Life in smooth plastic. It’s fantastic!
As a child, I had an army of Barbies. Not a modest country’s army. Like US military spending army. I got Barbies for every birthday and holiday. I had my mom’s old Barbies. I accumulated more Barbies from neighbors whose teenagers didn’t want them anymore, and plenty of garage sale finds. My maternal grandma made me a Barbie birthday cake where the cake was Barbie’s dress, and in the middle of the cake stood Barbie.1
My Barbies had an ice cream parlor (garage sale find), a horse stable (stolen from my younger brother), and an off-brand Barbie home (Christmas gift from the JCPenny catalog).2 I’d decorate their home with craft supplies and random things I found. Those little plastic pizza separators in personal Pizza Hut pizzas I’d earned in book reading contests made great Barbie stools.
Barbie could be anything. Barbie was in charge. Barbie served ice cream. Barbie rode horses and raised rabbits like me. Barbie went on dates with other Barbies. Barbies spent a lot of time obsessed with fashion. Barbie was an astronaut. Barbie was a supermodel. Barbie gossiped. Barbie fought, despite a largely unbendable body except for Figure Skating Barbie. Barbie was also friends with all the other Barbies, Kens, and even the lone Skipper.
Barbie was a storytelling and fashion vehicle. I could act out my little stories, and in between, Barbie could wear the loud neon fashions of the 1980s and 90s with too many ridiculous heels that mine mostly forwent.
My only limit was that I could not harm Barbie. I was not allowed to cut Barbie’s hair or otherwise alter Barbie. I had Barbie flashcards that informed me about the different models of Barbie and the older Barbies I took extra care of, which were stored in special Barbie plastic cases with their clothing and accessories.
For some reason, do not harm Barbie was not extended to my younger brothers. This is how I ended up with several decapitated Barbies, or I’d find the Barbie house trashed and all the Barbies naked and in more sexy positions than I’d ever put them in.3
Yes, Barbies were all gay and sapphic, and they did kiss and share a bed, but they were still Barbies with their smooth plastic bodies and flexed feet. We have more questions than answers about Barbie’s smoothness. Barbie — like the attention trans people receive about their own “hidden” genitals — gets rampant speculation or jokes by adults who should know better.
Even as a kid, I realized Barbie’s limitations. That she had one unrealistic body. That too many of my Barbies were white and blonde. I had one redhead Barbie, one black Barbie, and one Native American Barbie. I had to specifically ask for them, and the Native American one was a “special” edition Barbie.4
Barbie faded away as I neared puberty. She didn’t represent me and couldn’t represent me anymore. The pink of it all grated on my nerves.5 Plus, it was too excessive.
Instead, I’d been amassing a collection of Star Trek action figures (which I still own). They varied much more in character. They were, in some cases, far more flexible than Barbie. They were also easier to pack up in their carrying case. They better hid in my closet than a huge Barbie mansion, several Barbie cars, and a giant tub of Barbie accessories for when my friends came over. My Star Trek action figures were much easier to lug around after moving out of my parents’ home. Star Trek didn’t have a gender.
Barbie is inconvenient. My parents certainly encouraged Barbie because it was something a “normal girl” would love.6 Barbie is proof of a girlhood well-enjoyed. Barbie is used to degender me.7 No matter how I feel about Barbie personally.
Perhaps the sands of time have erased the reasons my brothers sought to destroy Barbie’s home. Because I barred them from playing Barbie with me.
Because Barbie wasn’t a group activity in the same way me writing this is not a group activity. We could play Legos, Batman, Teenage Ninja Turtles, cars, board games, and puzzles or ride our bicycles. But we could not play Barbie.
Perhaps it was because I let my brother Jonathan play mechanic on Barbie’s convertible, and he broke it. Perhaps it was because I needed alone time, privacy, and a place to live in my head without others, and it was easy to weaponize the patriarchy’s insistence that Barbie was only for girls.8
But don’t tell anyone that I didn’t want to play Barbie with my female cousins or friends either, and anytime I did, it was never as fun as playing by myself.
So yes, this Barbie is a Trans Nonbinary Person in all my gender experiences.
This Barbie would be sitting in a theater filled with other queer adults watching the Barbie movie on opening night if not for COVID.9 I will watch Greta Gerwig’s Barbie in all its dripping glitter and camp. I only need a fun romp that doesn’t need to make too much sense. Or at least this is my probably too high and genderful expectations for Barbie.
Left: A recent selfie of me with the Barbie movie advertisement.
Middle top: Me at my 8th birthday with the Barbie cake.
Middle bottom: Me, my Barbies, and off-brand Barbie house.
Top right: My cake-making grandma and myself on my 8th birthday.
Bottom left: My brother Jonathan wrenching on the Barbie convertible with real tools.
1. My grandma recently told me that of all the fabulous cakes she made over her life — including multiple wedding cakes — that the Barbie cake dress was the one she was most proud of.
2. Kens were not allowed to live in the Barbie house. They lived in a tent my paternal grandma made or in a shoebox.
3. I never caught my brothers in the act, which was a boon for them as we were not a pacifist household. It was pre-internet.
4. I’m not saying I was a racially aware child; I was not. In Barbie, I was fully represented as a white person with racialized blond hair. Instead, I tried to act out Baby-Sitters Club fanfic with Barbies, and I needed a Claudia and a Jessica.
5. It didn’t help that my mom painted my bedroom a dusty pink, despite my objections and wanting a mint green to go with the cat-themed wallpaper border. The wallpaper was mainly the same pink but had a tiny mint ribbon detail, and basically, Barbie taught me to be better at fashion.
6. Spoiler, they knew something about me was off from day one. Even if they still cannot say the words. Nothing is funnier than my mom’s face when I call myself a homosexual, which she’s crawled out of her own skin about as recently as last November.
7. Degendering is when cis people look at trans people and try to find things that don’t make the trans person who they say they are. It can be traits associated with their assigned gender at birth, or it can be looking at a trans person as both male and female when they have stated otherwise. It also erases the unique needs of bigender, genderfluid, genderqueer, and other multi-gender expressive people and denies the existence of agender people.
8. Again, I’m not saying I was a patriarchy-aware child. But it was obvious why my brothers never got Barbies, and I had to beg my mom to buy me Donatello, not just April O’Neil.
9. Seriously, Greta Gerwig didn’t make this movie for children, or for cishet people, for that matter. Please read actress Hari Nef’s letter to Gerwig about what being a Barbie in Barbie meant to her as a trans woman, a peek at the history of trans women identifying with Barbie, and the in-group use of the term “dolls” amongst trans women and femmes.