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|TLC's 'Toddlers and Tiaras' pageant prince brings me back to my childhood|
|Written by Bo Shell|
|Thursday, 07 July 2011 17:31|
Channel surfing at home the other night, I convinced my friends to turn from Nancy Grace's Tot Mom marathon for a brief visit with the families of TLC's "Toddlers and Tiaras."
Truth be told, I love the show, and I've been known to host my own private Netflix marathons of crazy moms and Red-Bulled pageant preschoolers prancing around on stage between temper tantrums.
The other night, though, something special happened when we met Brock Ritter, a spritely 7-year-old boy who, according to his loving mother, had shown interest in pageants since he was two.
He's also proud of his dolls, dressed up as Dorothy for Halloween and hopes to perform on Broadway.
As a pageant couch critic, I'll vouch for Brock's skills. He was delightfully energetic, but well-behaved. His outfit of choice routine was exhausting to watch in the best way possible.
Mom Tori teared up in the audience as he performed.
"It makes me proud to see him doing something that makes him happy," she said in an interview after the contest.
He was the only boy in the pageant, so he swept his division, but more interestingly, he was pulled for a higher crown and eventually beat all the girls out for best personality.
As the only boy and king of his division, he was given a traditional male crown. But with an over-all pageant victory, he was awarded a tiara that, according to the pageant's director, he specifically chose over a second male crown.
His baby-toothed grin was bigger than ever as pageant assistants struggled to affix the impossibly large rhinestone tiara on his tiny head.
"I have a diva side and a boy side," he said in a post-pageant interview, holding both crowns. "This is for my boy side," he explained, lifting the male crown, "and this one is for my diva side."
I like to think I was like Brock when I was a kid.
I begged mom to let me take tap dance lessons, which she refused to do, citing a local boy who'd been ridiculed out of class for trying it himself.
There's a videotape of a 4- or 5-year-old me carrying an Easter basket in the crook of my arm. My grandmother sounded fairly alarmed in her live commentary, specifically noting that I carried the basket like a purse. My mom agreed, explaining that I had my own purse at home. Then, silence.
I played with my half-sister's pom poms. I was allowed to paint my mom's nails once as a reward for household chores. I had a glittery red baton that my father hid from me. And when I was older, I choreographed trampoline routines to Whitney Houston's "Bodyguard" tracks. My favorite was "I'm Every Woman," duh.
Many of the gay men I know have similar stories, and though the Birkenstock is on the other foot, many lesbians as well.
I wonder what would have happened to us if we'd had moms like Brock's.
He might learn – as I did — that not all of the world is his stage, and that not everyone is going to accept his form of expression. Maybe by the time he gets there it won't matter as much.
But until Brock, who's now eight, can navigate the complicated, personal world of sexuality and gender for himself, it's up to moms like Tori to make expression a playful, genderless act.
What does it matter as long as he's having fun?
I called Brock's appearance on the show "brave," earlier, but I'm not sure it fits. He's doing exactly what he's supposed to be done: being a kid.
One can only guess that Brock might be gay when he grows up, and, god-willing, he'll have a safe place to do so, but with a supportive mother at his side, he's starting in a good place.
Here's an interview with my new favorite mom.
Here's another blog with more info on TLC's prince of pageants.
What were you like as a kid? Did you conform to born gender norms? Did your parents support you?
Top photo: Brock Ritter, pageant prince, from TLC 'Toddlers and Tiaras.' (Photo via TLC)
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