Thursday, January 13, 2011

Interview with Cheryl Kilodavis, Author of My Princess Boy

One of the fresh, new voices leading the call for acceptance and tolerance is that of Cheryl Kilodavis,author of the children's book, My Princess Boy. Discovering that her son liked to wear girl's clothing and expressed himself in ways that fell outside of the social norm, Cheryl and her family chose to embrace their son's difference. Cheryl wrote, My Princess Boy as a way to teach tolerance and to spread the message that being different is O.K. Recently, I contacted Mrs. Kilodavis and expressed my interest in interviewing her for JuliusSpeaks. The following is what transpired.

1. As a multicultural family, your family encounters several different cultural attitudes and dogmas on a regular basis. How has your son’s choices and your family’s choice to embrace him been accepted in the various communities in which you interact?

It’s been a mixed bag, but 95% have been supportive. I’d say 3% have respectfully disagreed with our decision but also admit that we put loving our child first. The other 2% have personally addressed us with negativity, which we ignore because it’s not constructive conversation. Not surprisingly, the toughest audience has been the African American community, in large part because of religious and cultural norms. Having close extended family in the south, we knew this would happen when we decided to go public and publish the book. What is refreshing is many men in the African American community are sticking up for love and acceptance, regardless of disagreeing or agreeing with our parenting choice. Dean and I have led African American groups and diversity committees since college so we understand the discomfort. The hope is that the constructive conversations continue so all children who feel different, are different, or choose to be different are accepted for who they are.

2. We’ve recently seen H&M, the fashion brand, come out with a new line of skirts for men. Gender conformity codes are constantly being broken down in society. Despite this, most gender codes remain strongly in place. What do you make of the pace at which these codes are being challenged and torn down? How would you advise others to work towards eradicating these cultural dogmas?

As a family, we use children’s books to help our kids learn about many things – how to share, how to live in a different country, how to cross the street. To my surprise, there weren’t any books about little boys dressing up, so I created one. Girls dressing in traditional boy clothes are much more accepted than little boys dressing as girls. I feel the pace is slow to change on that front. But books like My Princess Boy and the fantastic first step by H&M helps people like my son Dyson to feel that it is ok to go with what feels natural.

3. Do you agree with the concept that there are more than two genders, that the definition of gender should be expanded to include transgender and other forms of gender identification?

I really don’t have enough knowledge to say; I am learning more every minute. However, I do agree with what the psychologist Dr. Vilhauer said on our first TV appearance in Seattle on New Day Northwest with Margaret Larsen – “there is more than one way to be a boy and more than one way to be a girl.”

4. Has your son begun to develop a gender identity?

Dyson is happy being a boy. He actually coined the term Princess Boy when I told him boys were not princesses. In response he told me, “I am a Princess Boy!” Early on we went to doctors because we wanted to know that Dyson was happy within himself. The verdict – we have a healthy and happy little boy. He just loves to dress up and all things pink and sparkly.

5. How old is your son?

Dyson is 5 now.

6. Self-expression is often lauded in this society. However, this society is weighted down by hegemonic and patriarchal dogmas that condition people to conform. How would you propose that we as individuals and as a society break away from hegemony and patriarchy in order to live more fully and freely?

This is a tough one. I do believe dialogue changes suppressed societal norms so conversations are crucial in the transformation of accepting self-expression. However, I am not sure there is one way. At the basic level, when I see something different, I ask myself two questions to use as barometers to my decisions: 1) Why is this bothering me? To answer where is this discomfort coming from? and 2) Is it harming anyone? The first question is a deep dive and when the second answer is no, it allows you to move forward. I also think we need practice on how to be compassionate parents. Learning from children’s choices does not mean we lose our position as strict parents, it means we are accepting the unique person within our children and showing them that their own internal radars are something they can trust. Again, if it’s not harming anyone we should accept and move on.

7. You wrote this book as a means of showing love and support to your son and to teach others the value of acceptance. Has this book helped your son develop as a person?

My Princess Boy has helped our entire family develop as individuals. The story is much more than a boy in a dress. It’s a story of hope, and of the simple need to be liked, accepted – to be friends. Before I self published, I used the book as a tool to help other adults who spent time with my child -- teachers, educators, camp counselors -- so they would accept him and not crush his spirit. Both of my sons carry the book around and used it as a tool for their friends to read, which then extends on to their parents. It really is a story about accepting differences, learning how exclusion hurts, and teaching children how to prevent bullying before it starts.

8. What advice would you give to other children dealing with issues of gender and sexual identity?

I am not a specialist qualified to answer this question -- I am just a mother trying to make the world a kinder place for my child. But I will say that every family is different. Talk to a doctor or someone you trust to point you in a direction for advice and support.

9. What advice would you give to parents dealing with issues similar to yours?

Again, it’s hard to give advice when all parents, children, families are different. But again, talk to a doctor of specialist -- and please know, you are not alone.

10. What does your son dream about? What does he want to be when he grows up?

Dyson has many answers. I just asked Dyson right now and here’s what he told me (as of today)
What do you dream about?
“I dream that the world will let Princess Boys dress up and that I will have friends in the whole world”.
What do you want to be?
“I want to be a Princess Boy model, a gymnast, an artist and a dancer and a Princess Boy who wears dresses when I want to.”

Thanks for agreeing to this interview.

1 comment:

KBJr. said...

Wonderful and insightful interview. I appreciated her honesty...and the questions were spot on (even if she wasn't entirely prepared to tackle them).

Good read. Great job.