- Racial Equity
- Talk About Race
The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity
My daughter, Nailah, is all those prissy, pretty things that one would expect from a four year old who grows up watching her mother obsess over fashion, make-up and other things traditionally “girly”. When asked to describe her I often comment that she is a walking, talking Broadway show- all glitter and glam and dancing-singing numbers. I, at one point, worried that I may be over-influencing her, pushing her to become a girl that she may not want to be. Then I remembered she, on her own, grabs her princess tiara before bed most nights. She enjoys sleeping in it and pretending. I love to watch her, even with my motherly fret, hoping that my choices don’t fail her. I’m sure that I, and our broader societal standards, influence Nailah, but I also believe that I give her the option to choose what she likes and who she is.
As parents we are full of questions about how we should raise our children. In addition to pondering how I would respond to Nailah if she preferred dungarees, toy-trucks and frogs, I have recently considered how I would feel if she was a baby boy still wanting to sleep in a tiara. I want to believe that I would offer my child the same acceptance, tolerance and love regardless of how he or she chooses to express him or herself, that I would stretch out these loving arms of mine without fear or apprehension either way. I’m sure I’m giving myself way more credit than I deserve. I at least, as of recently, have a model of how I should respond if my little one was to make such a choice.
Meet Dyson Kilodavis, or as his mother has nicknamed him “the princess boy”. He is a stunningly gorgeous five year old boy who loves many of the same frilly, “girly” things that Nailah does, and he’s awesome. His awesomeness is inherited, though, from his loving mother, father and brother who unabashedly support his decision to don sequins and tiny-heeled shoes instead of t-shirts and sneakers. Cheryl, Dyson’s mom, fully accepts her son, but has written a book about her struggles to find that same acceptance when she and her princess boy leave their loving home.
How does a mother teach her son to be unapologetically who he is made to be when behaving in such a way may make his life unbearable or even unsafe? This is my question in the wake of new attention to the old dilemma of school bullying, especially as it applies to queer children in schools, and ultimately the rise in suicides that I’m sure, most times, are a result of such bullying. Elected officials are taking action to attempt to circumvent these tragedies. Congresswoman Linda Sanchez and Senator Bob Casey have introduced legislation (the Safe School Improvement Act) that will require schools, and all entities receiving federal funding, to create policies that prohibit any type of discrimination against students because of their “actual or perceived race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religion”.
But what kind of tolerance are we teaching; what kind do we expect our children to show? There is the “don’t ask don’t tell” variety of tolerance that, honestly, doesn’t seem very tolerant at all. Then, there is the smaller portion of people in the world who honestly accept others as they come, regardless of how they come, because they are above all things, of God. I mean, I look at Dyson and consider Diamond, the ex- Morehouse man who was all but ousted from the campus because of his love for pretty little things. Recently, the university updated its dress code to exclude the “wearing of dresses, tops, tunics, purses or pumps.” Luckily Diamond fought his way through his pre-teen or teen years, possibly as an “out” gay boy, possibly not- but today stands to fight for his right to express his gender identity as he chooses. In essence, the question becomes: How can we teach our children to be authentically themselves, but not require that the world they live in accept their authenticity?
I want queer boys and girls to stop dying, or at least stop feeling the hopelessness that leads them to take their own lives. We never assume that a star should shine in any particular way, we only expect that it will shine. How fantastic would it be if we accepted one another’s shine, perfect and unique? Our work in seeing the need and creating the Safe School Improvement Act (SSIA) is not enough. Our ultimate goal is to create a world, a classroom, a city bus where there is simply no need for such a policy to be enacted. Just a thought, or a series of them, I suppose.
Watch a Kilodavis family interview on KING5-TV
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