Yesterday on the Today Show, Meredith Viera interviewed Cheryl Kilodavis and her self-described "princess boy," Dyson, age 5 (left). Dyson likes to dress up like a princess, wearing tutus and lots of pink. His mom used to push back against her son's inclinations, trying to redirect him toward trucks and other boyish things. But then her older son said, "Why can't you just let him be happy, mom?" She realized that her discomfort with her son's interests were more about her than about him. She has since allowed him to dress and play however he wants and wrote a children's book called "My Princess Boy" to help other kids and parents who may face a similar situation.
Personally, I'm behind Dyson and allowing him to play however he wants, wear whatever he wants, go to school in tutus, or whatever. Lord knows my boys have enjoyed the not-so-occasional twirl in a fairy or ballerina outfit (see exhibits A and B below).
I was a little conflicted, though, thinking about Dyson's mom. I guess I can understand writing a children's book: The project grew out of her attempts to explain her situation in writing, and I can see how parents and kids reading it together could increase tolerance and understanding of difference. Of course, it's not as if such books don't already exist—"Oliver Button is a Sissy," about a ballet-dancing little boy who gets teased, is a regular in our reading rotation—but I can understand wanting to add another book to the canon, especially one with an African-American hero. Also, Dyson's name and picture and not included in the book, so he maintains some anonymity.
But then, seeing this vulnerable little boy on national television made me feel uncomfortable. It's one thing to dress and act and play however you want, and even to face your friends and teachers at school and in public and make them accept you for who you are—I support all of that, even posting the pictures on Facebook or, ahem, a little local blog. But taking that little boy on national television, broadcasting his face and name, seemed to push the boundaries. Part of the reason I think it's good for kids to express themselves however they feel is that they're still trying things out, figuring out who they are. In five years, Dyson might still love dressing up like a princess and that would be great. But he might not, and he might not like being known as "Princess Boy" for the rest of his life.
I think Dyson's mom had mostly great intentions, but I couldn't help but feel like a tiny bit of her was using the situation to her financial advantage. To me, I think the line would have been taking my little boy on national TV. When Meredith Viera asked him to twirl around a second time, my heart sank. This felt exploitative. And I really hope that all of his mother's best efforts aren't going t make things even harder for her adorable little Princess Boy.