Tag: childhood

I thought Barbie was an alien: a love letter to femininity

An undressed pale skinned Barbie doll sits propped up in front of tree with its torso covered by a leaf surrounded by a bed of fallen leaves. - femininity -

The tall, pale skinned woman opens the pink door of her convertible and extends an impossibly long leg out onto the pavement. She emerges from the vehicle, and you begin to wonder how she could possibly have fit inside as she towers over her surroundings. She walks quickly, and silently into her house that also seems slightly out of proportion to its occupant.

As she enters her home, she kicks off her tiny hot pink heels. Once we peer inside, we can watch as this person goes about her day, but something still seems slightly off. She makes dinner, though she herself never appears to eat, and there is no one else in the home. She lays out a bowl of water, and pet food on the kitchen floor, but we never see an animal around the home. When watching TV, she seems to sit stock still, her gaze fixed on a static screen.

It isn’t until late in the night that we catch a glimpse of something truly out of the ordinary. When the clock strikes midnight the impossibly tall, slender woman grabs a pair of binoculars from the living room cabinet and begins peering out of a living room window into the night sky. After a few short minutes, she strips off her brightly colored dress and runs into the backyard. The last we see of her is her nude form floating up into the star-studded night.

That is, until the next morning when this woman can be seen waking up in her bedroom, now inexplicably dressed in a flowery top and neon green pants. She wakes up and prepares for her busy day of work as a world-renowned supermodel.

When I was growing up the concepts of feminine beauty and sexuality were understood by those around me exclusively through the lens of the male gaze. Barbie being a perfect example of this, as she is arguably a personification of the male gaze. Whether viewed through the lens of science, second wave political feminism, or through religion, my family has only ever understood femininity as men understand it. And despite being trans, I was no exception until very recently.


The main perspective through which my family taught me about sexuality was the brutal reality of biology. My mother was both a biology and a chemistry major during her undergraduate degree and made sure both me and my sibling were aware of what our body parts looked like, their proper names and functions, and, at an appropriate age, how sex worked in a mechanical sense. There was rarely, if ever, any mention of pleasure or of queer sex.

This dry, scientific approach to human sexuality contributed heavily to my theory on Barbie. I was taught that, generally speaking, humans have genitalia, and at least partially functional mouths and anuses. The Barbie’s I played with had none of these, nor was the plastic on their lower section molded to resemble underwear, as some are now. Couple this lack of orifices with her impossibly long limbs, and rather oddly shaped breast forms and the one conclusion my mind could draw was that Barbie must be an alien who simply resembled humans in order to live more easily among them. This was how I played with Barbie’s until I lost interest in them entirely somewhere around 7 or 8 years of age.

Second wave feminism

The brand of feminism unique to the mid-20th century also deeply influenced both my mother, and her mother. Despite chafing at the demands of a deeply misogynistic capitalist system, both my mother, and grandmother fully internalized their positions as “undesirable” to the male gaze and sought empowerment within the system through the imitation of masculinity.

My grandmother went from being a hyper visible target of the male gaze as a rather attractive teenager, to consciously rejecting the male gaze during and after college. She sought to defeminize herself through smoking cigarettes and vocal training to deepen her voice. She bought suits with shoulder pads to broaden her slender frame and wore 2–3-inch (5-7.5cm) heels everyday despite being 5’-10” (178 cm) tall without them. There were many reasons for this but the main one was that my grandmother was determined to make a career for herself in public service as a social worker.

This meant fitting into the local government office work environment of the mid-1950s through the 1970s. Looking, sounding, and acting more like a man was only an advantage. Which is why my grandmother impressed upon my mother that it was better (and safer) to be deemed sexually undesirable by the male gaze. Along with this, feminine sexual desire for men was seen as problematic to the cause of feminine political equality. Being submissive to a man in any sense, even if that only meant one enjoyed a receptive role during sex, was seen as debasing oneself. Despite her best efforts, these ideas did make an impression on my mother, and continue to influence her thinking on gender and sexuality to this day.

image of barbie doll dressed in pink satin ball gown with white lace accents. - femininity -


This staunchly feminist attitude was deeply at odds with my family’s religious teachings. Both my mother and me were brought up in the Church of the Nazarene. The qualities deemed most desirable in a woman by the Church and its members were namely whiteness (or proximity to it), chastity, and submission. I was taught that beauty was to be found in one’s perceived virginity, and willingness to serve a man. Both of which naturally excluded me, a childhood sexual assault survivor who has never been interested in men sexually.

Though I did receive a lot of praise for my bright blonde hair, blue-green eyes and light skin. This told me everything I needed to know about what people actually took into account when they interacted with me, my exterior. I was forced to listen to sermons and “youth-oriented discussions” on the value of sexual purity, and how abstinence until marriage is the only righteous path. All while knowing that these same people who were seemingly so concerned about “my immortal soul” would look down on me if they knew what I had been through. Keep in mind I stopped going to church at the age of 10, so these are just the messages I absorbed as a young child.

Taking a step back

All of these perspectives were sorely lacking. They are 2 dimensional at best and serve only to flatten the powerful twin forces that are feminine beauty and feminine sexuality into something built only to serve someone else’s imagination. These common means of understanding the world around us (politics, religion, and science) seek to reduce the entirety of human experience: love, sexual tension, release, pleasure, pain, gratitude, longing, fulfillment, comfort, affection, intimacy, and identity into things that can be easily owned, manipulated, and eventually consumed. I deserved better as a kid, and we all deserve a deeper understanding and appreciation for the truly multifaceted nature of femininity.

Multiplicity and Femininity

When looking back, I find myself intrigued by this aspect of multiplicity inherent to my childhood understanding of femininity. Barbie was an alien who could successfully live and function among humans. Drag queens, a childhood fascination of mine, looked nothing like their drag personas when the makeup came off. Many people who wear it feel makeup to be something akin to a mask, a part of themself, but something that can be put on and removed at will or convenience. To my young mind, femininity was allowed to exist in so many iterations, and masculinity came in one form: loud, and dangerous.

I did not have options as a child. Lack of choice was, in fact, a defining aspect of my childhood. Everything in my life, from what and when I ate, to how I dressed, sat, and spoke was policed by someone. Everyone had a fucking opinion. The aspect of femininity that I fell in love with was simply the idea of being able to conceal and reveal aspects of yourself at will. There is real power in this act. It has saved my life. And continues to do so to this day, though I now recognize that this skill is not inherently gendered.

Image of femme person with blonde hair and pale skin in front of beige background. They are holding a cut out of Barbie's eyes in front of their face. - femininity -
Photo by Leeloo Thefirst

Wrapping it all up

Despite my enduring passion for the power that others find in feminine beauty and sexuality, it is not for me to claim personally. I admire it deeply, but I do not feel a personal connection to what, for others, can be a very real means to self-fulfillment. One need only witness the amount of folks who feel personally liberated by expressing their femininity and having it validated, to understand that a great many people find joy and identity in embodying aspects of the human condition which greater society recognizes as “feminine”.

Thankfully, my understanding of the world has grown beyond that of general society to include the fact that gender is personally understood, and there are as many genders as there are people in existence. It was only through interrogating my relationship to masculinity, femininity, and gender as a whole that I came to see this truth. So, while I can’t give her all the credit, I do have to thank you, Barbie, for kicking off one queer kid’s journey into thinking critically about this bizarre thing we call gender.

Complement this with the definitive guide to facing disillusionment with masculinity or with a poem on the inherent worth of trans womanhood.

The Quiet House

Solon H. Borglum, born Ogden, UT 1868-died Stamford, CT 1922
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. A. Mervyn Davies

There is a squat house in a small clearing. Something you would miss if you weren’t looking for it. The siding, which was once a light blue, has deteriorated to nothing more than an inscrutable paleness. There is never a light on inside this house. The clearing rests in perpetual darkness, shrouded by thick trees through which there is no obvious path.

I was hiking one day when I lost the trail and stumbled into the eerie silence of the clearing. As my eyes adjusted to the lack of light, I caught a brief glimpse of a curtain shifting back into place in the window. I called out to ask if anyone was there who could help me. The only response was more silence.

I approached the screen door to the small porch, reached out, pulled, and found it was open! Peering in, I called out into the blackness, asking if anyone could help me get back to the trail.


Entering the screened in porch, I saw piles of clothes, books, boxes of toys, the ephemera of a full life. I looked to my left and saw something strangely familiar. Sitting atop an open box of old toys was my Susie! A small rabbit-like toy, with the softest ears that were perfect for catching my childhood tears. I had forgotten but Susie had a little pattern of stars on her body that glowed in the dark.

As I reached through the dim light for her, she seemed to disappear! I thought I saw a small hand snatch her away from me, and my suspicions were confirmed when I heard a door latch close. It was almost silent, but my ears had adjusted to the quiet enough for me to get a general direction of the small click.

I charged through the darkness in the direction of the door, stuck out my hand, and made contact with a doorknob. A quick twist and a strong push got me into the main part of the squat little house. As I walked forward, the inside didn’t feel familiar, but once my eyes adjusted slightly to the crushing darkness I recognized what I thought was my grandmother’s kitchen table. I felt for the familiar design on the back of the wooden dining chair. There it was! I pulled it out and sat down.

“I’m not here to hurt anyone, I just need your help getting out of here.” I told the quiet.

A slight scraping sound followed by a small creak broke the stillness. All of a sudden, a familiar face popped up opposite me at the table. It was a small, tow-headed child’s face examining me with a mix of intense fear and curiosity.

“No one comes here. Why are you here?”

“I got lost. I need you to show me how to leave.”

“You tried to take Susie.” the child said flatly, while still trying to size me up.

“I wasn’t trying to take her. You see, she used to be mine when I was your age. I just wanted to say hi. Can I come over and say hi?”

“NO! You stay away from me and Susie!” The child roared and waved something in my direction now. The glow from the toy glinted off of something shiny, and sharp.

“Look, I just need to know how to find the trail.” I said, trying to keep my voice calm, and low. This seemed to be a measured enough response to allow the child’s curiosity to get the best of them. A small scrape and another short squeak told me the child had hopped off their chair. As they rounded the table and got closer, I could see that old Eeyore nightshirt covering the belly that hasn’t been that small since.

“You look like my grandpa.”

“I’m sure I do, but can we put that down for a minute?” I said, pointing to what I could now see was a steak knife.

The child hesitated, but decided they could trust me enough to set it on the table for a minute.

“You have a beard like my dad.”

“Yes, do you like it?”

“It’s prickly!” the child exclaimed while running a palm across it.

“Just like dad’s, huh?”

“Yeah,” they said, much softer now.

“I promise I’m a lot nicer than dad.”

“Okay…did you really need to go?”

“I do, but if you show me the way to the trail, I think we could go together.”

“I don’t think so…” A thick blanket of quiet hung between us now. “But, I’ll show you the way.”

A tiny, soft hand guided me through the house, my boots thumping along behind the silent, padding steps of the child. I was so big and heavy the house shook slightly with every footfall.

“I hate that noise”, the child’s voice cut through the ever deepening quiet.

It took only a minute to get back to the screened in porch and the cool night air. The hand continued to guide me all the way up to the tree line.

The child pointed into the forest, “Just keep going through there, you’ll make it out.”

“Come with me.”

Grasping their tiny hand a little tighter, we set off into the trees. Shortly into the walk an almost deafening CRRAACCK burst through what had become a comfortable silence. Off in the distance, a dead tree had finally given way to time and rot.

It took me a second to notice that the tiny hand wasn’t in my own anymore. I wheeled around to see the pale figure of the child sprinting back through the trees. I gave chase but they disappeared into the forest, and I had to turn around. Eventually I made it back to the trail and found my way home. But I couldn’t shake that stillness. I started to crave it after awhile.

These days I regularly make my way back to the quiet house. It’s a bit of a hike, but once I’m there I take my boots off at the door, settle into an old rocking chair on the porch, and wait for the child to join me. I made them their own little rocking chair, and we like to sit together for awhile just taking in the silence.

the quiet house
Photo by Dejan Zakic on Unsplash

Complement this work of short fiction with another great piece by an awesome guest author, or a peek into the old trans survival strategy of “spontaneous transition”.


Original art by Elodie Belcourt

There once was a boy named Blue.
Blue had been told that he was broken.
Blue wore sunglasses at night, and sundresses to gym class. He took his math book to biology and his chemistry book to social studies. He laughed when he was sad and cried when he was happy. He ate jam and toast at night, and fettuccine alfredo in the morning. On Saturdays, Blue went to school, and on Monday mornings he slept until noon.
“Look at him.” The other kids jeered.
“What a loser.” They pointed.
“What’s his problem?” They laughed.
“What’s he wearing?” They gossiped.
Blue hid in his room all day and went out exploring at night. One night, he found an old car in the middle of the woods and pretended he was flying to the moon when he climbed inside.
Sometimes, Blue forgot how to get home, and slept in the woods, or in the park, or in the middle of main street.
“It ain’t safe out ‘ere for a boy yer age!” The constable scolded.
“Home?” Blue shrugged.
“It’s all an act.” The adults shook their heads.
“There’s nothing wrong with him.” They rolled their eyes.
“He’s just looking for attention.” They scoffed.
“Maybe if his parents were more attentive.” They whispered.
Blue’s parents didn’t know what to do with him. They fought and yelled and cried when he wasn’t at home.
“Do we take him to a doctor?” His dad whimpered.
“What if we’re bad parents?” His mother sobbed.
One day, Blue moonwalked into the woods behind his house and climbed a tree. He sat and sat and sat some more. He sat until he couldn’t sit any longer, then sat for another day or so. His parents came out into the woods and called to him.
“Blue, please come down!”
“Can’t.” Blue replied.
“Blue, honey. You’re scaring us. We’ll get you some help.”
“Don’t.” Blue looked up and away from his mother and father.
“Blue, just come down and we’ll figure out what’s going on, I promise.” His mom pleaded, but Blue climbed higher into the tree, so his parents ran into town to get the constable.
Blue sat and thought. He thought and thought and thought some more. He thought until every thought he could think had been thunk, and yet he continued thinking. Eventually, he thought there would never be an end to his thinking.
“Hello.” A voice from above called down to Blue. Blue looked up to see a woman sitting on a branch just above him. “Hello. How are you?” Blue looked at the woman, puzzled. Her clothes were too small, and she had a beard that hung down past her feet.
“Hello.” Blue said.
“Beautiful day, don’t you think?” said the woman.
“What’s your name?”
“Blue.” Replied Blue.
“That’s a beautiful name.”
Blue pointed at the woman. “You?”
The woman sat and thought for a moment. “You know, for the life of me I can’t remember.” She laughed. Blue smiled. “Oh well, my name’s not important. Tell me more about yourself, Blue. Where did you come from?” Blue pointed down at his house. “And what brings you up here?”
“Broke? Well, I wouldn’t worry about it, I don’t have any money either and I’m doing fine.”
“No. No. Me.” Blue pointed to himself. “Broken.”
“You’re broken? What do you mean?”
Blue shrugged. “They…” Blue gestured to the town at large. “Said.”
“Who said you were broken?”
“Them. Parents. Kids. Teachers.”
“Well, you look fine to me.” the woman reassured.
Meanwhile, down on the ground, Blue’s parents, and the constable, and the deputy constable, and the police dog, and the principle, and the teachers, and the students, and the bullies, and the neighbours, and the mayor all searched the woods for Blue and his tree.
“Where is that blasted tree?” Shouted the constable.
“He’s too high up to see!” Blue’s dad cried in exasperation.
“Things must be strange for you, Blue.” Offered the woman. “You’re growing older. You’re changing. You see things you never thought you’d see in ways you’ve never seen them. You’re doing things you never thought you’d do in ways you’ve never done them. That doesn’t mean you’re broken. That doesn’t mean you need to run away and climb a tree.”
“But…” Blue hesitated. “You’re… in… the tree.”
“You got me there, kiddo! And I’ve been here for ten years. You see, I once felt broken too. I felt like no one knew who I was, and that made me forget who I was. I walked differently, I ate differently, slept differently, I got angry for no reason, and nothing made me happy. Everyone was trying to tell me who I was. Everyone had their own idea of who I was supposed to be. And so, I threw it all away. I climbed this tree and I forgot about everything. And soon enough, everything forgot about me. I don’t mean anything to anyone anymore. I’ll never accomplish anything. Never fulfill the wishes of my parents and my peers. But I’ve been defined. People know what to expect from me, which seemed to make everyone happy, and then everyone left me alone, which made me happy, so I just stayed up here.”
Blue was confused. “What… do you… do… all day?”
“I sit here, and I look across the canopy of the forest, and I think of all the possibilities. That’s how I spend my day. Thinking and thinking and thinking some more. Sometimes I think I’ve thought all the thoughts there is to think, Blue. But I’ll never stop thinking. About who I was, who I could’ve been, who I am now. About my dad and my other dad and my sister and
my cat. About my friends at school and the teachers who didn’t care, and the ones who did. It’s a full-time job thinking about things, you know.”
“You’re not… bored?”
“Sure. All the time. But then I remember to keep thinking. The mind is a fabulous thing, Blue. It goes inwards forever and ever, further than the edges of the very universe. Anything you believe is possible, and everything you believe is impossible, can happen inside your mind, and believe me, it will! But it’s up to you which thoughts you choose to focus on.”
“Up to… me?”
“Absolutely, my dear child! You have a mind like no other. It would be a waste to use it the way other people are telling you to. It’s not their mind, after all, is it?”
“It’s mine!” Blue lit up.
“Now you got it!” The woman clapped. “But the tricky part is holding onto it.”
“How… do I?”
“You keep thinking! Think about this. Think about that. Think about you, and me, and us, and them. Think about her, and him, and it, and fey, and xem, and elle. Think old thoughts and new thoughts, and thoughts that go up and down and sideways in every direction. Just don’t stop thinking.”
“You should… write a book.” Blue laughed.
“I’ve certainly thought about it! But who would read the damn thing? Who would listen? Who would care, Blue?”
“I would.” Blue smiled.
The woman took a moment to think, and then: “Well, if my work can connect with just one person, then it’s worth it!” The woman hopped down to Blue’s branch. “Shall we?” She offered her hand to Blue, and they climbed back down the tree together.
Blue’s parents were so happy to see him they forgot to punish him for running away. The woman wrote her book, but everyone said they wouldn’t read it until she shaved her beard, so she burned every copy, walked back into the woods, and climbed back up the tree.
This made Blue think that everyone else must not be thinking, and if they weren’t thinking, how could they know who they are? And if they didn’t know who they are, how could they know who he was? Blue took the woman’s advice and kept thinking and thinking until he thought that maybe he wasn’t broken at all. Maybe the world was broken, and maybe he could help fix it. Then he thought anything he did in order to make that fix couldn’t be the wrong thing to do.
So, Blue kept wearing his sunglasses at night, and his sundresses to gym class. He kept bringing his math book to biology and his chemistry book to social studies. He kept laughing when he was sad and crying when he was happy. He ate jam and toast at night, and fettuccine alfredo in the mornings. On Saturdays, Blue walked to school, and on Monday mornings he slept until noon. The other kids kept making fun of him, and the adults kept belittling his parents, but it didn’t matter, because Blue was still thinking.
And every once in a while, Blue moonwalked out to that tree and climbed up to say hello to the woman, and they sat in silence, and they thought together, and they were free

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