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.
Tai, get to know her
Beauty Explorer: Tai Beauchamp
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 Lotionopens in a new window: 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:opens in a new window Luxury is an understatement! This souffle is whipped decadence. My skin is feels like silk from morning to my bedtime shower.
Here’s the funny thing…I am horrible with all things technical. Can’t find the Finder button to save my life. My teenage daughter, Georgia is constantly helping me upload images, edit video, sign documents from my laptop…all that. I struggle with all six of my gadgets, daily, and easily get confused with all the options and buttons. It’s safe to say I’m unable to exist with my devices alone. Thank goodness for my trusted tribe of loved ones who try hard not to roll their eyes when I ask for their assistance. PapaBear says that I simply don’t apply myself, but the real story is – I’m not wired for this new way of living.
Here’s the irony….I am the Instagram, FB, YouTube, Twitter, Blog Queen. I capture everything and I mean EVERYTHING that’s going on in my life and share it through social networking platforms. I even produced a video series on beauty, Girl Crush, of which I helped to edit! I really enjoy the upside of technology, and the activity of capturing + sharing. Plus, I love how our gadgets keep my family linked while we roam and explore. I’m in love with this mysterious and confusing beast – technology. She’s like my best friend. We travel side-by-side through life.
And somehow, in the midst of all this fumbling and stumbling with technology, Dell – the tech company, has chosen me to be amongst their #Inspire 100 list of Entrepreneurs, World Changers, Creatives and Taste Makers. I like what they’re messaging – ‘No matter who you are – regardless of your make-up or your tribe – technology belongs to you. It lives for you.
I’m honored to be part of this impressive and diverse group. Check us out on their FB pageopens in a new window!
“Technology inspires me to think bigg(er). It’s my adhesive, the ‘sticky’ that allows all the important parts of my life to co-exist. With technology, my family can stay productive, organized and connected, as we follow our passions – often from opposite corners of the world.”
As parents, we never stop
What is enough? What is sufficient?
I’ve been asking myself this a lot recently. As a mom there is always more to do and more to give – but recently it feels like there might be less to spread around. I mean really, how many ways can the pie be sliced? How much magic can one woman make? With all that we parents have on our plates and all the individual needs of our kids, I’m constantly looking for effective ways to give them the most – spiritually, academically, socially.
My friend Lauri wrote: “If we love (our kids) beyond comprehension, feed and shelter and clothe them, give them a fine and thoughtful education, provide them with a connection to their past by creating opportunities to spend time with their (families) and give them a loving community of friends and peers to support them daily – can we stop there?”
No. Of course not. There is no stopping, as a parent. It’s a continuous, joyous up hill ballet (as I like to call it). But exactly how we continue on doing and giving more today than we did yesterday – I haven’t the answer. I don’t know exactly how we do it, but somehow it’s done. Parents live for their kids and become successful and accomplished for them as well. Because, let’s face it, if it weren’t for the motivation of our mini-me’s, many of us would be chilling on a most remote island working out some awesome yoga position. For real, the simple life is a compelling option as we get older – if it weren’t for our children.
Get quiet. Go deep. Ask for help.
I do know that recently, I’ve been moved to pray. Like – closing my eyes and going internal, deep into that place where I ask for help. I’ve been talking mostly with my dad, as I’m sure we’re forever connected. And also with Spirit, because, well, why not check in at the highest level?
Prayer is new for me. First I unload all my worries and questions and then I ask for guidance – for a clear path to what’s best for my family. I ask for the things I want and for whatever is good that I may not be able to identify. I also express gratitude. It’s my chance to say thank you for everything wonderful in my life.
And yes, I do realize it’s opportunistic to pray when in need. But…I’m in urgent need of some back up over here. These days, I’m thankful for help to move my team towards the goals I’ve set. I believe it’s true that ‘you can have whatever you receive’. So with that in mind, I’m doing my best to have the ultimate game plan.
1/ Identify what it is exactly that I want (take time to look around and absorb life – ideas will come)
2/ Ask for what I want (in quiet prayer and out loud to those around you)
3/ Get in position to receive what it is I want (no sleeping in all day, no funky moods all day, no waisted energy on superficial nonsense…)
Prayer is new to me, and it’s something I enjoy. If for no other more simple reason than to hear my small voice connected to the limitless universe.
Me and my clique, clique, clique
Someone asked me the other day: How do you balance it all – work life with home life?
Here’s the short answer: There is no balance. I’m not balanced. All of my girlfriends are not balanced. I’m not even sure if balance is the goal.
The better goal is to be a whole woman. It’s an ongoing process.
What I’ve figured out is that I’m ok with my crazy life, simply because I make sure to do everything I love – every single week. Here’s how I do it: First, I identify all of my “musts” – all the things that I must do to make myself happy. Then, I touch them – every week. For me it’s all about: family, travel, business, health, random thoughts & beauty. These are my defining elements that make me whole.
Touch what you love each week – family, work, health, travel, beauty…
Every week I make sure I touch all six elements – multiple times throughout the week. Some weeks I do more ‘mommying’ because the kids need me – for school projects, tests, nightmares and such. On these days, I’m cursing under my breath as my work-obligations get put on hold. Other weeks, I’m submersed in work deadlines trying to complete web site changes for the team in India and packaging design work for Brad on the upper east side. Those weeks, I’ve been known to turn in a school project a day late. That, no doubt, is the worst feeling of all.
A trip to PS1 w/ my crew (family+travel+beauty) all in one day!
Alas, gratification always comes. In fact it comes to me every week. No matter what direction the week leans, and how unbalanced it feels, I will always make sure I do it all – more or less. My six elements mean the most to me. So I show them respect.
I own my crazy life. All of it.
Small things, new adventures and unchartered territories scare me. Especially, when I’m not sure what the hell I’m doing & I’m doing it solo.
This past weekend we participated in our first outdoor festival! Yay for GEORGIA. This was a big milestone for me. ‘Selling’, is something I’m comfortable with, but festivals (the rain-or-shine type) I know nothing about.
GEORGIA, along with dozens of Brooklyn’s cool small businesses, set up a booth along Washington Avenue with the hopes of meeting new faces and selling our passion.
Sounds like fun for-sure. But when I realized the night before what I actually had to do to prepare and be effective, I was a wreck. The last thing I wanted, was to be out-boothed.
I called my friend Dara who grew up doing festivals with her mom, and she rattled off a long list of must-haves – things like: tent, sand bags, calculator, receipt pads, gift bags, credit card machine, money holder, chalk board + chalk, display units with varying heights, back drops, price lists, music…
The first thing I did once I realized I was a behind the gun, was to start making lists. The first one looked like this (sloppy, crazy chicken-scratch):
Write it down…
As the night went by my lists became more and more detailed and organized, the pile of things by my front door expanded, and my anxiety diminished. By sun up, I was totally prepared, well-rested-enough and committed to having fun.
Good thing I fell back on tried & true advice:
*Always ask for help
*Write down what you want
*Don’t strive for perfection
*If it isn’t fun, it doesn’t count
*Make it Beautiful
By now, I know that when at a crossroads (that would be every morning for me), write it down. Put pen to paper and create a to-do list, or a well articulated idea of what you want. Think it. Write it. Do it. And I’ve recently added, Love it.
Belle of the Ball
The results…GEORGIA, if I can say so myself, was the belle of the ball on Washington Ave. Tables draped in white lace, dark wooden African stools, marble display units, all set the stage and created great ambiance for our very first introduction to the beautiful street(fair)-walkers of Brooklyn.
Make it Beautiful
Working the festival brought back some of the same great feelings that running our store gave me. A connection to people and our street culture, a stage from which to talk about my passion, and that fabulous feeling of utter exhaustion at the end of a physical + mental + emotional day. With the help of my friends, (Dara, Drew, Ayo, Tamecca and Rina + my kids, I was able to gracefully break into new and scary territory.
I am now officially, a street fair junkie.