My Princess Boy

Seattle area parent Cheryl Kilodavis has written a book in support of her dress-loving child, Dyson. (Available here)

Posted by on October 26th, 2010 at 04:00 pm

Category: video 31 comments »

31 Responses to “My Princess Boy”

  1. radical/rebel

    I cannot get enough of stories where gender-nonconforming children and youth are supported by their families and communities.

    Just great.


  2. Jessica

    I am personally not happy about very small children (under 12, to pick an age) being considered transgender. I am sorry, and I may be wrong, but I think that the gender of very small children is a perception of them rather than a characteristic of them. Individual children vary so widely, much more than even adults do. Deciding that their behaviors represent gender identification seems really pretentious to me and potentially very damaging.

    By all means, let’s not enforce gender stereotypes on children. As they grow older and define, refine, and redefine themselves, we should be supportive, but we should not decide what they are or what they will be.


  3. Gen

    @Jessica, wow, you realise this is pretty judgemental? Your experiences are not everyone’s. Some younger children very clearly say themselves, with no outside influence or encouragement on the matter, that they feel transgender. It’s not fair for *you* to force your definition of ‘it’s for older people’ on *them*.


    Jessica replied:

    I know that transgender was not a word until I was on the high side of 30, but I deny the existence of any 7 year old who would naturally come up with transgender as a self-descriptive term without outside influence or encouragement. Might just as easily find a 7 year old who could come up with accurate definitions for “junk bond derivative” or “rho prime incursion into normal space” without adult coaching.

    I am not judging the young people themselves. I am judging other older people who have agendas that are advanced by prompting young people identified as transgender at a time when these concepts are not usually and should not probably be meaningful to them.

    If this view of childhood as being something other than pre-adulthood makes me seem an old biddy, then so be it.

    If there are five year olds with an appreciation of sexual and gender identity that most folks develop grudgingly in early adulthood, then they have my sympathies and I hope that they survive the lack of any meaningful childhood.


    Elijah replied:

    Re: the “meaningful childhood” bit. Er, what? One’s childhood has all the meaning that one gives it, and being aware of sexuality and gender does not negate what it means to that person. What standards are we judging a childhood by here? Are children supposed to be completely innocent of concepts that can describe who they are and what they like to do?

    Of course kids can’t really come up with the exact precise label of transgender without LEARNING about it. That’s why they learn about it! I agree that pushing a label on someone is shitty no matter what age that person is, but identities are meaningful at any age and learning the range of words that can articulate it best can help, especially once puberty hits and it’s all “OMG FEELINGS WHAT ARE THESE AHHHH.”

    Also, keep in mind that labels can change and people can change, too. People are allowed to shed labels that don’t fit them anymore/never did.


    Dae replied:

    Have you studied early childhood development and the development of gender identity much? Because there’s a lot of evidence to support the idea that children tend to develop a sense of gender (both in general and when it comes to their own gender) at a very young age. Of course, it’s difficult to know exactly how much is nature and how much is nurture, but it’s clear that young children have a sense of gender. Unlike sexual orientation, gender tends to emerge quite early, as young as the toddler years.

    A good number of trans people report knowing their gender, or at least knowing they were different, for as long as they can remember. They may not understand as children that they’re trans, but many do know that they’re different from other children, and a fair number have a clear identity as male or female from a young age. I get the impression that people like me, for whom that wasn’t the case, are more the minority.

    I agree that encouraging a child to identify as trans would be wrong, but we’re talking about kids who are probably trans to be begin with. What could be wrong with letting them know that there are words to describe what they feel, and that it’s okay? Would it be better to let the kids grow up thinking they’re freaks, or that there’s no explanation for how they feel?


    Jessica replied:

    In human social development, and particularly early childhood, there’s a lot of evidence for all kinds of things. I tend to be skeptical of all of them. One’s concept of childhood is a very personal thing, so anything I say, from my own experience, is bound to be controversial with many people. Not the least because I could be completely wrong.

    The 19th century notion that in childhood people are a blank slate is obviously wrong. The 21st century notion that children are just very small versions of their adult selves is equally bogus, at least so it seems to me.

    Using people’s memories, particularly early memories of themselves as your guide results in a hilariously flawed version of reality.

    Perhaps HL Mencken said it best when we said “We are here, this is now. Beyond that all human knowledge is bunk.”

    But whatever you believe, childhood should be a place of safety where you are allowed to become whatever it is you are. Children should not be exploited even for good causes, not by anybody, even people we like and agree with.


    I am a little bit worried about this kid being marauded around on shows and stuff, they should just not make a big deal of it.


  5. Quinn

    I came out as trans when I was around 14 and most of my extended family were skeptical because my mom is very supportive and they thought she was “pushing her agenda” on me.

    I’ve been lucky enough the get to hang out with the little kids (elementary school age)at Gender Spectrum, which is this group for parents of gender variant kids. While the language used by the parents is different from what the kids would use (gender variant or transgendered vs. I’m a boy who likes to wear dresses or I feel like a boy), I don’t think it particularly matters which specific words are used as long as the parent is supportive and giving their kid lots of room to grow. I can definitely relate to the feelings lots of these kids are having, and I know that if someone had explained to me what transgendered meant when I was in elementary school, using words I knew, I would have felt like I belonged with those people.


  6. kendall

    I also don’t think kids can even be gay or straight since I think it’s creepy as f**k to think of children as sexual beings. Gender makes sense but has a lot of weight to it, it could be more of a phase, I go through gender phases myself even now.

    FUN FACT: Last year my father apologized for raising me male until kindergarten. I thanked him for raising me a small human in his likeness.

    ^ the first pic is of me as a baby and I got called he and him a lot and my dad kinda shrugged it off, until they asked my name but he liked putting me in race car or sports teams shirts and acting like I was a baby and not his daughter or son but his kid, it sucks sometimes that things have changed.


    epinards replied:

    i agree about the gay or straight deal (children’s identity not that settled) but kids are sexual creatures. we have sexuality from the moment we are born. Kids masturbate for example. Healthy parenting means having healthy boundaries, respect, about how to deal with our sexual selves.

    Don’t freak out when you think of kids as sexual beings. Think of them as kids, whose sexuality, just like the rest of them, is childlike and immature, and which needs to be protected both by them and by others, just like the rest of them does. If you spend time with kids, especially if you are in intimate relationships with them (ie your own kids or nieces or nephews etc.), it will come up and your feelings of freak-out can get communicated to them. A healthy response is to deal very matter of factly with whatever situation presents itself, with lots of respect and kindness and lots of clarity about personal and social boundaries, without making a big fuss about things.


  7. kendall

    Oh also: I spent a great deal of my naked childhood, mostly laying in the tub, looking for the scar from where they cut my dinky off when my mom wanted a son, because from the dozens of photos were I look like a little boy in a baseball cap, I had it in my mind that my parents had me changed into a girl because they wanted to have another baby, and when that baby was a boy, they changed me. I begged and cried and pleaded to be changed back, I remember having tears run down my face and looking my mom in the eye and saying “But, I promise, I’d be a good son” when I was maybe just starting school. She always tells me that she doesn’t remember this…but she also doesn’t remember the dog that the neighbour used to beat keeping us up at night and then it wasn’t there anymore. She doesn’t remember things sometimes.


  8. kendall

    **I am aware that I am female born and have ovaries and breasts and never had a penis…but I believed that my parents decided one day I’d make a better girl. I really thought this was true for the first decade of my life. I got my period, and decided I imagined being what the girls in the locker room of my gym class, called a hermaphrodite, which I am also not, I’m not intersexed to my knowledge, but when you’re nearly 6ft tall before high school, people talk.


    epinards replied:

    thanks for sharing your struggle.


  9. epinards

    if I child that I identified as a girl told me that they thought of themselves as a boy, I would ask them if they wanted me to refer to them that way. If they said yes, then I would. If they said ‘yes when we are playing but not when we are at school,’ then I would do that. if they said ‘no’ then i would do that. If they later changed their mind, I would go with that too. I would follow the child’s lead. I don’t think you need to get too wrapped up in child development or this or that. There’s no agenda. Depending on their age and capacity for understanding I would tell them about the existence of trans people and my knowledge about what it means to be trans. But if they were too young to understand that, I wouldn’t. Basically I would just follow the kid’s lead.

    Kids can be *very* clear about who they are and what they want to be called. Or they can give mixed signals. And they can change all the time. That all sounds like how grown-ups behave. I think holding it all with a light touch and a willingness for the kid to take the lead makes a lot of practical sense in a situation where the truth is we don’t really know what the future holds, we only know what’s in the present.

    I would just extend to the child the same respect I would extend to an adult.

    I would not go parading the kid around as an example of anything. I would never expose my child to unnecessary public scrutiny. I would never call the kid trans if the kid wasn’t saying, after being introduced to the concept, “i am trans.” I would just call the kid what the kid wants me to call them.

    I don’t think you need a lot of theory or nature v nurture or agendas . . it really just comes down to personal respect in the moment.


    faith replied:

    So so beautifully said.


    Jessica replied:

    Agreed, mostly. Only thing is, there’s things we all have to deal with. Kids have siblings and other relatives. Kids have friends and acquaintances. And the big one: kids go to school.

    I know few families where siblings or relatives would go along passively with changing the gender identification of a child, especially more than once. I know of no school where this is even remotely possible.

    It’s a great ideological stance, but it is impractical in an imperfect, highly flawed world.


    faith replied:

    I’m a mother to three kids. There are plenty of ways my children have expressed themselves that have challenged my extended family and friends. Ever since each of them were babies, I made it a point to let them freely be who they are.

    How are we supposed to change anything if we just say, awe gee, it’s a great idea but totally unrealistic? It takes people just doing it. It’s possible.


    Jessica replied:

    I remember a march in Alabama (1963) where a five year old boy caught a brick in his face. It was agonizing to watch the mother holding her child, while all around a wall of white faces laughed and pointed, jeering at the blood on his mother’s hands.

    Yes, it may be necessary for it to be done, but by children? That is a very difficult choice that I would not make for any parent but myself.

    XylophoneGender replied:

    Stepping back from this discussion a bit, I’m glad that Genderfork is able to offer a space where people can respectfully debate like this. We do have forums in the works, which you will all hopefully take part in once they’re ready. In the meantime, I just wanted to ask everyone to think calmy about analogies before making them. While charged topics like children, innocence, protection, etc can hit deep, I encourage everyone to keep the discussion respectful and avoid veering towards Godwin’s Law (see Thank you!

    Riam replied:

    I get what you’re saying, and I’m not too hot on slapping labels on kids either. But you’re not arguing to suppress a kid’s gender, are you? Like forcing the kid to wear certain clothes, or do activities that make them very unhappy? Some children feel very strongly about being a certain gender, and if they’re not supported in that, they can become suicidal.


  10. epinards

    My family would. Every single person in my family would learn what they needed to do. That is because I have created a family around me that is filled with respect and human decency.

    It required me to let go of most of my biological family, so creating the family I live in was not without cost. But the cost to me would have been much higher to have stayed connected to people not willing to extend respect to me and the people I love. People who do not respect those in my family, are not welcome to join my family. It’s not an ideological stance. It’s just how I live. It makes me happy to live that way. It makes me happy to see the people I love, treated with respect by the other people I love.

    I am learning how to support kids in school all the time. Learning how to navigate an unjust and cruel world is a basic task of growing up. The job of adults is to help children learn how to do that. It starts by demonstrating what it really looks like to live with kindness . . then the next step is considering, what do we do when the world does not respond with kindness. That’s a tricky one. But I am not willing to be unkind to a child, just because there are other people in the world who aren’t willing to get with the program.


  11. Jessica

    @XylophoneGender I apologize if anything I have said here makes anyone feel bad. That’s not what this place is for. We have all had terrifically good and terribly bad experiences which engender strong feelings in us. Sometimes strong feelings result in strong words, but I hope no one takes my words personally, especially as an insult, for I mean no one harm and I think very highly of everyone I have “met” here. Disagreement need not cause bad feeling. We’re all in this together. Thanks to one and all and much sincere respect and admiration.


    XylophoneGender replied:

    Thank you for your consideration & work to keep this a safe space. The Alabama comment, which departed significantly from personal experience stories, struck me as opening a risky door to more tangential conversations. I understand completely that this is a powerful topic and I really appreciate everyone who’s been contributing.


    Jessica replied:

    The Alabama comment was a personal experience story… see the article a friend wrote about it:

    if you’re interested.


  12. jean c.

    a) I think it’s awesome when people bring their kids to political & human rights protests. obviously no parent would want to bring their kids into danger — but it’s really important for parents to involve their kids in the experience of standing up for their or other people’s rights.

    b) it’s also awesome when parents support their kids in those kids’ declared or stated gender expression. there *are* schools that are accepting of gender variant kids — and the way they got that way, I would bet, is that the parents (and possibly the kids, too) advocated long and hard for the kids’ presence, validity, and freedom of gender expression.

    at the same time, if I were a parent who knew that my kid’s school was not going to be a safe place for them to express themself, there could be a number of solutions, temporary or permanent, from convincing them to temporarily *not* fully express their gender identity at school, to home schooling, to changing schools, to moving to another town.

    I think no parent who was supportive of their kid would put them in a dangerous situation purposefully — in either one of these contexts. however, advocating for and supporting your kid based on desires they express is an ongoing project, adapted to your & their place & time, highly based on the context, background, and complexity of the situation. I don’t think we here, making comments on a blog, can make an ultimate statement about what any parent should or shouldn’t do….


  13. J.D.

    I have to say I think a valid point has been made here about not sticking labels on children. Yes, parents should be supportive and nurturing, but I think its also extremely important that the child be given time to have their own experience and define themselves and figure it out on their own. Gender, at least in my case, wasn’t something anyone could have given to me or explained to me, I had to discover it on my own – I don’t think I’d be alone in saying that many of us are STILL figuring it out. It scares me to see parents so quick to push labels on their children. Gender and sexuality are both things that seem to be subject to change and alteration over time. Children should be given time to play with the concepts and figure them out. I was a little boy who couldn’t figure out why my parents put me in dresses, then I was a tomboy tough-girl, then I was a lesbian who didn’t quite feel like a lesbian, then I went back to my genderbending of childhood. The journey was an important time of discovery for me, personally. If my parents had assumed I was trans as a child I may not have had the enlightening experiences I had and probably would have felt just as forced to be a boy for them as I was to be a girl for them. Now I’m comfortable being a little of both and a little of neither for me. This was a concept that I as a child hadn’t yet come to understand and at times still don’t. Hence my opinions. Its important to let the children make their own decisions, come to their own conclusions, and ultimately discover themselves. Identity can’t be handed to you, its a process. You have to find it on your own.


    XylophoneGender replied:

    “If my parents had assumed I was trans…”
    I’m glad that you were indeed given the freedom to discover yourself at your own pace. That’s one of the reasons I find the message of this book so important: labels like trans, transgender, or even gender variant never come into the storyline or even into the interview – instead, the propensities stand on their own as characteristics to be celebrated and defended against ridicule.


  14. Sarah Dopp

    Hey guys,

    Wow. Lots of strong opinions here.

    I just want to add a reminder that we are a “supportive discussions only” space.

    If we ever post something offensive that you want removed, please talk to us about it.

    Otherwise, let’s keep the focus on what we appreciate, and what people are doing well.

    Thanks and love,


    Jessica replied:

    You mean, “you haven’t supported someone because you’ve silenced them”? Just kidding Sarah… if I get carried away, just smack me one good and hard and bring me back down to earth. Sometimes I get carried away with the sound of my own voice. My only regret is that we don’t all get to meet in real life over a nice Chardonnay.


  15. Sara S

    Here’s a question for everyone, the exploration of gender identity is a very personal thing. A child this young should not be in media.


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