What started off as an interview for an article quickly turned into what felt like a conversation amongst old friends who started plotting bi-coastal play dates for their sons. While I would love to share our entire two hour phone chat with you all, my transcription skills are sorely lacking. However, I have managed to transcribe some of my favorite moments between us... (My bits are in the regular font and Cheryl's are in purple italics)
What prompted you beyond encouraging your own son to actually writing the book?
I needed a tool...it was really sort of a selfish move. I went to the bookstore. We do everything with books with teaching both of my kids and having conversations. And to my surprise, there weren't any books that focused just on young boys who love to play princess. It was more focused on gender confusion or sexual orientation, and my son was two at the time when he started showing interest in things pink and sparkly. So I thought, I'm not going to introduce that at two, you know? He's way too young.
After going through my own process of acceptance...because I initially was redirecting. And then finally my older son, he just says to me "why can't you just let him be happy?" and I realized that it was my issue. That I was uncomfortable, so I was trying to really control Dyson to be what would make me comfortable versus what was making him comfortable. So, the book is really a result of my journal entries and because there weren't any books out there I went to the local copy shop and printed it out and started giving it out to his teachers and any playdates...anybody that would have time with Dyson. I didn't want them to be with him and crush his spirit. Really the book was a way to say that exclusion hurts and when you make comments it hurts and will you just accept me for who I am.
Were you acknowledging at the time, or was it maybe in hindsight, that you were actively breaking down these stereotypical gender norms or was it just more...deal with the situation with my son, make him comfortable and then...?
The thing that was different was that my husband was completely on board from day one. Here's my older son, who's sort of my social justice kid, and he says "why can't you let him be happy?" and then here's my husband saying we're going to support him just like we supported our older son who loves soccer. I felt a little bit alone in the house and I think I had to do some introspection about what was going on. Once I realized that this was my problem, I feel that I needed to get into action. Part of that was what happened in 2010, with children taking their own lives for not being accepted for who they are. I got enraged in a way. Initially, no. I wasn't thinking of it that way, but then when we talked about going public and using our real names and really being honest about this, all I could think about were my children would be leaving the nest in ten to fifteen years and that's how long I have to get the world on board for accepting them for who they are.
I read the book to my son yesterday, and mind you...I'm reading it as he has painted sparkly fingernails, his toes are rainbow color, and wearing his Hello Kitty watch. He has long curly hair that he refuses to let me cut. Towards the end of the book, I was trying to gauge his reaction and he goes "yeah. I'm not a princess boy." And he loves dress up and always loves to play princess with his best friend, but he doesn't register it the same way. It's so simplistic for them and they don't need the same labels as we do and I wonder how much of it is for our sake as adults?
It's fascinating. There's a boy in Dyson's class who calls himself a princess boy who doesn't wear pink or dresses. The whole point of the book is really to have that conversation. To really feel that strength that it is what it is.
...I think the biggest thing is that this really is a journey and a process. What happens is people come to Dean and they come to me and they say, "Oh my gosh. I don't know how you got there, but I want to talk about it more. My son wanted to be a princess for Halloween but I wouldn't let him." So the conversations are happening.
I always have to remember that when I live in my little bubble here, stepping outside of it, how nasty people can get in terms of their response. That it offends them so much to that point where they're like "this is absolutely wrong!"
I always say...'"You can disagree with me," that's fine, as long as it's constructive. I get it, because I was redirecting as well. The interesting thing to me, is the media that has reached out and wanted to have the conversation and cover it. Some of the media wants to put us in a category of "okay, he's homosexual" or "he's going to be transsexual." And when my husband and I refuse, we say "look, we don't know what those outcomes are going to be yet. He's five. We're just talking about the basic need of acceptance." And some of the media, some of the talk shows will say, "oh, yeah, we want to actually go to a category."
Well, they "need" sensation you know...to sell it.
But isn't there enough sensation of children taking their lives? I've got ten to fifteen years to get the world on board, so my kids can be who they are outside of this nest. Yet, that positive approach in parenting doesn't seem to be the one that we want to talk about.
It's interesting to me how the world says "this is an important topic, we want to talk about this, we want to support this." And the media says "eh...it's not that big of a story."
Probably about 40% of the people who support the Princess Boy movement really are people who have different families, children of adoption. You know, everything that feels different and it's just saying in this basic book, "Will you play with me? Will you like me for who I am?"
That to me, is our bigger need. I feel like America needs a wake up call in parenting! We need to listen to our kids more. We need to try to get out of this control freak and this ego in parenting and really step up and support our children and help them be the best that they can be. That to me is the biggest thing that can be covered and dealt with. But...you know, it's probably too positive.
It's true. I feel like the stories that make it, especially related to kids, are the sad ones. It's awful. We should be celebrating more of the achievements and more of these types of things that celebrate diversity and inclusion, but those get left to the side.
I just think that if we can break down these preconceived boxes, that are just easier for people to fit kids into, that it will just be happier for the kids.
Aren't we raising them to not be in a box? We're all trying to do that. But I'm a victim of that. I felt like the image of my family and the image of our household, everything flipped upside down hen Dyson told me he was a Princess Boy. ...It's one of those things where we contradict ourselves. We want to be accepted for who we are, and we say later in life "that's just who I am,' and then our children are saying the same thing. Just because they're young doesn't mean that they don't have a voice or interests or feelings. It may be hard and we may not agree or get it, but the happiness on Dyson's face is enough.
(It felt like anything was on the table and I, of course, had to bring up the (now heavily debated) J. Crew ad which had only gone up a day before our phone call... )
I had to go and "like" J. Crew just so I could go and comment on it. All I see is this fantastical, whimsical, fun. This kid just enjoying himself in this picture. It was happy and sad. Happy that J. Crew...with probably no forethought to gender construct in general put up this great photo of their staff member and her son not thinking they were even making a statement in that way. And yet, they did.
"Yeah. It's exactly that. That's exactly it. The world, I think, is coming around to acceptance. The more that we talk about it. The more that we show that painting nails of a little boy is fine. Is it harming anyone? No! That's the point of the book. Keep the conversation going. I even say that in the book. If you see a princess boy...will you laugh at him? That's really awesome of J. Crew."
If you would like to connect with Cheryl and My Princess Boy, check out the book's Facebook page!
Also - if you would like a chance to win your own copy of My Princess Boy, check out this post from earlier in the week!