I’m a Barbie collector.
There, I said it.
I don’t always confess it right away. In fact, I usually wait. My house isn’t filled with Barbies like some episode of “Hoarders.” The dolls are locked in a back bedroom, which I refer to as “storage” when new men get the tour. But I refuse to deny the dolls for long. If there’s any sort of real intimacy, I come out of Barbie’s pink closet.
I wasn’t always so forthcoming — with good reason. Ironically, some gay guys are preoccupied with gender roles. They boast in online profiles about how masculine they are. And they automatically reject effeminate (or overweight) men with the infamous “no fats or fems” line.
I’m thin, but the Barbies are definitely fem. I suppose I could box them all up or keep the Barbie room locked 24/7. But why would I want to date a man who broadcasts his internalized shame?
In 1992, when I was 24, I bought myself a Totally Hair Ken and showed it to my friends. I jokingly said it was a voodoo doll to create the kind of boyfriend I wanted. Amazingly, I met my first boyfriend the next night. His name was Kenny.
Once we were dating, Kenny knew all about my dolls and didn’t care. However, tolerance of my Barbie habit wasn’t enough to keep two mismatched men together, and we broke up after a year.
As my Barbie stockpile increased, I didn’t tell men I dated casually about my habit. Asking about their HIV status was awkward enough. Revealing my doll collection was too much. Most men treated Barbie like an embarrassing houseguest.
The obsession started in my childhood. I grew up in the 1970s, surrounded by hippies wearing earth tones (as in different shades of dirt). Barbie dolls provided the style and glamour I craved but couldn’t find anywhere else.
My parents spent a lot of time trying to masculinize me, so I wasn’t allowed to own dolls. I solved that problem by playing with my neighbor’s. I pretended her Barbies were stylish older sisters. It made sense. Unlike the rest of my family, Barbie and I were blond. Unlike the rest of my family, happiness was our base emotion. And we were both clotheshorses who liked bright colors.
My neighbor’s Barbies became a remedy for the ugliness — visual and emotional — in my life. Decades later, the doll remained a beacon of glamour and joy.
By 2006 things were getting serious with Michael, but I hadn’t yet mentioned the Barbies. Then Michael and I ran into my friend Johnnie, who asked, “How’s your Barbie collection?” Red-faced, I confessed that I was a collector. Michael smiled and said he didn’t have a problem with my dolls.
In fact, he became the first boyfriend to buy me a Barbie. No wonder I fell in love.
I’m sad to report that Michael broke up with me later. After he left, I’d stare at the Barbie he gave me. Her big blue eyes looked forlorn, as if they were about to fill with tears. Mine too.
Acceptance is the last of the five stages of grief. I accepted that Michael and I were through, and I also accepted myself. After dating a man who’d bought me a Barbie, I adopted a full-disclosure attitude: Barbie is what I love, and collecting her is what I do.
Isn’t love about being accepted and appreciated for who we are? What could I expect from a relationship if I couldn’t be forthcoming about the dolls?
Living in Los Angeles helped. Barbie was born here, she is still designed here and she “lives” in Malibu.
I met Richard late last year, and for our second date he came over to my house. My 6-foot-tall Barbie Christmas tree was in the living room, and I wasn’t going to take it down early just for some dude.
During the tour, Richard did a double take. “Wait — is that a Barbie tree?”
He said “Cool,” but didn’t elaborate.
When Richard saw the 300-plus dolls in my Barbie room, his eyes bugged out in delight and his mouth fell open. He enthusiastically took pictures and posted them on Facebook with the caption, “In a Barbie world.” After that, Richard bought me Barbies and attended doll functions with me.
Richard and I broke up months later. I’m not going to criticize someone who bought me Barbies, but it was an easy decision. I was ready to move on, armed with the confidence that came with Richard’s approval of me and my Barbie brood.
Now that I’m single again, I take solace in the fact that a Ken doll worked once as a boyfriend-locating divining rod. The presence of 33 Ken dolls in my house is also comforting. I live with 33 hot guys with flat stomachs, full heads of hair and lots of trendy clothes.
Jokes aside, I know there are men out there who will embrace my dolls. After all, Michael and Richard did. Someday my inanimate family circle will welcome a new arrival: a man who accepts and appreciates every last one of us.
Matthew Kennedy spends his time shopping for Barbies and shopping around a Barbie memoir.