A few good books to curl up with – and learn from

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Sarah Day Owen

Book­sellers tell us their fa­vorite books that make Black His­tory Month a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for kids.

Jodie Pat­ter­son’s “The Bold World” (Bal­lan­tine Books, 328 pp.) was re­leased on Jan. 29.It is a mem­oir about iden­ti­ties and the au­thor’s per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence nav­i­gat­ing the world as a black per­son, as a woman, and as mother of a trans­gen­der boy, Penelope.

In the early morn­ing hours of that same day, Jussie Smol­lett was as­saulted, a rope thrown around his neck. The “Em­pire” ac­tor, who is a gay black man, said his as­sailants hurled racist and ho­mo­pho­bic slurs at him dur­ing the at­tack.

As the news spread, Pat­ter­son, an ad­vo­cate for LGBTQ peo­ple and board di­rec­tor of the Hu­man Rights Cam­paign, posted on her In­sta­gram ac­count: “He’s at a store get­ting food at night be­cause he’s hun­gry. He’s Black, LGBT and fa­mous. They at­tack him with words and with their fists, they throw bleach on him and tie a noose around his neck. They at­tempt to kill him. He’s Black and he’s gay. That’s it. That’s it.”

Pat­ter­son is note­wor­thy for her ac­tivism for her trans­gen­der son, Penelope, a topic area with still few voices. Her book spans the decades of her per­sonal and fam­ily his­tory and tra­di­tions, un­furl­ing the myr­iad ways peo­ple iden­tify: through gen­der, race, so­cioe­co­nomic sta­tus, sex­u­al­ity, and even lo­ca­tion.

The au­thor comes from a long line of ac­tivists “Glo­ria (the au­thor’s grand­mother) was ar­rested more than 25 times … Glo­ria rec­og­nized very deeply that a new world or­der – for her, and for her chil­dren – was one worth fight­ing for. This was the re­spon­si­bil­ity left to me.”

Penelope, the child who would in­spire her ac­tivism for the trans­gen­der com­mu­nity, isn’t a con­sis­tent part of the book un­til about half­way through. Yet through­out Pat­ter­son’s retelling of her life be­fore and af­ter Penelope’s birth, she ex­pertly con­nects both the black civil rights move­ment and in­ter­sec­tional fem­i­nism with the strug­gle for trans­gen­der and gen­der non­con­form­ing rights.

The book isn’t a man­ual for par­ent­ing trans­gen­der chil­dren – and Pat­ter­son doesn’t paint her­self as the per­fect mother, wife, daugh­ter, black woman or en­tre­pre­neur. But as she un­packs her past, her nar­ra­tive but­tressed by her fam­ily’s his­tory and tra­di­tions, read­ers see the world as she sees it, some­times heart­break­ingly so.

What the book is: a woman’s jour­ney of con­stant trans­for­ma­tion and fierce love for a world where her chil­dren can live their au­then­tic selves.

Some of the in­spir­ing mo­ments from the book:

❚ When her af­flu­ent par­ents would put the au­thor and her sis­ter into differ­ent sit­u­a­tions, rich and poor: “‘Jo­datha,’ (her fa­ther would) say to me … ‘there’s no place you don’t be­long. Walk like you own the joint. Be­cause you do, baby girl. You do!’ ”

❚ When her mother en­cour­aged her to feel beau­ti­ful when she looked in the mir­ror as a child: “Mama would then make us wrap our arms around our­selves and re­peat: ‘I love my­self.’”

❚ In her ex­pe­ri­ence at Spel­man Col­lege, a his­tor­i­cally black lib­eral arts col­lege for women in At­lanta, her trans­for­ma­tion shifted from her par­ents build­ing her confidence to own­ing it her­self, with the help of lu­mi­nar­ies such as Maya An­gelou and Toni Mor­ri­son and the in­spi­ra­tion of the school’s pres­i­dent, Johnetta B. Cole. “We, black women, were al­lowed to be all in our feel­ings, what­ever they were – grate­ful, an­gry, in­quis­i­tive, bold, right­eous – and when­ever they sur­faced. There, we learned how to sim­ply be,” Pat­ter­son writes.

❚ Af­ter com­ing into her own as an adult, a hard les­son she learns: “Once you give some­one the power to judge just one tiny part of you, you in­vite that per­son to define all of you.”

❚ On the so­ci­etal and fa­mil­ial pres­sures of mother­hood: “While (her then­hus­band) Serge could put on and take off one hat at a time – wear­ing ‘fa­ther’ some­times, then ‘boss’ or ‘lost-in-the­clouds-cre­ative,’ at other times – I was learn­ing that kind of ver­sa­til­ity wasn’t open to me.”

❚ Af­ter Penelope iden­tified him­self as trans­gen­der: “His dig­nity was – and is – more im­por­tant to me than gen­der.”

❚ When she stepped into her role as fighter and pro­tec­tor of Penelope: “Stand­ing still while some­one is trans­form­ing can make the by­stander un­com­fort­able, I know … But if they couldn’t re­cover from that ini­tial mo­ment of sur­prise, if they stiffened upon hear­ing me say these ‘strange’ new words in as­so­ci­a­tion with Penelope – ‘trans­gen­der,’ ‘boy,’ ‘nephew’ – that be­came their prob­lem, not mine.”

❚ On be­ing an ac­tivist: “Change agents, those who aren’t ask­ing per­mis­sion, are of­ten not wel­comed. But they come for the world any­way. They are ready.”

Au­thor Jodie Pat­ter­son OMI TANAKA

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