At her core, Jodie Patterson is a Mother. But certainly not in a narrowly defined or traditional sense of the word. She believes the act of Mothering is far greater than we’ve dared to imagine.
A mother of five, Jodie is also the co-owner of NYC’s iconic Joe’s Pub, the founder of two beauty companies, an author of two books and Chair of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation Board, the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ foundation.
Women who don’t take no for an answer are our north star, and Jodie is the pure embodiment of resilience. She’s fallen down, always rising back up, and she’s challenged gender and societal norms, sharing all of these experiences with us and inspiring us to think bigger. Her memoir The Bold World is a must-read.
You come from a line of strong women who mothered you and taught you early on to love yourself. What does mothering mean to you and what has being a mother yourself taught you?
There is an art to Mothering, it’s not just a biological phenomenon. I believe it’s about the actions you take toward creating and sustaining communities. Mothering, if I can boil it down to an essence, is the intentional building up of people (in your home and beyond). I recognize that most people don't define mothering in this way, but it's what excites me. The doting, coddling, martyrdom is no longer a thing for me. Today I see mothering as architecture. As building. I'm a builder.
Can you share more about your idea of genderless mothering?
Here’s a really old idea: Mothers are always big people (women) who raise little people (children of their own). It’s just not true. I’ve seen some of the best Mothering done in the queer community, by non-biological chosen families. The common definition of Mother is too narrow. What if we turned away from the sexist, patriarchal, lackluster view of Mothers as supporting characters to everyone else and started viewing Mothers as dynamic engineers – builders of shared life? Because from what I can see, building is the closest thing to Mothering. And Mothering is the closest thing I know to problem solving. And we’ve got a huge problem on our hands. I say, in a time of death and destruction, build something. Mother something. Until it is made whole. And that calling is not proprietary to a body type. Mothering is genderless–anyone can learn the practice!
In a patriarchal society, how can women encourage and empower men to “mother” and nurture their relationships, families and communities, and relinquish the need for dominance or control?
Great question! But truthfully, I don't know how to teach men per say. I just know that people look for new methods when the old ones no longer serve them. So when we open our eyes and see that families are imploding, office culture is lackluster, and even the land is on fire, then we will understand that change is a necessity. That moment of realization is exactly when people listen, and learn.
You’ve written two books and you’re working on a third. How do you translate your thoughts and ideas to the written word? Do you have a practice/process, specific rituals or an environment you create around your writing?
I like to write in the notes section of my iPhone. I have thousands of notes–some of them are just musings on motherhood, others are rap lyrics that I love. “I got a lot to be mad about. Got a lot to pop a xan about. But you gotta just let it go. Let it go, let it go, let it go” (Lil Wayne). And then other notes become chapters in my books. I need to get lost in time and space, and trains can do that for me. A glass of tequila as well, although I'm not drinking this year so I'm currently looking for new ways to get in a zone. Let me know if y'all have ideas!
In your book The Bold World, you spoke of learning a valuable lesson at 22 years old. “Once you give someone the power to judge just one tiny part of you, you invite that person to define all of you.” You’ve accumulated some important life lessons. Is there one that is most sacred to you? Or a few you come back to in challenging times?
Important life lesson: Gather the Aunties. What that means is, cultivate and lean on your most trusted female energy friends and family. Inter-be. Send up the bat signal and ask for help. Period. Raising five kids, all with individual and relentless needs, forced me to draw on everything that exists within my culture about keep on keeping on. I’ve had to figure out how to keep us solid and on track. It’s not that I can fix everything or make life cozy. I’m not sure I even want cozy anymore. But I do want us alive, together, and resourceful. Just as women have done for centuries, I now rely on an intricate support system made up of smart people: the kids, their teachers, a handful of loving aunties, and a wide chosen family–a nimble team of people wise enough to get us through some of the most complex problems.
When your son told you that he was a boy, not a girl, you channeled Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule to learn everything you could about transgenderism in order to understand and advocate for him. Is there another subject or pursuit you’d love to dedicate that time to, to learn?
Such a great question. I’ve started to deep-dive into a bunch of juicy topics: comparative religion, free sex, psychedelics and beat culture are at the top of that list. Oh, and I’m always open to learning about the women who've led revolutions!
You’ve had some major milestone achievements from starting a beauty brand to writing two books to chairing the board of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. What, to you, is your greatest accomplishment? How do you measure success?
Taking on the position of Chair of our country’s largest LGBTQAI foundation was a huge accomplishment for me, because I've never been responsible for that level of budget, people, and ideas. It was a steep learning curve, and I did it. Check! But to be honest, my mojo is really the fact that I know how to get back up. I’ve been down so many times…2 divorces, just a few dollars in my bank account, disliked by my own kids, horrible at a job, stressed to the point where nightmares consumed my sleep. But I’ve climbed out of those sinkholes and gotten back on my feet. I always tell my kids that the only difference between winners and losers is that we get back up. That’s it. You’ve got to get back up…and if you can do THAT, ooooo, you’re the shit!
You are self-described as always in motion. With five children, that must take on a whole new meaning. How do you find time to cultivate your curiosity about something new that interests you?
For women, especially mothers, we do so much for others. But over the past 2 years, I started taking silent mornings. Crazy, I know, for a mom of five to not speak for several hours. But now that my kids are a bit older, I can insist on this time to gather myself, to ground myself and then to explore things beyond what is typically in my purview. I call it Starfishing. To STARFISH: (v.) Stretching out and touching all of life’s joys, interests, comforts, curiosities, and pleasures. 2. Thinking, acting, and being outside your gender, age, race, and position in life. 3. Doing whatever the fuck you want.
You and the world around you, today, in five words:
“I woman, control this spot (this spot being me).”