As a kid, I imagined that most of my toys were living fantastic, strange, artistic independent lives. Even before I had a complete language for LGBTQ+ life, I was the kid whose toys always lived with their “best friends’’ and who had no interest in my toys getting married, or having babies (whenever I got stuck playing house with friends, I always insisted on getting to play the dog). In so many ways, my play life growing up really mirrored the kind of queer adulthood I would go on to build. As an adult toy collector, I am still a fan of setting up queer scenes with my toys — yes my toys have an annual pride festival. One of the fantastic things that I love about toys is the way that they can spark imagination in people of all ages.
As much as I love toys, I’ll admit that I’ve never been a huge Barbie fan as a kid or now as an adult collector, but the iconic doll has grown on me in recent years. For one thing the 2018 “Tiny Shoulders, Rethinking Barbie” (viewable on Hulu) shifted my thoughts about the iconic doll and how she influenced people — especially women’s lives and sense of self, in a good way (there was also some surprise LGBTQ+ content when one of Barbie’s designers came out in the documentary). Most importantly, in recent years Mattel (the company behind the doll) has expanded Barbie’s diversity focusing on creating more inclusive dolls. This has looked like dolls with disabilities, dolls with different skin tones, hair textures, heights, and body sizes- yes even some “curvy” dolls, to attempt to more closely mirror the diversity of bodies that exist instead of primarily being seen as skinny, white, and blonde. One of the main ideas behind Barbie is that she can be…anything. Barbie can be any kind of Barbie could be president, she could be an astronaut, a doctor and more — but can she be queer?
Is Barbie Gay?
I was excited and surprised to see this topic trending on Twitter over the last week. Suddenly many people are speculating about Barbie’s sexuality: Is she gay? Bi? Pan? Queer? A 2017 photograph has become very popular online going viral and leading people to think that Barbie, yes the Barbie has a girlfriend!
In 2017 Mattel Barbie’s creator partnered with LGBTQ+ ally and fashion designer Aimee Song around her release of “Love Wins” shirts that raised money for LGBTQ+ youth. The now very popular photo is of Barbie and a Barbie replica of Aimee posed together on a bed with a toy dog wearing complimentary rainbow “Love Wins” shirts. Pretty gay right? It also shows the dolls eating brunch, and other cute couple-like activities. Understandably the internet is LOVING these photos! Aimee the shirt designer has confirmed the internet rumors tweeting back into the viral conversation “I am the girlfriend” with a photo posed with the doll version of herself, both of them wearing the “Love Wins” t-shirts.
Mattel has not officially commented so for now this is in the same realm as those of us who are convinced that Disney’s Elsa is gay and needs a girlfriend, except Barbie is already rocking the pride gear. Obviously Barbie is just a doll and can’t actually have a sexual orientation, but at the same time representation matters.
Ken’s Already Out — kinda
This is not the first time that there have been widespread rumors about characters in the Barbie universe being part of the LGBTQ community. Of note, Ken has often been rumored to be gay for some time notably including Earring Magic Ken doll in 1993. Not to mention Mattel might also be releasing the gayest Ken yet with this harness wearing merman Ken which Mattel debuted in an online contest for fans to vote on which doll they should create.
Voting is now closed, but there are a lot of LGBTQ fans hoping that this queer coded Ken makes it to the market — I for one know I need him in my toy collection!
About the Author:
Sassafras Lowrey’s novels and nonfiction books have been honored by organizations ranging from the American Library Association to the Lambda Literary Foundation and the Dog Writers Association of America. Sassafras’ work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired and numerous other newspapers and magazines. Sassafras has taught queer writing courses and workshops at LitReactor, the NYC Center For Fiction and at colleges, conferences, and LGBTQ youth centers across the country. www.SassafrasLowrey.com