Princess Boys and Star Wars Girls

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Six weeks ago, bloggers and news shows celebrated the right of my first-grade daughter to carry a Star Wars water bottle.  In a post that went viral, I wrote about how Katie had been teased for liking Star Wars.  The boys told her "Star Wars was for boys, not for girls," and the world responded that girls can like Star Wars too. 

Apparently, the world isn't quite ready to shout that boys can like princesses.

As we speak, bloggers and news shows are now discussing whether or not five year-old Dyson Kilodavis has the right to walk around in princess costumes and dresses.  Dyson's mom, Cheryl Kilodavis, has written a children's book called "My Princess Boy."  On the book's Facebook page, the following description is given:

My Princess Boy is a nonfiction picture book about acceptance. It is about our son who happily expresses his authentic self by dressing up in dresses and enjoying traditional girl things such as anything pink or sparkly.

The case is being tried in the court of public opinion, and the jury is most definitely still out.

Why? 

Why was Katie cheered on for wearing Star Wars shirts (from the boys department), carrying a Star Wars backpack and a Star Wars thermos and wielding a light saber, while Dyson and his parents are being subject to intense criticism?

Clearly, thousands of people do support Dyson and his parents, as evidenced by the fact that the book's Facebook page has picked up 5,000 new likes since Cheryl and Dyson appeared on the Today show earlier this week.

But I can't help but notice a not-so-small number of negative articles and comments from people who disagree with Cheryl for "parading her son around in a dress."  Comments range from those who respectfully disagree with Cheryl's decision to those who spew hate at her.  Some readers have called Cheryl a brave heroine and others are calling her an abusive mom. 

Dyson's story is very polarizing in a way that Katie's story was not.  Of the thousands of comments, stories and articles written about Katie, there was not a single one that suggested it was morally wrong for Katie to dress up in Star Wars clothes and play with boy toys. 

The few negative comments we received were from people who thought that being teased was no big deal and that Katie should "suck it up."  (To which I respond: teasing hurts; it made Katie cry and prevented her from bringing her favorite Star Wars thermos to school, and teasing can be a form of bullying).

And just because Dyson likes to wear dresses does not mean that he will grow up to be gay.  If your son dresses up in a Drew Brees Jersey, does it mean he is going to grow up to be a star quarterback for the New Orleans Saints? (You can only wish!) 

Katie liked to wear a Superman costume when she was three.  Last I checked, she was not made of steel and couldn't see through things with X-Ray vision.  (But I think it would be pretty cool if she could).

And even if Dyson does turn out to be gay, who cares?  Why does it matter so much? 

It is hard to be a woman in a man's world.  Of this, there is no doubt.  Women are paid less for the same jobs as men; women are competing for a small number of top spots in traditionally male-dominated fields.  Katie has received letters from literally thousands of Geek Girls who have suffered at the hands of bullies as they were growing up, and they still feel the pain of being "different."

Cross-dressing girls raise some eyebrows, as seen by the scrutiny given to the clothing and hairstyle preferred by young Shiloh Jolie-Pitt.  Whereas four-year-old Suri Cruise sashays around in high heels, Shiloh runs around in trousers and boots.  Growing up in the public eye is hard, and people have noticed that Shiloh is not a girly-girl.

But it is even harder to be a cross-dressing boy in a man's world.  Dyson and his parents are receiving thousands of letters of support, but they are also receiving a lot of flak.

This begs the question of which is more important - to keep your child safe or to keep your child true?  Should Dyson's parents protect him from bullies by refusing to allow him to cross dress?  Or should they protect him from feeling stifled by agreeing to let him cross dress?

Cheryl Kilodavis is trying to find a way to make Dyson safe and keep him true by asking the world to be more accepting. 

Cheryl said, "Let 2011 be the Year of Acceptance."

Some people may look at Katie and Dyson and see their differences.  They represent different races, different genders and different religions.  One is adopted and one is not.  One likes to carry a light saber and the other likes to carry a princess wand. 

But others will look at Katie and Dyson and see their similarities.  They are two children who like to play.  They like to fantasize and use their imaginations.  They want to feel good about the toys and clothes that make them happy.  They want to grow up in a world where they can be safe and true.

Let Katie raise up her light saber.  Let Dyson raise up his princess wand.  And when the two touch, may all the magic of Cinderella's fairy godmother combine with all the Force of the Jedi Knights to open even the most closed of doors.

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  • I hope you both find acceptance in the people you care about, even if the world around you disagrees. Being different is going to make things harder, I am sorry about that. Here's to happiness and joy where we can find it. I hope you never lose who you are.

  • I'm not sure if this is the same boy you're talking about, but I saw this blog a while back about a little boy dressing up as Daphne from Scooby Doo for Halloween (http://nerdyapplebottom.com/2010/11/02/my-son-is-gay/). He looks amazing, and the mother wrote a blog about how the kids thought his costume was great, but the other mothers from his preschool thought that she was allowing her son to become gay. This is ridiculous, and most definitely a double standard, like you're talking about (the blogger says that if a girl had dressed up in a Batman costume, she wouldn't have gotten any weird looks).

    I will be joining you and Cheryl both in your year of acceptance. And, as always, my greetings to Katie as a fellow female Star Wars nerd!

  • In reply to JubileeGirl:

    It is in fact the same little boy.

  • In reply to fbbabe98:

    I beg to differ. Not only are the kids different ages, but different races.
    Boo's mom did a few phone interviews and posts, but she's kept her family in the shadows. Plus her kid just wanted to be Daphne for Halloween. Halloween is supposed to be for dressing up. Dyson wears dresses all of the time, while looking precious doing so.

  • In reply to fbbabe98:

    I believe the real difference here is the devaluing of things feminine. The boys tried to shut Katie out of what they saw was the male dominant Star Wars theme. People rally to her because we all rally to the male dominant stuff: Superbowls, Spiderman, Star Wars: it's all good.
    The same cannot be said of feminine stuff: princesses, sparkles, fairies, etc. It is demeaned as being "just for girls." My own first grade daughter is afraid to bring her favorite "girly" toys for show and share at school, because "the boys in my class won't like it and will say it is stupid." She needs the same support as your Katie to just be herself and like what she likes!
    By the way, I loved Star Wars stuff as a kid in the 70s and never once thought of it as a boy thing: neither did my girl friends who played with action figures with me. But the stuff is now marketed in the "boy" aisles of the toy sections now. Back then it was not.

  • In reply to fbbabe98:

    I just heard about Katie's story and I wanted to say-

    Hey, Katie! Don't let the bullies get to you they have no idea what they are talking about. I am in college and I have been a Star Wars fan all my life. They are my dads favorite movies and so it has always been around me. A friend of mine has a little boy and I still play Star Wars with him when ever I am home from college.

    The boys used to give me a hard time when I was your age too. I just told them that I wanted to be like my dad, because he is one of the coolest people I know. Even now as an adult I am given a hard time for liking things that are "for boys." But you know what? A girl can do anything a boy can do and they can do it in high heals. So keep your head up and be proud of who you are. Take it form me in the end the bullies don't matter, because you will find friends that like the same things as you do. Those friends are the ones that matter, and they will love you no matter what!

  • In reply to JubileeGirl:

    You know. I often have this very discussion with people. I am one of the thousands that attend the San Diego Comic-Con International every year. I am one of the still thousands that costume. My father has an issue with it because I'm 28 and not 12 but, as Madeline says "poo-poo." As a costumer I look for good craftsmanship. And let me tell you. A great many of the best costumes I see every year, are 1 of 2 things. 1 made by a man, and or 2 made and worn by a man, often in the sense of "cross-dressing" (we call it "crossplaying" and it goes for both girls as guys and guys as girls. I think if you're brave enough to wear it, go for it. And don't worry about what anyone else says. And to those that have the problems, I remind them that not everyone agrees with everything they do or say, but most are too polite to say anything.

  • In reply to Kristinamjs:

    Like the person above, I go to cons and dress up in costumes, though most of mine are made up of off the shelf items. I am a guy and I love dressing up in costume from time to time. As of right now I have 3 costumes at my disposal: Walter from Hellsing, Luigi (to pair up with my girlfriend when she is Daisy) and Neo from the Matrix. I will admit crossplay is not my thing; however, I have a great respect for those who do it and do it well. Though both are women, two good friends of mine (one who I have known well over 10 years) are two of the best crossplayers I know. One does a Link (from Zelda: Ocarina of Time) that is so good that when I first saw it, I thought she was a guy. With in this costume her props are mostly hand carved and the costume itself is nearly all handmade, (except for the prosthetics like the ears) right down to the chainmail she wears! The other, who I have known for over 10 years, does an excellent Sir Integral Fairbrooks Wingates Hellsing (from hellsing) and a flawless crossplay of Sephiroth from Final Fantasy. Much of her costumes are also hand made as well. Those that cosplay or crossplay, and do it well, are some of the most respected costumers in the geek realm. Are they seen as gay? No, absolutely not and both the girls I mentioned are actually in hetrosexual relationships.

    What I think it boils down to is that society as a whole, has the view that if a child deviates from the norm, particularly a boy; they are a target for being seen as a possible deviant from that norm, be it gay, geek or any other classification. By being different those who subscribe to the normal rank and file system, often feel threatened by someone who is going against the grain and what they believe is acceptable by society. The irony in this, at least from my perspective, is that many of the guys I grew up with as classmates or have met more recently that are gay, you would not know it just by looking at the way they act or in some cases acted before they came out of the closet. I grew up and went to school in Texas by the way, not the most gay friendly state. None of them cross dress, and in most cases dress better than other guys their age. That is to say, those I went to school with rarely got into trouble for dress code violations and often dressed in a manner fitting of a job interview.

    What this boils down to is people fear what they don't understand or is different from what they see as the norm. Does this make Dyson's parents bad parents, absolutely not. The quote "bad parents" are those who don't let their children explore and expand their individuality within reasonable bounds, not dictated by what the parent considers "normal" for a child that age and gender.

    @JessSquared: I too played Star Wars CCG growing up. Still have my cards too, though I do not play. I miss collecting them.

  • In reply to Kristinamjs:

    We as parents are given the responsibility to raise our children as best we can. Society, good or bad, has created a guide book by which is needed to be followed roughly.

    Star Wars, to me and my world, has never been about sexual orientation. Your daughter was surrounded by stupid kids saying stupid things, kids do that. You are right to teach her what you did.

    A little boy identifying himself as a girl is not in the same ballpark. Yes, a boy can wear dresses and play with dolls, but what do you tell him when he wants to be a Mommy?

    Boys & Girls are different, thank God! Our job, just as in nature, is to teach what those differences are all about. I don't think it is fair to say the boy will grow up and be gay. Kids are not sexually minded at that age, "normally". If he does, there's nothing wrong with that.

    Is the boy going to teased, no doubt. I'm not a supporter of teasing and/or bullying. I grew up fat and in a wheelchair, I took my fair share of teasing and/or bullying. However, I didn't give my bullies extra ammo by which to tease me with either. Sometimes kids need to reel in behaviors so as to reduce the teasing and/or bullying. Example, Star Wars. I can own all the videos, have all the costumes and know all the lines, but if I go out in public as Boba Fett I'm asking to be teased.

  • In reply to Kristinamjs:

    What a beautiful, eloquent, wise post.

    It's true that girls have much more leeway to be themselves than boys do--just look in any classroom, where you will find girls in jeans, girls going off to play soccer, girls dreaming of being doctors and lawyers. But boys in dresses, boys who want to play ballet, to grow up to be homemakers and seamstresses? They are not given the kinds of support girls are, and are far too often bullied for their differences. But as Katie found (and what Shiloh found), there are even limits to what people are willing to accept in terms of girls expressing a more typically masculine form of gender expression. I am so, so pleased that Katie has so many supporters--and I'm fighting for that day when my son, Sam, has that kind of support too. (He's got lots of support in our family and school and community--but once I start talking about him in public, the mean-spiritedness and the bullying come out, just as they've come out for Dyson.)

    I write about raising my gender non-conforming boy at www.sarahhoffmanwriter.com.

  • In reply to Kristinamjs:

    Gay men are not cross dressers, we love being men. I grew up wearing football gear, baseball gear etc. I must mention that I don't notice princesses, but I can't take my eyes off of quarterbacks, soccer players and baseball players. This article mentioned Drew Brews, one of my favorite men to look at and I felt that I needed to make this point. Don't assume that you little boy will grow up straight, just because he like sports.

  • In reply to Kristinamjs:

    The sexist stereotypes rampant in your post is where the root of this issue lies. "It is hard to be a woman in a man's world. Of this, there is no doubt," and yet you immediately throw that proposition out the window by posting about how a boy is having a much tougher time not living up to your stereotyped male role than a girl in an equivalent position. Next you pull out the old chestnut "women are paid less for the same jobs as men." Can we just bury this dead horse once and for all please? Women do not get paid less for doing the same job. I don't care what race, creed, gender, color, size, shape, height, or species you are: if I can hire you to produce the exact same work for less than someone or something else, you're getting the job. That's Capitalism 101. What this lie perpetuates is that all businesses are owned by men who are so stupid and misogynistic that they'd rather throw away money than (*horrors*) hire a woman. Let's face it: illegal immigrants work cheap and we had to pass laws to keep these stupid misogynistic businessmen who'd rather throw their money away from hiring them. Finally you decide to throw some salt in the wound by following up with "but it is even harder to be a cross-dressing boy in a man's world." This "man's world" that makes it so difficult for this boy to just be who is is one of your creation. Stop demonizing men as the key-holders to some hateful, fictitious boy's club and you'll take a giant step to creating a world where this poor kid can just be who he wants to be.

  • In reply to Kristinamjs:

    "This begs the question of which is more important - to keep your child safe or to keep your child true?"

    Can we please stop the misuse of the phrase "to beg the question"? Thank you.

  • In reply to JubileeGirl:

    Teasing is definitely a form a bullying. I endured years of teasing when I was growing up and it was a very trying experience. The kind of teasing many kids are subjected to while growing up isn't a few comments they can just ignore.

    I'm also a fellow Geek Girl who is perfectly happy with who she is. :) I spent high school in the mid-90's playing a Star Wars CCG game that was put out by Decipher. I was the only girl at my local card & comic book store. I'm also a member of more than one Star Wars club, staff for San Diego Comic Con, and a Chemist. I also have the same birthday as Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek. To name a few.

    No, it is not always easy existing in a male-dominated world.. There's the weird looks or the unkind comments from those who think girls should never deviate from the stereotypical "pink aisle" girl. There's also the throng of man-boys who do not know how to treat a geek girl appropriately (especially one clad in, say, a Mara Jade costume).

    But I can no more change what I like than I can change the color of my hair. I could dye it, but all that would accomplish is a temporary cover of what is really there. It's not a true change, it's just a mask. It's pretending to be just another blond California girl when I'm really a pale, freckle-faced red-head.

    Plus, dye has a high probability of turning my hair orange.

    So, why would I risk disaster in an attempt to pretend to be something I'm not? Simple - I wouldn't.

    Gender stereotypes are tired and old and serve no purpose other than to make people feel self-conscious about not fitting into some bizzare, arbitrary mold that society has somehow decided is "correct."

    We need more boys who think princesses are cool and girls who think lightsabers are awesome.

    Oh.. And I, too, am an adopted lightsaber-wielding geek girl. :)

  • In reply to JubileeGirl:

    why does it matter? kids should be able to like what they want

  • In reply to JubileeGirl:

    When I was a boy, I wanted an Easy Bake Oven for Christmas. I wanted it because I wanted to be able to cook my own treats. Not because I wanted to be a male house wife. Unfortunately, it was marketed towards girls and was bright pink. My parents decided not to get that for me. I also liked a certain Rainbow Bright tv movie because of its fantasy and magical elements. Not because I wanted to be a girl.

    AFAIK, and like me, Katie isn't drawn towards what she likes (Star Wars) because its marketed to the other gender. It's because it has universal appeal. And here I must respectfully disagree, Star Wars toys are not boy toys. They are everybody toys.

    But dresses aren't like Star Wars in the sense that they aren't universal in their appeal to both genders. I think if we're being honest we have to admit that.

    And that gives me pause. I'm not so sure you can go from saying Star Wars toys are for everyone to also concluding that because Star Wars toys appeal to everyone, that therefore boys can wear dresses. I think a stronger case needs to be made.

    Anyways, in the case of Dyson, I wonder what dresses and his princess wand represent in his mind. Are they ways to make believe that he is in a magical land like Rainbow Bright was to me? Or does he inherently feel feminine? If its something like the former, his mom may be able to kill two birds with one stone by introducing him to toys and things that would affirm him as a boy, but also represent what the princess wand represents to him, like a wizard's staff, or Star Wars, for example.

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