The world stopped for a beat when news that Angelina Jolie was pregnant with her and Brad Pitt’s first biological child went public. The two were already parents to Maddox and Zahara when the media craze over the genetic masterpiece that would be the first child with Jolie-Pitt genes began. The interest was so great that it generated a bidding war for early pictures of the child.
The intensity of the media attention is what led to Brad and Angelina traveling to Namibia for the birth. There, Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt was born on May 27, 2006. The baby was assigned female at birth, but the child’s gender identity has come into question since a very young age.
With all eyes on this child, paparazzi had a lot to say as the toddler got older. In 2008, Brad first spoke out on the fact that the child preferred a different name. At the time, the parents thought it was a phase for the toddler.
“She only wants to be called John. John or Peter. So it’s a Peter Pan thing,” he told Oprah.
“So we’ve got to call her John. ‘Shi, do you want …’ – ‘John. I’m John.’ And then I’ll say, ‘John, would you like some orange juice?’ And she goes, ‘No!’ So, you know, it’s just that kind of stuff that’s cute to parents, and it’s probably really obnoxious to other people.”
The name stuck, and the parents were fine with it. They were also fine with John’s affinity for matching their brothers and enjoying clothing that’s traditionally perceived as male.
“She wants to be a boy,” Angelina told Vanity Fair. “So we had to cut her hair. She likes to wear boys’ everything. She thinks she’s one of the brothers.”
It’s been rumored that privately, family and friends refer to the child as John exclusively and have for some time. There have even been rumors that John has started puberty blockers in exploring physical changes to their gender expression. None of this has been commented on or confirmed by Brad or Angelina.
In recent public appearances, however, both have used the name Shiloh. A source close to Brad told Entertainment Tonight that Brad was reflecting on how proud he is of Shiloh as his child turned 14 years old.
“Brad is so proud of Shiloh and who she has become,” the source said. “He loves that she always stays true to herself and is so good to her brothers and sisters.”
Angelina spoke about the significance of the name Shiloh. “It was a name my parents almost named their first child — there was a miscarriage: Shiloh Baptist. Because my father had been shooting in Georgia and that was the most southern name [my parents] could come up with,” she explained.
“It’s a name I always liked. I used to go under it in hotels: Shiloh Baptist. I’d gone under it when Brad called hotel rooms where I was staying.”
A quick internet search of the name brings up search results redirecting Shiloh to John. So what’s the deal? The thing is, it’s really none of our business.
It’s possible that the child may be OK with Brad and Angelina using the former name, but not other people. John could be using Shiloh publicly to preserve privacy as decisions are made. Fourteen is still pretty young, all things considered. There’s also the fact that Shiloh is not an exclusively female name. The teen could identify differently and keep their name, if they wanted to.
There are a lot of possibilities regarding gender expression that could be the case when it comes to John. Until any official comments are made, if they ever are, the best thing anyone can do is be respectful. This is just a young person figuring it all out like anyone else. They don’t owe us answers on any timeline just because of who their parents are.
John seems like a happy, healthy teenager. The teen has some famous friends in Millie Bobby Brown and Suri Cruise. John enjoys close relationships with their parents and many siblings, which is pretty impressive considering the age range (12 to 19).
Parents can learn a lot from Brad and Angelina’s handling of this. From the very start, they’ve recognized their kid was different. Instead of panicking and trying to change the course, they let things happen. By allowing John to decide what they’re comfortable being called or wearing, Brad and Angelina are letting John figure out what they identify as without influence, in a supportive environment.
“It’s possible that children who consistently express a desire to be another gender (rather than simply a preference for toys and clothing commonly associated with the opposite gender) will grow up to be transgender or otherwise gender-nonconforming, but they may also just be exploring their own identity,” wrote Sunnivie Brydum for The Advocate. The fact is, we can’t know what goes on in their family and in that 14-year-old’s mind beyond what’s allowed to be known.
“Whether the young Jolie-Pitt will grow up to identify anywhere along a gender-nonconforming or LGBT spectrum is impossible to tell, but one thing is certain — having parents that embrace a child’s curiosity, independence, and self-direction is sure to make that young person’s life easier as they go through the fundamentally human process of discovering who they truly are.”
In a desire to understand who John Jolie-Pitt is, people are looking for answers. They want a term, a label to help bring them closer to an understanding. That understanding is closer than you’d think, however. Regardless of what John decides as far as their name, pronouns, or gender expression, John is a person, deserving of love and the space to figure out who they are in their own time.