Happy pride month!
Pride is the one month of the year dedicated to celebrating the members of the lgbtqia+ community, also referred to as the queer community, like me. I am a non-binary, transgender individual who identifies as a lesbian. Basically, I am not a girl or a boy so I do not identify as the gender I was assigned at birth, and I am attracted to people who aren’t cis men. But why do we even need a month dedicated to the queer community? Well, for one thing, it was extremely scary for me to even write this down, and I’ve been out for three years. All the other eleven months of the year we are made to feel other and lack a lot of representation, especially in the media and pop culture. Looking at the lgbtqia+ representation in the American Girl line is a perfect example of this.
You may be thinking “We don’t need to have that in a toy line! Kids need to be sheltered from talk of relationships and intimacy!” Queer representation is about more than talking about explicit intimacy! Children are born homosexual or transgender, it is not a choice they make it is the way they are, the same way a straight person is born straight, and a cis child, a child who identifies as the gender they are assigned at birth, is born cis. Growing up without seeing someone who has the same interests as you, or uses the pronouns you use, or who has the same appearance you have, represented in the books you’re reading and the toys you’re playing with is incredibly damaging and creates trauma. You feel that you are alone in the world and that the fact that you’re alive is inherently wrong. Trust me, I’ve experienced it. So now that we can all agree that this sucks and we need to definitely have lgbtqia+ representation in a toy line (if not and you’d rather we have traumatized kids, you probably will not like the rest of what I have to say in this blog), let’s look at American Girl.
Currently, American Girl, a brand that has been creating characters for over 35 years now, has no characters who are openly gay or transgender. Let that sink in for a moment. But in 2017 they released their first doll which was a boy. Logan was Tenny’s friend, the girl of the year at the time, who had a blue button-down shirt, jeans, and a short hairstyle. Before him, all the dolls used she/her pronouns and had shoulder-length or longer hair. This was huge for the lgbtqia+ community! A lot of the time queer children do not conform to the gender stereotypes society hast thrust upon us, i.e. children assigned male at birth sometimes play with dolls instead of trucks, and children assigned female at birth don’t always identify with the long-haired doll who wears dresses. Also sometimes parents will be more likely to let their children have gender-affirming toys that present a midway point in their comfort zones. For example, a father may be more willing to let his son play with a boy doll than a girl doll, or a mother may be more willing to let her daughter play with a boy doll than an action figure. Of course, toys are toys and in an ideal world, children should be allowed to play with whatever they want regardless of their gender. However, that is not the reality a lot of kids grow up in. These midway points allow them at least somewhere to start being themselves, and the parents somewhere to start with being accepting. Since Logan was released American Girl has retired him but has also introduced a number of boy dolls into the Truly Me line. They also have released a boy Wellie Wisher doll within this year, 2022.
Kira and Joss also have stories with lgbtqia+ representation. In 2020 Joss, the girl of the year at the time was given an outfit that had sneakers with the colors of the pansexual (being attracted to people regardless of their gender) pride flag. Although this was not actually confirmed to be planned by American Girl and could have easily been a coincidence I remember rushing to buy that outfit and proudly displaying it on my doll. I remember I posted a picture of it on my Instagram account and used that post to come out as a lesbian. Kira came out the following year and included the queerest representation we’ve ever seen from American Girl to date. Her aunt is married to another woman in her story. I cannot begin to describe the joy that fills me. It is done in a way which is introducing kids to the fact that two women can love each other and is very age-appropriate so parents do not have that excuse to keep it from their children. I hope to continue seeing this trend in American Girl’s stories with other forms of queer relationships.
All of these examples are very limited in their representation. We still have not seen a girl with a crush on another girl, or a doll who’s not cis. There hasn’t even been a whisper of transgender or non-binary representation from American Girl. Instead what we have is a spark. A spark that could be ignited into a flame if we encourage the brand to expand on their lgbtqia+ representation. If you really want to be an ally this pride month write to American Girl and tell them you want to see more! Tell them you want your kids to play with a doll who’s different. Even if your kids are straight and cisgender, or at least you think they are, let them play with characters that teach them that we are not other. We are people too and deserve to be treated as people. All year round! Most importantly, say gay.
By: Yes She Can trainee Mo
Mo, I really liked your post and it helped me to think about how children might feel if there are no dolls that don’t seem to represent who they are. We would also love to see a Girl of the Year with a developmental disability like Autism.