It was 1977. I was all of 5. And all I wanted for Christmas was Cher. Well, more specifically, a Cher doll. I’d asked Santa. I’d asked my mom. Yet somehow on Christmas morning, there was no 12-inch Cher doll by Mego in her swooping salmon gown and matching plastic pumps.
Instead, I had to make do with a train set, some Batman games, a slinky and a Stretch Armstrong. He may have been wearing only a speedo, yet Stretch was no substitute for Cher. I continued to beg my mom, but I suspect it was because of my biological father that I never got that Cher doll. Mama tried though. She said I could have a Sonny doll. But not even Cher wanted Sonny (may he rest in peace).
After my parents separated, my mom did buy me a Dolly Parton doll. I loved Dolly even more than Cher. All dressed up in her red, rhinestone-trimmed bell bottom jumpsuit, she was heaven to me. Tragically, I quickly damaged her trying to style her hair with my mom’s curling iron. (What did I know of synthetic hair at that age?)
But I digress. Many years ago, I did a story called “Boys Who Play with Dolls.” For the story, I spoke to psychotherapist Joe Kort, who at that time kept a display of special Barbies in his office. There was Cher, Farah Fawcett, even Diana Ross. It was seeing this display that caused me to revisit my childhood feelings toward being restricted from playing with dolls.
“I think gay men are more injured about not being able to play with opposite-gendered toys because there’s not even an acceptable time frame,” said Kort at the time. “At least girls are allowed to be tomboys.”
Yes, tomboys are so cute. Little sissy boys who pose for pictures with their hands on their hips are not. Trust me, I’m a witness. So, alas, I made do with Batman action figures and went about my way. Dolly with her burnt hair got lost somewhere throughout the years. But shortly after I started writing for Pride Source and Between The Lines newspaper, which coincided with the advent of eBay, I replaced my Dolly doll.
For years, I kept it in a box. Not really sure what to do with it. But more recently I’ve said screw it. I put Dolly Parton out on display. What’s more, I fulfilled my childhood fantasy and bought myself a Cher doll. I went so far as to buy a display case and then positioned them inside it, side by side. I tell myself that Dolly is filming an episode of the "Cher" variety show and the two are performing a number together.
Still, my two darling dolls can’t begin to compete with Kort’s massive collection.
“There is a growing acceptance of gay men having and playing with dolls,” Kort told me recently. “That said, it seems like there are many younger gay men that don't want to. It seems more prevalent and liberating to the older generation of 40 and up.”
And it’s not just about “boys” playing with dolls. “I see more nonbinary folks be more open about dolls and playing with dolls and buying them more than the younger gay men,” Kort added. As for the boys, Kort said that the times are changing and “more younger gay men have been allowed to play with dolls, which was not the case in older generations.”
Still, don’t be fooled. The days of insecure dads keeping Barbie and her friends away from their little boys are not gone. My bio father didn’t want his son to grow up gay. There are still many such fathers — and even some mothers — out there today who feel the very same way.
In my own family, I don’t think my young nephews would be allowed to play with “girl” dolls. At the moment, they’re more into dinosaurs and Pokémon, so it’s not really an issue. But if they ever were to want to play with dolls and they're not allowed, well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. (And I pray it doesn’t get burned down in the process.)
Now, as for me, if money were no object, I’d probably grow my collection a bit. Mattel created a line of Cher dolls with outfits designed by Bob Mackie some years ago that I admire greatly. Budgetary issues, however, restrain me from collecting those. I bet Kort has all of them.
“I still buy dolls and have hundreds now and love them,” he shared. “Some are from my childhood, and others are from today. I prefer celebrity dolls.”
Kort, a Ph.D., refutes any assertion that it’s not OK for grown gay men to have a doll collection. “If it isn't healthy for grown men to have dolls, then I am pathological,” he declared with a maniacal laugh. (OK, I jest. Kort is too gay to sound maniacal. OK, I jest again. It was a very masculine, non-maniacal laugh.)
But I take it as permission to love my dolls. I’m not a psychotherapist like Kort, but I believe in my heart that gay men should collect the toys they were deprived of when they were young. I also bought from eBay a Miss Piggy hand puppet with real (synthetic) hair I’d always wanted. But that’s a toy for another story.
For now, Christmas is upon us. And the moral of the story is … buy me dolls. No, dear readers, I’m only kidding. All you need to do for me this Christmas is read me — and not for filth. But if you happen to know someone, young or old, who tells you they’d like a Cher doll –—or Taylor Swift or Beyoncé or just a plain ol’ Barbie — this year, then buy it. I’m 51, and yet there’s still a little gay boy living somewhere inside me. And I hope that, much like Cher, he never grows old.