Since reading She’s Not There by Jennifer Finney Boylan, I’ve had a particular interest in gender studies. Boylan’s memoir, in a hilarious, moving and honest way, explains the oft-stereotyped and overlooked issue of transgendered people. For me personally, this was a life-changing book – I’ll always remember reading:
“After I grew up and became female, people would often ask me, How did you know, when you were a child? … It seemed obvious to me that this was something you understood intuitively, not on the basis of what was between your legs, but because of what you felt in your heart. Remember when you woke up this morning-I’d say to my female friends-and you knew you were female? That’s how I felt. That’s how I knew.”
My heart goes out to the transgender community, who are dealt one of the most difficult hands I think a person can get. There is very little education or acceptance of the issue, and I hope that in the future, as with race and sexuality, that can slowly start to change.
So I was immediately drawn to the story of “My Princess Boy“, Cheryl Kilodavis’ self-published story that was recently picked up by Simon and Schuster. Michel Martin of NPR’s Tell Me More interviews Kilodavis, the mother of the inspiration for “Princess Boy”, as well as Sara Mindel, director of clinical services at the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League in DC, and Bonnita Spikes, the mother of an older transgender male-female. Listen to the story here.
Kilodavis’ 5-year-old son, Dyson is male (so far, he’s a boy, inside and out), but he goes for anything sparkly, his favorite color is pink, and he prefers wearing dresses. In a world where girls can wear jeans and play with trucks, no problem, why is the opposite such a difficult concept? For Kilodavis’ family, they’ve let Dyson stay as he is, and are hoping to bring others more acceptance through this children’s book. Kids should be allowed to play and dress according to what makes them happy.
What’s the problem? It’s doesn’t lie with the kids, it’s with the adults. When presented with non-traditional children, parents can’t help but make it about grown-up concepts – homosexuality, gender – when the child may simply like the “wrong” color or toys. As interviewer Michel Martin awkwardly admits, most people have a hard time talking about boys dressing as girls without jumping to the question, “But is he GAY?” The answer is: he’s FIVE! If he was wearing blue, no one would even think about asking a five-year-old’s sexual orientation. As Jennifer Finney Boylan writes:
“It certainly had nothing to do with whether I was attracted to girls or boys. This… was the one that, years later, would frequently elude people, including the overeducated smarty-pants who consituted much of my inner circle. But being gay or lesbian is about sexual orientation. Being transgender is about identity.”
At this point, “Princess Boy” and the Kilodavis family are big news, featured in almost every news media outlet, including the Today Show. But is this children’s book really going to bring acceptance to unique kids like Dyson? Amir Shaw’s editorial on Rollingout.com claims that the mother is just seeking media attention, and drastically changing Dyson’s life in the process.
While I believe the parents have the best of intentions, Shaw brings up valid points: this small child, now in the spotlight, is going to have to confront major adult issues in a very public way. While he could have grown out of dresses and pink in the privacy of his small community, now he’ll have photographs and interviews following him for the rest of his life. That’s a lot for a kid to bear – especially one who is now going to have to deal with transgender and gay questions, whether he wants to or not.
Is “Princess Boy” a beautiful story designed to help different kids feel that they’re not alone? Or is it bringing up social issues that shouldn’t be affecting young children’s lives? I haven’t picked up the book yet, but I sincerely hope its the former. Stay tuned…