On Monday's new episode of Jada Pinkett Smith's "Red Table Talk," the actress, mother Adrienne Banfield Norris and Willow Smith were joined by EJ and Cookie Johnson for a frank discussion about "raising children outside of what is considered the norm."
With both EJ and Willow taking on those societal "norms" while growing up in the public eye, the conversation broached the topics of gender fluidity, fashion and dating as the children of famous parents.
Cookie said she first noticed her son with Magic Johnson wasn't like most boys at the age of three, when "he started wanting to put on the princess costumes at school." She noted he'd also put on her shoes, pay special attention to his grandmother's clothes and, when they had him play baseball, he paid more attention to the flowers in the field than the game.
EJ said he came out to one of his close friends, who is also gay, when he was 15. "We went to Hawaii once and I'm sitting behind him and his friend," Cookie explained. "The girls go by in their bathing suits and the guys go by and when the guys go by, they were like, 'Whoa! Hey!' and then girls go by and nothing. So I was like, okay, we need to have a talk."
"The talk wasn't you can't be this, the talk was, 'Do you think you are? Know that if you are, I'm okay with it," she continued. "So he answered and said, 'Yes, I think I am.' I said, 'We will love you and support you no matter what.' But at that time, you can be happy in your room, but don't let dad see you. So it was all of that."
Cookie said it "was a little tough" when EJ finally came out to his father. "My husband is the type of person, he reacts quickly, so everything that came to the top of his head, he just let it out and I was like, it hurt my feelings and I know it probably hurt his feelings when he'd go, 'It's not what I wanted for my son and do you realize what you're saying because the world is not going to like that and do you want to live this life?'"
After Cookie told him his reaction was a little harsh, Magic had another conversation with his son the next day. "[He] just was like, we're gonna get through this, I just need time and we both just started crying a little bit," EJ explained. "But then, I moved to New York to go to college and when he came back to visit, he picked me up for dinner and was like ... he hugged me so hard, he almost broke my back and then at that point I was like, we're gonna be okay. I could really feel the love. We're gonna be fine."
Willow and EJ then got candid about gender fluidity, with Smith impressing all the adults by saying gender is a "nebulous" concept. "The only time it gets weird is which bathroom do I go into sometimes," said EJ. "It's gotten to a point where I'm in a skirt, doing the most, in a men's room like and everyone's like (looks around) and I'm like (looks around) ... excuse me!"
Jada then brought up son Jaden's Louis Vuitton campaign, where he wore a skirt. Of Will's reaction, she said he said, "'No, my son is not supposed to be in this Louis Vuitton ad wearing skirts.'" "I was like, you know what Will, it's what he wants," she continued. "This is his expression. He said okay. It was tight, he was afraid, it was uncomfortable, because as dads, expectations, macho macho."
Willow also revealed her father had an issue with her cutting off her long hair. "He was like, 'Don't do it, all your femininity,' as if my femininity was in my hair," she explained. Jada said that was Will just wanting her to "stay a little girl as long as you can."
Talk then turned to dating, an area of EJ's life that he admitted has "always been a struggle."
"First of all, there's the celebrity thing. Like, who are you here for, are you dating me or are you trying to date my dad?" he explained. "These men either just want to be there for one thing and don't want to stay for the real relationship part or they just want to ride the wave and be bougie and bomb and have their picture taken and do all of that. So there's so much going on. Both hurt, both you end up crying in the corner."
He added that he's never brought anyone home to meet his parents either. "Every time I would be ready to, something happens and I'm like, no," he said to his mother. "I would never expose you to somebody that I didn't like vet, so hard, like the White House."
Willow could relate, saying her home is a "sacred space" and she finds herself thinking whether "that person may not be able to hold the importance of that space."
The entire panel agreed that labels and norms are changing with each passing generation, with Jada saying it's both "beautiful" and has "taken some getting used to."
"It's your evolution as well," Willow said to Cookie, "you are evolving through him."
"We give life to our children ... and I think we often forget how much our kids teach us," Jada said in conclusion. "What a blessing."
Watch the full interview below:
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