It was first or second grade, or maybe kindergarten. We had some sort of presentation in a classroom about what life was like 100 years ago or something, with various antique props. I heard a presenter talking about the baby carriage in front of them being able to fold down into being small. This was before I ever saw a modern stroller, and I wanted to see how it worked mechanically. I was very much the engineer at that age, though putting things together after taking them apart often presented a problem.
My interest was quickly noted by a teacher or the presenters, who scolded me, insinuating that maybe I wanted to be a girl, playing with girl things. I don’t think she meant to hurt my feelings, and such a thing ideally ought not have hurt my feelings, but shame was her intention. As an adult in society as it was, enforcing the mores of gender differences in behavior and interest by such sanction was, for lack of a more accurate yet neutral word, natural. Perhaps even an obligation.
I didn’t have dolls. I had “action figures” like J.J. Arms and maybe a G.I. Joe or something similar. But I had a lot of stuffed animals. Some were crocheted by my “Aunt Belle” who lived next door to my grandparents, others were plastic wildlife figures, and many were truly stuffed and cuddly, most acquired at Christmas, or on our summer vacations in Florida. And yes, they often were in my bed.
My booties (crocheted by my grandmother, the ones of which made for me when I was older I still wear when I can find them) were on my bedposts at my feet, like windsocks or flags on a ship. Actually it was a starship, and in the nighttime dark, my crew, mostly stuffed, took me to far away star systems and various adventures of astronomic proportions. Until I drifted off to sleep.
But otherwise, I played with Legos (more often “Lock-Blocks”) and plastic models, Micronauts and die-cast toys. I built and drew things that looked cool, not for artistic value — creativity channeled through construction and drafting, rather than more left-brain pursuits. It wasn’t until high school (and an exposure to art and philosophy related to Zen Buddhism) that I got more in touch with my “feminine side”. By senior year, I was able to express myself with some level of affection between friends, enjoyed singing, and enjoyed various aspects of art. I wrote oodles of poetry. Being an intellectual my whole life, I managed to become a full-blown extrovert as well. Things didn’t have to be measurable or logical all the time anymore. And boy did I love to dance, and didn’t care what anyone thought about how I did it.
But I never had a notable sense of machismo, though I identified myself as male, at the very least in my strong passions toward the opposite sex that I kept to myself out of an almost extreme sense of “being a gentleman”. But apart from a season of cross-country and loving to cycle, I was anything but athletic. I was a pacifist by default, possibly because of my lack of physical stature my whole life up to that point.
They also say that many or even most boys in their teens experiment with homosexuality, either through isolated incident or by pornography. I can’t relate to this. I always had an aversion to the idea, and if there was any such thing around me, no one talked about it, showed it, or perhaps I refused to see it. Without giving it any thought, I was at society’s default setting at the time — homophobic. No, I had no hate for anyone, and passed no judgment, but the existence of such people made me uncomfortable as a gut reaction. To this day, even aware of my prejudices, there is still an aversion to the idea of myself ever being that way. On the gender spectrum, when it comes to sex, I was always solidly heterosexual.
But I knew I was a whole person, using both halves of my brain, able to problem-solve and empathise, teach and nurture. I was in touch with my feminine side, and made no apologies for it. In fact, one of the conflicts between my daughter’s mother and myself was that I was too nurturing, and she felt I was infringing on her role as a mother. People who know me well quickly reaffirmed this — I am more maternal than paternal.
Was it from hanging out with the girls in high school (always a brother or like “one of the girls”, never a boyfriend) or going to a nearly-all girls school in college? Was it the knightly gentility and somewhat passivity of the men in my family? Who knows.
But when did I start sleeping with a doll? I’m in a relationship with my wife where I can be whoever I want to be without judgment, and am not afraid to be myself at all. It was a few years after we got married when I said to her, “You know, I never had a doll growing up.” Not strange in our culture, but sad.
We were at Viddler’s 5&10 and each bought a doll. She’s adorable — yes, my wife is, but I mean the doll. I lost her for a while and found her recently, and I think I originally just named her “Dolly” so that’s what I call her. Over my adult years, I rarely slept with stuffed animals, and usually it’s just my wife and our shih-tzu. I almost never sleep with Alb3rt my koala build-a-bear. Merry sometimes brings her build-a-bear Fenway to bed. But when she started sleeping with “Gingy” her sock baby she made, I found and started sleeping with Dolly. Life is good.
We look at ourselves as an enlightened society over major gender differences, but something as simple as this tells the tale more accurately. Some people would think it not so unusual for a grown woman to cuddle up with a doll when she sleeps, but if a man so much as has a teddy bear, he is somehow emasculated. Heaven forbid it’s a doll instead.
Well, I’m secure in who I am. I am proud of my feminine traits as well as my masculine, and think I am a better person for it. I can cry at movies if I want. I can show my love for people without being overly hesitant to do things like hug another grown man. I can be analytical and compassionate at the same time. I can have a gentle touch and still do kung fu.
I guess my point is that there really are such things as masculine and feminine, and that should be a good thing. But they are not absolutes. It’s not black and white. Many of these distinctions are just made up by society, but some are natural. But whatever combination of traits any of us have can be our uniqueness — our strength. The problem is when we create rules (unwritten or otherwise) to manage such things.
So what does this mean to me? If someone wants to steal my Dolly, there’s always the consideration of the sword on the wall above my bed. And I know how to use it. :^}