My Princess Boy is a book about acceptance. It is based on my son Dyson, a self titled Princess Boy. The book tells the story of a 4-year-old boy who happily expresses his authentic self by enjoying “traditionally girl” things like jewelry and anything sparkly or pink. It is also the story of my struggle with the challenge of supporting him when he dresses up, and the solid unconditional support and love he received from his older brother, Dkobe, and his father, my husband Dean. My hope is our story will help others to start and continue a dialogue about unconditional friendship and teach children — and adults — how to accept and support children for who they are and how they wish to look.
When Dyson was almost 2 years old, he proclaimed he wanted to wear dresses and proceeded to design and create his own fashions as well. He said, “I AM a princess boy Mommy!” Dyson’s comfort with himself and his identity has always been supported and accepted by his brother and father. However, my journey towards acceptance has been a longer process. I had independent values, and deep cultural and religious perceptions of how my sons as males should look and behave. This experience became a journey of self-awareness and an examination of what I thought I believed and a re-evaluation of stereotypes.
I began journaling my thoughts and feelings. I thought about who I wanted to be as a mom – someone who wasn’t so egotistical that I didn’t think I had parenting lessons to learn. I asked myself some deeper questions – Why was this hard for me? Why did the image of a perfect family matter to me? Why did I feel so embarrassed? And how could I love someone so much and make them so miserable at the same time?
I wrote My Princess Boy out of my journal entries to provide a tool for others to understand how painful it can be to be judged and not accepted. Our family uses books to learn about different things but when I searched, there weren’t books focused on acceptance of little boys who loved princess type things and dressing up. After consistently verbalizing to teachers, camp leaders and kids play-date parents that I wanted my son to be supported for his choices (choosing pink or wanting to be a princess instead of the knight in a play); I decided to turn my journal entries into a short book. After self-searching, I realized I had years of preconceived notions from my childhood, spiritually and culturally. I printed a prototype at a local copy center and used it as a tool to share my feelings. It explained how exclusion hurts, and how even a basic level of acceptance can really change lives.
Self-publishing wasn’t an easy choice. It would take time, commitment and focus. However, it was the only choice to share our personal story with the public. I was concerned a mainstream publisher would change the story, and because it was non-fiction, that wasn’t an option. So, I didn’t explore seeking a publisher at first. In fact, as a family we discussed going public for a year before self-publishing it. We felt it was important to get the dialogue started about embracing uniqueness. I wanted to create a space in our world where children would be accepted for who they are.
The message spread when I shared the prototype with Dyson’s preschool teacher. She immediately commented that she needed to share it with the class so that acceptance would also be between the children, not just sit with her. Children commented about the book to their parents, who began asking for the book. Soon, friends of friends were asking for a copy because they knew of someone who also had this experience. Then a friend passed a copy to a producer at a local Seattle NBC midday program. She wanted to book us. I went to a few local bookstores and told them I was going on a local TV show and I would like to put up their stores on the screen as local locations to buy the book. Three bookstores agreed – The Elliott Bay Bookstore, Secret Garden and Third Place Books. Our family went on the show on October 13, 2010. After the show, the local NBC program’s posted the video of our segment on their site, and then I posted it on my Facebook page. People took the link and posted it on their pages and within 3 hours, I received messages from people around the world supporting the story and asking for the book. After going viral, there were thousands of posts on the My Princess Boy Facebook page, videos and comments posted on YouTube, and supportive blogs from Perez Hilton to the Washington Post. Interest from print, People Magazine, and around the world, The London Times, followed. The dialogue of acceptance was happening around the world.
The road to finding a publisher is the true definition of 6 degrees of separation. After my Facebook post went viral and the press began calling, I called upon a long-time friend, Inga Hammond, for help. She had experience in the media and did media training consulting for professional athletes. When she began fielding the media requests for me, she said, “this is bigger than you can imagine – you need to find a publisher.” I called my best friend Annette Chaisson, who works as a makeup artist to celebrities and movie stars in LA to help me connect with someone who might know of a publisher that helped sensitive, non-fiction topics such as My Princess Boy. She called a friend of hers who was a senior assistant to the stars for some advice. That friend agreed to forward an email about the book and my journey to her friend, a high level executive at Simon and Schuster in the adult division. This executive forwarded that email to the Children’s Publisher at Simon and Schuster. Within 24 hours, we were all on a chain of emails with people from Seattle, LA and New York setting up a time to meet. Annette also contacted a friend of hers, an LA movie agent, to ask if I needed a book agent. He contacted a top celebrity’s agent in New York who agreed to meet with me while in New York. After meeting him, I signed with his firm because he also understood the mission.
Simon and Schuster’s Bethany Buck, Children’s division Publisher, greeted me with a team of supportive players: Assistant Publisher, Director of Publicity, Director of Marketing, Editor, and Marketing Manager. We sat down and discussed the whirlwind that had happen within a two week period. After our discussion, I knew they understood me, my sensitivities, and completely got the mission of the book – Acceptance – and that it was about so much more than just a boy in a dress. I left there knowing Simon and Schuster would be the home of the My Princess Boy personal story and journey.
Before joining the publisher, I really liked the control I had when self-publishing My Princess Boy. It was a true story. I didn’t really look for input because selfishly, it was a tool for me. I also liked the local connection to small bookstores where children and parents alike went to experience the richness of stories. It felt like a manageable way to ramp up to outside responses and reactions to sharing this very raw and real story. But as it continued to ramp up, it became exhausting to handle fulfillment, e.g. printing, envelopes, mailing labels and postage tracking. After signing with a publisher, it was refreshing to have a partner in the mission to get books to those who wanted and needed them. Distribution became one department’s goal, and the Publicity and Marketing department began packaging press kits to further promote the book. My ultimate “yes” decision to go with a publisher was made when Simon and Schuster decided to take the book as is. I don’t think I would have been able to go through a process of changing it when it was so real for me.
To this day, our family has not second guessed our decision to talk about our experiences. Society makes changes when conversations happen. My biggest hope is that children, boys and girls alike, all over the world own and use My Princess Boy to begin a dialogue about acceptance and inclusion, to stop bullying before it starts, and so that people who express themselves differently than the norm are accepted for who they are, not judged for how they look. My wish is that all Princess Boys, past and present, know they are loved and supported by many people. My husband Dean has the best attitude. He says – we can’t lose. If we support him now and he changes his mind and stops dressing up later, he can look back and say I can’t believe I did that, but I am so glad my parents and brother loved me and supported me. Or if he continues, he can say I am so glad my parents and brother loved me and supported me at a young age when I liked to dress up. Either way, we love and support Dyson. It’s a win-win. Sharing our experience openly has created a dialogue which people in general weren’t having. And now with the book distributed nationwide and soon to be worldwide, My Princess Boy is a tool for adults and children to use as a starting point for a discussion of accepting differences.