The Today Show and My Cloak of Secrecy

The Today Show this morning featured an interview with mom blogger Cop’s Wife (who has identified herself as Sarah—no relation) and children’s book author Cheryl Kilodavis. Cop’s Wife’s blog about her son’s female Halloween costume had over 40,000 comments and more than a million hits at the time this post goes live, and was publicized on CNN and ABC news. And Kilodavis’ book on her gender-nonconforming son, My Princess Boy, appears in People magazine this week.

I am thrilled to see these two courageous women bringing attention to the topic of gender nonconformity, and so glad to see that tens of thousands of people have come out in support of Cop’s Wife and Kilodavis. They do have critics, nearly all of whom take issue with parents allowing their children to appear on television or in blog photos.

When writing about my son, I have chosen to keep our family’s identity hidden—I write under a pen name for our safety. When I first started writing on the topic, a parent I interviewed told me she had received death threats because she’d allowed her son to dress like a girl. After my first article came out, there were—amid letters from readers offering heartfelt support and gratitude—scary letters from critics who told me I should have my children taken away from me. I did not question my decision to write under a pseudonym.

My fellow pink-boy-parent bloggers Accepting Dad and Girlyboy Mama also use pen names. Perhaps in part because of our anonymity, we have never gotten the sort of attention that Cop’s Wife and Kilodavis have. When I published my first article and essay on pink boys, I got calls from talk show hosts (everyone from Tyra to Oprah), asking if I’d talk on their shows—with my son. When I said I’d be glad to appear, without my son, they lost interest. Some of the media frenzy over Cop’s Wife and Kilodavis is their willingness to expose that which I have stubbornly refused to make public. Do I feel a little pang that I don’t have a million people looking at my blog? I do. Does that make me doubt my decision to maintain our privacy? A bit—though not enough to change my mind. But does it make me judge Cop’s Wife and Kilodavis for their choice to go public? No way.

I’m incredibly grateful to these two women for bringing the issue of gender nonconformity out into the open in ways that I have not. Readers and viewers responded because stories are so much more potent when there are real people attached—otherwise People magazine and the Today Show would not have perked up their ears (no other picture book about a pink boy has made it into People; no other moms of pink boys have made it onto the Today Show). By talking about their sons in the public way that they have, they’ve opened up a necessary national dialog about why gender-nonconforming boys are scoffed at, ostracized, and bullied. By being unconstrained by my privacy rule, these mothers are perhaps paving a way to a time when families like mine do not have to hide—a time when boys like mine don’t have to fear for their safety.

The world I wish for is one in which the mother of a pink boy would not have write cloaked in secrecy for fear of violence against her family. And I’m thinking that Cheryl Kilodavis and Cop’s Wife, each in their own way, brought us one step closer to that world.

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Comments

  1. Melissa says

    It’s a hard decision. We question ourselves all the time by being semi-open. Almost everyone who knows us, knows, but if put into a position where there’s a lot of exposure then we protect our identity. Maybe as our children get older we’ll revise the way we do it. But, right now my children don’t have the option of speaking for themselves and I don’t feel right doing it for them. I can understand you need for privacy, but I too, appreciate the families that choose to be more open about gender non-conformity.

  2. says

    Sarah,
    I so admire your commitment to your beautiful son and the work you do to make his world a more loving one. I also love how honest you are about the niggly feelings of envy. My wish for you is that there’ll be a time sooner than later when you will feel safe enough to shout it from the rooftop!

  3. Ana says

    Why force your child to go in when he’s scared? How could cop’s wife be so naive about potential teasing? I sincerely hope that her son will not be the one to suffer if she holds onto this denial about the real world. There are ways to educate moms other than tossing your child to the carnivores.

  4. says

    As another mother of a pink-wearing son, I applaud your sense of humor and your acceptance of your son. My son is 12 and has Asperger’s Syndrome, something I had to fight to get diagnosed. From the time he was walking, his affinity for girl toys, girl clothes and long, silky hair, set him apart from the masculine standards set for men. Making it worse is the fact we live on an army base, where the men are men, and the testosterone is tangible. I say, let him be who he is. Either he follows social cues and adapts, or he does what HE likes and becomes his own person at an earlier age, maybe skipping the teenage angst. If you want to read Taylor’s story, please check out my blog. In the meantime, I will be following you…and not in a stalker-type way. lol.

    • shoffman says

      Keri, I am loving your blog! Thank you for speaking up about the terrible bullying your son has faced, about his autism and his gender-nonconformity. I so admire you for working to make a difference for him in so many ways.

      I was also glad to learn the origins of scrapple, funnel cakes, and whoopie pies…

  5. Meganne F says

    As a fellow writer, I completely appreciate how honest you are about the bit of envy that the attention to her post might have provoked in you since you have been writing about this topic for years. However, watching the Today show clip, I couldn’t help but feel that she was a little naive about the entire situation. She was writing about a costume for Halloween, and I couldn’t help but feel that she did not understand the implications of plastering her son’s photos (in costume AND out of costume) out in public for the world to see. I look forward to hearing more about your daily life with Sam. Has this had any impact on Sam’s school life?

  6. Sarah says

    I think I would make the same decision you did–I’m not judging others, but I would rather wait until my child was old enough (read: almost an adult) to make the choice as to whether they would like that kind of publicity. I write letters to the editor frequently, to different publications, and when one was published in Vanity Fair, I got phone calls at my house, from people all over the place wanting to “discuss” what I’d written–it made me realize (aside from the importance of unlisted numbers) that the world is very small these days, and you are taking a pretty big chance putting your real name out there.

    That said, I think for every person who *is* willing to do that, the unusual becomes familiar, and familiarity is the best way to counteract the fear some bigoted people have of the unknown.

  7. Sue says

    Hi Sarah,

    I sincerely appreciate the mothers who have come forward with their real names and willingness to share their family story. It’s all the dialogue that’s been going on that has lead me here and I’ve very grateful to have found your blog. I feel as though a whole world has opened up. My son is 18 now and as he describes himself “a bit girly as a kid” (I thought he was sweet and adorable). I love him and I wanted him to become the person he is and feel good about himself. I admire him for being who he is whether or not anyone liked it. I admire you for facing the same and the fact that you keep your identity private in the big wide world of the internet is no less groundbreaking. Some of us call attention to a situation and some of us continue to pave the way.

    Thank you!

  8. Melissa T says

    I think everyone has to do what is best for their kids. I feel you have done wonders for so many moms me included. Now these moms took it another step and have really gotten the discussion out into the public. it is thrilling to see so much support. Personally I feel it is best for Chris and I to just stay in the shadows. I admit feeling pangs of guilt while others do the hard work while we benefit. But it is what I thing is best for now.

    You are all heroes in your own way. the fact you use a pen name and dont expose your child simply means you are doing what you think is best. I cant wait for the day when having a pink boy is viewed no different than having a tom boy.

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