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 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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