on Central Park West made this easy: they planned to open their front doors and let the party flow between the two apartments. They were cool like that. And then at 6pm on the night of the party, Dr. King was assassinated and the world went into slow motion. The celebration turned into a wake, a gathering of people both mourning the loss and reflecting on the life of a powerful leader. Twenty-four years later, in June of 1992, I walked across the stage after Dr. Angelou spoke to our graduating class of Spelman College. I remember the slow nod she gave me as I made my way across the stage and into adulthood. Again in 2007 at the funeral of Max Roach, Dr. Angelou spoke to us as we sat, listened and reflected in Riverside Church on the man who pioneeredbebop. In each moment, she was at the center of culture and most importantly good people.
Before Instagram and Twitter, before uploads and likes, there was social interaction. Good people made sure to be part of the co-existing lives of others they admired. We reached out to one another and connected – in person, over the phone and through letters. We did things to show how we felt and we got involved. There was a steady and deliberate attention to the people and things that mattered most.
Good people make us better. With them, we dance, like we did at Bethann Hardison‘s CFDA award celebration and we kiki with each other when things get rough. Wherever you find good people, you’ll find good vibration.
Read more on Maya Angelou and other Icons on my other-other site, Doobop.