Southern California mom Erica “Eeka” McLeod’s 6-year-old, Evan, loves dresses. Evan wears them, in fact, every day. But even though Evan’s school and his family support his sartorial choices, his mom says that Evan “never see other Evans” in the outside world.
That’s why it was so important, she said, that Evan recently had the chance to meet TikTok sensations "The Old Gays," who made sure they were appropriately dressed for the occasion.
McLeod, a single adoptive mom to three children with disabilities, including Evan, has been staying home with them and devoting time to building their social media platforms. The reason, she told TODAY.com, is to give people a small glimpse into their life as a somewhat unconventional family.
“We might change a few minds and a few hearts so that tomorrow’s world will be kinder and more accepting of other little Evans everywhere,” she said.
“I’m learning from Evan,” McLeod said. “I never put words in Evan’s mouth. You never know who your child is going to be when they are born, but as they grow and develop, you just listen and find ways to love them, support them and encourage them.”
“Evan sees the world very differently,” she said. “The autism doesn’t define Evan, but it is absolutely part of who he is and part of what makes him, I believe, the charismatic individual who people fall in love with.”
McLeod had been following "The Old Gays" on TikTok and is a fan. The foursome of gay men — Bill Lyons, Robert Reeves, Jessay Martin and Michael “Mick” Peterson — have found viral social media fame in their 60s and 70s through their funny and sometimes touching videos.
After commenting on one of those videos, McLeod got in touch with their team and arranged to drive to their home two hours away so Evan could meet them. Evan wore one of his fanciest dresses for the big day.
“He was so excited to meet ‘the grandpas,’” McLeod said. “Evan thinks all older people are grandpas and grandmas!”
When the moment came and Evan met the four men casually sitting by the pool, each wearing a dress himself, McLeod said Evan was overwhelmed and almost didn’t know how to respond.
“We rarely see other boys or, especially, men in dresses, so it was like, ‘Wow,’” she said. “It was proof to him that there are other little Evans out in the world and there are big Evans out in the world, and big Evans wear dresses, too. Anybody can wear a dress.
“It’s something so small, but for a family like ours and for a child like ours, it meant the world,” she added. “We will hold on to that moment forever.”
"The Old Gays" enjoyed meeting Evan, too, and understood the importance of the moment. When they saw video clips of Evan and his family, they "were all instantly moved by Evan,” Reeves said. “We all said we would love to meet him.”
Reeves, 78, said he grew up in rural Arkansas during a time when being gay was not a public discussion.
Although he said he knew from an early age that he was gay, “it was unrecognized and unspoken,” he said. “Within my family, there were three things we were repeatedly taught that you don’t talk about in polite conversation, and that’s religion, sex and politics.”
“It was not until I went off to college in St. Louis, where I broke away from my home life and started being my own person, that I really started recognizing my gayness,” Reeves continued. “I do not recall when I was growing up seeing or knowing anyone who was obviously gay, and I certainly didn’t have any role models in the public sector at the time. It just wasn’t there, so I had to totally find my own way.”
When creating content for their platform gets tricky, Reeves said, it’s people like Evan that remind "The Old Gays" why their content is important.
“I know it’s true for me, and I think it’s true for all four of us, that when we sit down and we read comments from our fans ... that brings everything back home,” he said. “That is when we clearly recognize this is why we’re doing this: The knowledge that we are reaching and helping so many people is immensely satisfying.”
"The Old Gays" now have a lifelong fan in Evan’s mom.
“I cannot thank four old, gay men enough for not only taking time out of their day to show encouragement and kindness to a child they didn’t even know, but also to make the effort they did to find dresses they thought represented themselves, brought them some level of joy, and fit them well," McLeod said. "It was a lot of work to make this happen, and it was so memorable and so precious for us both.”