Straight/Gay Q & A: Barbie dolls, Easy Bake Ovens

Here's a great question from our blogosphere friend, Kathryn at
This evening involved a rather heated phone call with my male friend (whom I believe is straight) about gender toys and their influence on possible orientation as adults.

He said that if his daughter was playing with a G.I. Joe, no problem... he's happy, actually. So I wondered "What if your son wants to play with a Barbie? Or maybe a Dream House? Or, how about an Easy Bake Oven... and a hot pink one, at that?"

He got very quiet and I sensed some discomfort. I said "So. It's okay for the girl, but not for the guy? What do you think'll happen if he dresses up as Dora the Explorer for Halloween at age 3?"

All I heard after that was some strange might have been snickering...or gagging. I can't be sure.

GAY GUY RESPONDS: How hard is this? This is about parents acknowledging their deep-down fear... that they are boring. Too boring to inspire even pale imitation from their offspring. If boys play with girls' toys, it probably means they think women and girls are just more interesting than men and boys.

I enjoyed some boy toys -- blocks, Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs. And, yes, I enjoyed some girl toys -- dolls, tea sets, house. Of course I played house. Duh. I lived in one. What was I supposed to play? Work? Budget reports? Annual performance review?

Girls' toys are fun to play with because they are about using imagination. Boys games are about memorizing rules: Where to throw the ball, who to throw it to, which direction to run.

(My favorite childhood game was "theatre" in which my stuffed toys were either in the cast or the audience. I didn't want to be an actor, I was always the director or producer. Sometimes I was the house manager. I still pat myself on the back for figuring out how to cancel the paper tickets by punching them through the lock on my mother's jewelry box.)

A funky little gene makes you gay, not Barbie. But, if Barbie could make you gay, she would make you the most fabulous gay boy ever.

STRAIGHT GUY RESPONDS: I believe there's a gay gene, too. It's nature not nurture. But many folks aren't quite there yet. (Hello, proposition 8 supporters! Now CA gay dudes have no choice but to marry your daughters. Hope that works out.)

I get the distinction the friend can't seem to articulate. "Tom-boys are cool. But Nancy-boys? Time for reprogramming." Hate to break it to you, but that ship has sailed.

Barbie will not make your son gay, but it might be a helpful early indicator for parents. Does your son say that Barbie is "Hot!" (straight), or a "Hot Mess!" (gay)? Is Barbie naked, half-buried in mulch in the backyard (straight) or planning a Dream House Tapas Party (hello)?

As far as the Easy Bake Oven is concerned... I don't care if Liberace is endorsing the thing. If it produces warm cookies and cake, straight boys will be lined up at the hot pink awning for a taste.

(Props to me: "Lined up at the hot pink awning" now outranks "rafting the tenderloin canyon" as best unintentional nasty metaphor coined here at GG/SG.)

Readers, what did your childhood toys reveal about you? Click COMMENTS below.


Straight in Upstate said...

I got a lot of board games - "proceed in a counterclockwise fashion, obey the rules, and submit to the roll of the dice." I had to go to GG's house for the cool toys, like Battling Tops and the little gizmo that melted some polymer into little Peanuts characters shapes (I think Ralph Nader was in rehab that Christmas 'cuz it slipped right by him - I don't know how we avoided third-degree burns).
Just have to add, my brother-in-law freaks out if his son likes anything in a pastel color or picks up a doll, but B-I-L bought the 40th anniversary DVD edition of The Sound of Music and sings along with every number. I haven't pointed out the irony.

Gay Guy said...

Battling Tops. One of my favorite rentals from the back of the local DVD rental.

Oh, gosh, that hot-plate-burn-mark-toy-waiting-to-happen. Do you believe that if you used the special polymer that those things were edible?

The Sound of Music. How many times have I seen that in my lifetime? How many times? And, it predicted my brother's marriage. My brother was dating this woman. I guess seriously. Over Christmas, he told us he had watched the Sound of Music with her. . . all the way through. By May, she's my sister-in-law. Take that, Maria von Trappe.

Anonymous said...

Why can't children use their imaginations at will at play? Straight Guy was so close. GI Joes are "dolls". Because they represent killing is that "better" for boys? Some kids play with things that might not be "normally" thought of as "genderly" correct. Many of those same kids go on to be happy heterosexuals and happy homosexuals. As a child, I was constantly made aware (harrassed/abused) for the fact that I was not interested in "boy" activities.(physical sports)

Sipsie, it's me. And while I've always tried to post humorous things here, this is a part of my upbringing - in all other ways loving - that was a HUGE negative in my life.

Gay Guy said...

Sipsie, What are you talking about is real. . . and very real for me, too. And, so I suppose, real for lots of other men, too. I still feel that my complete lack of interest in traditional gender correct toys and activities (sports, trucks, cars) was an early wedge between me and my dad, one that has never completely been overcome. I know your feeling of being made so painfully aware of how embarrassing it was for my dad, especially, that I hid behind a stack of old newspapers in the garage, reading a National Geographic and hoping to wait out an enforced softball game with my cousins.

Why can't parents just say, "Wow, little kid. You are such a great. . . reader, artists, baker, care giver. . . that's really great. Tell me more about why you like what you are doing." Would that be so hard?

I was being serious about not knowing how to imitate male behavior. From what I could see, it wasn't all the interesting. My father worked, mowed, the lawn, and did it all over again. My mother was charming and witty, and cooked and baked, and sewed, and pretty much made something out of nothing, just like all the Donna Reed wanna bees in the neighborhood. Who wouldn't want to learn how to bake at a tender age?

Sipsie, thank you for sharing your inner life. I don't think I knew this chapter of your life. This little slice of the blogosphere is for people to find the truth and express it, whether that be with humor or through any other way.

Readers, Gay and Straight, male and female. . where does this all land with you? What are your experiences?

Straight in Upstate said...

I'm in the weird zone between evaluating my childhood and creating my son's...which leads back to evaluating my childhood. I was totally unathletic until the age of 17. My parents didn't force it on me nor were they particularly helpful - somewhere in the middle would have been nice. My son's taking tae kwon do - self-defense is a good thing, and it gets him active. I don't want to be the pushy sports dad, but I do want to help him practice...which at the age of 5, means an attention span of 3 minutes. That, and I don't seem to be genetically programmed to be helpful that way. But I have taught him how to bake cookies.
I'm rambling, but one more childhood toy memory: I had a toy guitar or ukulele with plastic strings that was also a wind-up music box. I remember sitting on the stairs at the age of 5 or so playing it and making up songs. The other night I ended up sitting on my stairs (the only clean seat in the kitchen) playing my mandolin. Maybe we are destined to be good at certain things from a young age.

John said...

Well since I used to play with toy soldiers a lot and have very 'bloody' wars (amazing what one can do with matches and some markers), my being gay is perhaps a bit confusing.

Oh wait.

Now that I think about it, there was more than just 'bloody' wars. I'd have armistices negotiated by UN folks until some dastardly fellow broke the truce.

Nope, still confused...

anonymous said...

I used to play with army soldiers and barbies. I also played dressup, and finally realized I was a boy not a girl. I actually did what my two older sisters did. It was like a "monkey see monkey do" kind of thing. Whatever they did/liked, I thought it was the best thing to like/do.

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