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Video: Is it OK for boys to play dress-up?

  1. Transcript of: Is it OK for boys to play dress-up?

    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: Back now at 8:10. This morning on TODAY'S FAMILY , when little boys want to play dress -up like little girls. Whether it's a once in a while thing or a near constant obsession with everything pink and princess-like, more families are speaking out about their experiences. TODAY national correspondent Natalie Morales is here with more. Good morning, Nat .

    NATALIE MORALES reporting: And good morning to you, Meredith . And of course, kids love dressing up for Halloween , and one mom's blog about her five-year-old son's decision to put on a wig and a dress for a school Halloween party has become a hot topic on the Web . It's a photo of a beaming child on Halloween , delighted to be dressed as Daphne from the cartoon " Scooby-Doo ." But look more closely at Daphne , under that orange wig, that's a little boy , nicknamed Boo .

    SARAH: And decided, "I think I want to be Daphne , I think I want to be Daphne .' And he said it, we just asked him a few times, 'Are you sure before we order it, are you sure?' And he said yes.

    MORALES: His mom Sarah , who asked that we not use her last name and her son's real name to protect their privacy, created a stir online with her blog about Boo 's Halloween outfit, and the negative reaction she received from some other moms. She writes, "If you think that me allowing my son to be a female character for Halloween is somehow going to make him gay then you're an idiot. I am not worried that your son will grow up to be an actual ninja, so back off."

    SARAH: I'm torn between the fact that I don't want my children to be teased. At the same time, I don't want my children to feel that they always have to give in to what the world expects of them.

    MORALES: And experts say regardless of the behavior at five years old, it's way too early to determine a child's future sexual orientation.

    Dr. CHARLES SOPHY (Family Psychiatrist): Every child has tendencies and feelings and inclinations, so if that's what's leading him to dress this way, OK, but I would be hesitant to say that that's going to be his declared sexuality.

    SARAH: No matter what he turns into as a grown up, if he's left-handed, right-handed, any of this, these things do not matter to me because he is my son.

    MORALES: It's a topic that's getting a lot of attention, People magazine recently featured Seattle mom Cheryl Kilodavis and her book "My Princess Boy" about her now five-year-old son Dyson 's love of all things pink and girly.

    Ms. CHERYL KILODAVIS: Well, Dyson was almost two years old when he started having kind of a unique eye for everything beautiful.

    MORALES: His parents ' goal now: To increase awareness and understanding for little boys who like pretty things .

    Mr. DEAN KILODAVIS (Five-Year-Old Son Likes to Dress Up As a Princess): I just want him to be happy and healthy, and if this is the form he chooses to express himself, that's fine.

    MORALES: And, Meredith , that blog post from Sarah has set the Internet on fire, generating more than three million hits and getting tens of thousands of responses.

    VIEIRA: Natalie , thank you very much . Sarah is here, along with Cheryl Kilodavis ...

    Ms. KILODAVIS: Yes.

    VIEIRA: ...whose son enjoys dressing in typical girl fashion. Their story is featured in the most recent issue of People magazine . Dr. Harold Koplewicz is the president of the Child Mind Institute . Good morning to all of you.

    SARAH: Good morning.

    VIEIRA: Sarah , if I could start with you, your son Boo decides he wants to go as Daphne at Halloween , was this the first time that he expressed interest in dressing up like a little girl ?

    SARAH: It was. Last Halloween he thought about being Daphne and at the last minute decided to be a vampire, but then throughout the year he kept saying, 'I think I want to be Daphne for Halloween .' So we were Daphne for Halloween .

    VIEIRA: That was -- and has he expressed interest since then in dressing up?

    SARAH: No. We have a lot of dress -up clothes at home that they get to play with as far as costumes, capes, that sort of gender-neutral, I guess you would call them, things, and after Halloween , they're a little bit burned out on dressing up.

    VIEIRA: You know, your blog elicited a lot of positive response, some negative but a lot of positive, and yet that day that you went in for Halloween with your son, even Boo was the one who said, 'Mom, I'm not sure I want to go in.'

    SARAH: Right.

    VIEIRA: So he thought he might get teased. You didn't.

    SARAH: I really didn't. I really thought it was Halloween , that you get to dress up and be what you are not. It's a -- it's a fun holiday. No child said a word to him that day in any sort of negative capacity. So...

    VIEIRA: It was the parents .

    SARAH: It was. Just a few. Most of them were 100 percent supportive, the teachers, the staff at the preschool loved it, thought he was just adorable.

    VIEIRA: And when those parents criticized you, what did you say to them?

    SARAH: Well, I just sort of played it off. I didn't want to cause a big scene, I didn't want to make a mistake in front of my son by reacting in a negative way.

    VIEIRA: And then afterwards decided it was something you need to blog about.

    SARAH: It really -- it really weighed heavily on me.

    VIEIRA: And, Cheryl , your son Dyson started dressing up when he was two. He's now five years old.

    Ms. KILODAVIS: Yes.

    VIEIRA: The first time he did that you were picking him up at the preschool and he had on a pretty dress and your reaction was to go out and buy some costumes that are appropriate for boys...

    Ms. KILODAVIS: Yes.

    VIEIRA: ...hoping that he would do -- dress in those. He didn't.

    Ms. KILODAVIS: Right.

    VIEIRA: The next day he -- I guess he greeted you at preschool in a yellow dress the next day.

    Ms. KILODAVIS: Right.

    VIEIRA: Your initial reaction, were you concerned about this or...

    Ms. KILODAVIS: Absolutely. This has been a process for me and a journey for our family and it's an everyday thing and I commend people like Sarah who are bringing up the exposure to this because really the discussion is what's going to make this more acceptable. We have children that are expressing themselves differently and we need to get to a place of acceptance.

    VIEIRA: But what was your concern specifically, Cheryl ?

    Ms. KILODAVIS: I was concerned about the image, I was concerned about -- I, you know, was raised in a family -- and just through books and knowledge and everything else that traditional boys wore traditional boy clothing. And so Dyson really sort of put me on alert and helped me get through this process a little bit more of accepting him for who he really is, and that's really what this is about.

    VIEIRA: Yeah, and I know that you actually spoke to your doctor and to psychologists about the whole issue of gender identification, if something could be going on there.

    Ms. KILODAVIS: Absolutely. The only message that I was receiving early on was that there's gender confusion , and so we went to our doctors and psychiatrists and psychologists and we actually went down that path, and the doctors said, 'The verdict is you have a healthy and happy little boy who just likes to dress up.' And so I started working with teachers and with after-school parents and started using the book as a tool.

    VIEIRA: Yeah. The book is called " My Princess Boy " and a lot of people find it wonderfully informative. There are others, though, that have criticized you, who believe that by allowing him to continue to dress up, by writing a book like this , you're actually going to put him in a situation where he will be bullied later in life. On your Facebook page, one person wrote, "If he wants to dress up as a little girl , let him do it in the privacy of his own home, sending him to school like that, to the mall and trick-or-treating is just not right."

    Ms. KILODAVIS: Yeah.

    VIEIRA: How do you respond?

    Ms. KILODAVIS: Well, actually, you know, we went through some of the redirection, I had some not proud mom moments where when he said, 'I'm a princess,' I said, 'Boys aren't princesses.' And he said, 'I'm a princess boy,' he coined the term and he's driving this agenda for who he is expressing himself. I think as parents , our job is to love and support our children, and if they are happy and healthy and they are expressing themselves, we have to get to a place of accepting differences.

    VIEIRA: Doctor, you said to me in the commercial break, you said, 'This is really a teachable moment, what we're dealing with here.'

    Dr. HAROLD KOPLEWICZ (President, Child Mind Institute): Well, I think it's very important to understand that it's always difficult to be different, and when children are different, it makes everyone anxious, it makes parents anxious, it makes the other kids anxious, and yet not everyone is typical. And the most important piece here is that we have to make sure our kids feel loved and feel supported. I think we have to also know that kids very often play dress under the age of five and there's some kind of fluidity in that, and even after five, it's the fact that when kids absolutely refuse to stop wearing male clothing and say, 'No, no, no, I'm only wearing girl clothing' or 'I'm only wearing boy clothing,' that that may be a symptom of something more significant. But the more important part is that we want to make sure they still like themselves and like their bodies, and that's the big role that parents have to play.

    VIEIRA: So I was going to ask you, how do you know when it's -- goes beyond play and it's something else that needs to be addressed, and you -- and you think if it's -- if it goes on into the older years or...

    Dr. KOPLEWICZ: No, no, no, I think it's more, 'I'm not playing anymore.'

    VIEIRA: Mm-hmm.

    Dr. KOPLEWICZ: 'I won't wear boy clothing, I'm only wearing girl clothing because I'm only a girl, I'm not a boy,' that's a more significant thing than saying, 'Sure, I'm playing princess today and I'm playing cowboy tomorrow or I'm not playing anything tomorrow, I'm just going to wear some regular clothes.' And therefore, parents should think about that that might mean something significant for a child's sexuality later on or gender confusion , but that doesn't change the fact that we still would tell parents to be very supportive and loving because the last thing we want is someone to not like themselves, not like their bodies, it doesn't make a difference what the clothes are, it's what they feel about themselves underneath.

    VIEIRA: Inside. Well, I thank you both for coming on. Sarah and Cheryl , thank you.

    SARAH: Thank you.

    Ms. KILODAVIS: Thank you.

TODAY contributor
updated 11/8/2010 10:48:42 AM ET 2010-11-08T15:48:42

A mother’s decision to allow her 5-year-old son to dress up as a female cartoon character for a preschool Halloween party has lit up the blogosphere. Her account of the negative reaction and disapproving looks she received from some parents so far has generated more than 3 million page views and tens of thousands of comments from across the globe.

The mom, Sarah (she asked that her last name not be revealed), told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira on Monday: “I really thought it was Halloween, that you get to dress up as what you are not. It’s a fun holiday.

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“No child said a word to him, not in any sort of negative way,” she added. “It was the parents, just a few.”

Sarah kept her cool, for the sake of her son, whom she calls Boo. She didn’t make a big scene at the school, but thought about it a lot before she sat down at her computer and began writing a post for her blog, Nerdy Apple Bottom, under the provocative headline “My son is gay.” “It weighed heavily on me,” she said.

Cheryl Kilodavis’ son Dyson began wearing sparkly dresses in preschool. She wrote a book called “My Princess Boy.”

In the blog, Sarah asked: So what if Boo wanted to go to the party dressed as “Daphne” from the Scooby-Doo animated series? Whatever the reason for it, her son deserved his mother’s love and support, she felt.

Sarah got it exactly right, said another guest in the TODAY segment: Cheryl Kilodavis, whose own son, Dyson, began wearing sparkly and colorful dresses in preschool and still does at age 5. Kilodavis said that while it is important to understand why children cross-dress, it is more important that they are happy and know that they are loved however they dress.

“The discussion is, what is going to make this more accepted?” Kilodavis told Vieira. “We have children who are expressing themselves differently, and we need to get to a place of acceptance.”

Kilodavis self-published a book on what her son and her family went through while trying to understand his choices. Titled “My Princess Boy,” the book became popular via the Internet.

Kilodavis told Vieira that she now regrets some of her early reactions to Dyson’s decision to wear dresses: “Not proud mom moments,” she called them.

From left, Dr. Harold Koplewicz of the Child Mind Institute joined Cheryl Kilodavis and blogger mom Sarah on TODAY.

“When he said, ‘I am a princess,’ I said, ‘Boys aren’t princesses,’ ” Kilodavis recalled. “He said, ‘I’m a boy princess.’ He’s driving the agenda for who he is.”

Weigh in on TODAY Moms: Yes or no to boys wearing girls’ clothes?

No cause for alarm
Experts say it is not unusual for boys under the age of 5 to dress up in clothing or costumes typically associated with girls. (Who hasn’t seen a little boy dress up in his mom’s high heels and pearls?)

Girls can want to dress up as boys as well. For example, in the August issue of Vanity Fair, Angelina Jolie said that Shiloh, her 4-year-old daughter with Brad Pitt, “likes to dress as a boy. She wants to be a boy. So we had to cut her hair. She likes to wear boys’ everything.”

Related: Angelina Jolie says Shiloh ‘wants to be a boy’

But around the age of 5, children become aware of the differences between the genders and for most, the desire to cross-dress goes away. Parents should not become alarmed if a child still plays dress-up past age 5; they should, however, try to understand the reasons for it.

Sarah’s son, whom she calls Boo, decided he wanted to be Daphne from the Scooby-Doo cartoons for Halloween.

“It’s always difficult to be different. When children are different, it makes everyone anxious,” Dr. Harold Koplewicz, president of the Child Mind Institute, told Vieira on TODAY. “We have to make sure our children feel loved and feel supported.

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“The important thing is that they still like themselves and their bodies,” he added.

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When Kilodavis sought professional advice about Dyson’s interest in dressing up as a girl, psychologists and psychiatrists did various assessments for what they thought could be gender confusion. Whether or not Dyson loses interest in cross-dressing as he grows older, Kilodavis said she’ll love Dyson in any event.

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“The doctor said: ‘The verdict is, you have a healthy and happy little boy who just likes to dress up,’ ” Kilodavis said.

In the blogosphere, there has been approval for Sarah’s position as well. Most of the comments on her blog about Boo’s “Daphne” costume have been positive.

“I applaud you for letting your child be unique, imaginative and free from the constraints of our closed society,” one poster wrote after Sarah’s appearance Monday on TODAY. “This is not a gender issue, this is not a gay or straight issue, this is a parenting issue and you have passed.”

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