Under the bright lights of Troy Memorial Stadium, 17-year-old Carter Evans was crowned Troy High School’s 2022 Homecoming King.
Wearing a thigh-length, form-fitting orange dress — complete with heels and full makeup — Carter did a spin, a fresh bouquet of flowers tucked beneath his elbow.
In the audience, five-year-old RyRy Manson held back tears.
When RyRy’s mom, 28-year-old Shelby Manson, brought her son to Troy High School’s homecoming game to meet Carter in person, she had no idea he would react so profoundly — or that a viral Facebook post featuring a photo of the pair would cause such controversy in their small community.
‘Clothes are for everybody’
Two years ago, RyRy sobbed in the shoe aisle of a local Walmart.
He begged his mom for a pair of rainbow, light-up shoes from JoJo Siwa’s clothing collection.
Manson left the store without the shoes, RyRy still in tears.
Later, she had a conversation with her husband about what happened
“He’s the one who really grounded me about it,” Manson said. “He said, ‘Why not? Why wouldn’t we just get him the shoes that he wants? Is it really hurting anybody?’”
“Seeing him light up and dance around the living room to Jojo wearing his Jojo shoes…he thought he looked fantastic,” Manson said. “He kept looking in the mirror saying, ‘I look so pretty.’”
Since then, Manson said the pair have worked tirelessly to protect RyRy from unkind adults.
“That was really the beginning of us talking about clothing with less gender,” Manson said. “RyRy knows that clothes are for everybody.”
“We haven’t just given him an entire closet of dresses,” she added, describing RyRy’s gender expression. “Here’s such a unique mixture of everything, I can’t even compare him to any other human being.”
When Manson and her husband saw a Facebook post about Carter’s bid for Troy Homecoming King, they thought of their own son — who loves traditionally ‘feminine’ clothing with rainbows, glitter and sequins as much as he loves Minecraft.
She wanted to show her support, and decided to bring RyRy along to see Carter walk across the football field with the rest of Troy High School’s Homecoming Court.
A place for everyone
Both RyRy and Carter were born and raised in Troy, Ohio, a town about 20 miles north of Dayton where tradition runs strong, and where families stay for generations.
Miami County is among the most conservative in the entire state — and Troy is its county seat.
But when Carter decided to run for Homecoming King, he set out to prove that boys like him and RyRy have a place in small towns too, and that gender non-conformity is something to be celebrated rather than feared.
When he was 13, Carter came out as gay.
“It was not a surprise when I came out,” he said. “People were just waiting for the press release.”
A lifelong dancer, performer and model, Carter said he’s always been “openly flamboyant,” and that his friends and family have always been supportive of his self-expression through music, movement and fashion.
“There doesn’t have to be a divide between dress up and real life,” he said. “Getting ready every day is dress up for me.”
One of the only out, cisgender gay men at Troy, Carter said decided to run for Homecoming King to show both younger and older people alike that clothing can be for anyone, and that our unique gender expressions are all valid and valuable.
Still — he never expected to win the crown: “When they called my name, the world went so slow. I could hear every syllable.”
Carter and RyRy go viral
Before the homecoming game, RyRy’s mom helped him make his own sign to hold up during the homecoming ceremonial. It said, “Don’t be mad that we look better in a dress than you ever could.”
When Carter spotted RyRy through the crowd, wearing his JoJo Siwa leather jacket and lavender, ankle-length dress , he hurried toward him.
“I tapped his shoulder and bent down,” Carter said. “I told him to do a spin in his JoJo Siwa jacket.”
In 2020, the Mansons purchased tickets for one of Siwa’s shows as a gift.
“RyRy has never cried tears of joy,” she said. “He didn’t even cry happy tears when he saw JoJo, his actual idol, right in front of him in real life. But when Carter stooped down and put the crown on his head, RyRy had tears in his eyes.”
The pair took photos together, and when Manson shared them on Facebook — along with a heartfelt caption describing how important it is to treat everyone with kindness and to celebrate our unique identities — the post went viral.
Thousands of people interacted with the post, and thousands more left comments.
While many of them were kind and celebratory, many were violently homophobic and transphobic.
“There have been a lot of private messages that are just appalling. Thankfully, they weren’t threats to [RyRy],” she said. “They were threats to my life.”
The following week, Manson wore a bulletproof vest while dropping RyRy off at school.
While the post garnered many homophobic and transphobic comments, Manson said it’s important to remind people that RyRy is only five years old.
“People are always trying to put labels on him,” she said. “But he’s just himself. He’s just RyRy.”
At home, Manson said RyRy talked about Carter and the homecoming crown for days on end.
She showed him the Facebook post, reading kind and supportive comments out loud.
“He doesn’t have any idea how many haters there are,” she said “He knows they’re out there, but he doesn’t know what they’ve said.”
Instead, Manson chooses to embrace the joy that RyRy finds in his unique gender expression.
“I’m super famous now,” RyRy said, smiling. “Everybody loved me in my dress!”
‘Feeling the love’
After graduation, Carter has his sights set on Hollywood, California.
Next fall, he plans to attend the College Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising for apparel and industry management.
“I didn’t always wear dresses,” he said. “But I would go to my Maw Maw’s house and put on her own dresses and shoes.”
Now he wants others gender non-conforming people — particularly boys and men — to know that things like glitter, makeup and dresses are for everyone, and that masculinity has no specific color scheme.
“I was definitely feeling the love, and I’m still feeling it,” Carter said. “For me it was more than winning. I proved that there is acceptance at our school and in Troy.” 🔥