FRESH YARN presents:
the Closet with Barbie
The players: Barbie and Ken; a GI-Joe whose muscular body twisted and bent in all the right places; a Cowboy whose hair and handsome cowboy outfit were both eerily a part of his body, plastic reliefs painted varying shades of brown; a "Julia" doll, the only doll of color -- aside from Asian GI-Joe -- and the only health care worker; a small girl whose hair I cut short and declared "he" or "she" as the spirit moved me. What I did was sit in the closet and make them all have sex -- not just casual flings, but heated dramas continuing from one day to another, involving passionate triangles and tales of romantic tragedy, unrequited love, illicit sex, homosexuality, heterosexuality, reversible transsexualism. Objects from the dolls' dowries -- a plastic horse, a small nurse's kit, a feather boa, a very tiny replica of a World War II machete -- easily were incorporated into my play as, eventually, were other objects not so readily available. The funny thing is, in the beginning it wasn't even sex that I was after; it was a penis. The sex just followed, as it usually does, once a penis is located.
I blame it
on my conservative father and the fact that I have no brothers, that I
didn't know what a penis looked like until well into my teens, late teens.
Late. As a preteen, I asked my mother to buy me boy dolls, thinking that
I might get to see a penis. And so I lay further blame on Mattel
and our repressed puritanical culture that refuses to make dolls anatomically
correct for my need to sexualize every doll I ever owned.
My younger sister, Carrie, saw a penis years before I did. In fact, the penis Carrie saw belonged to none other than our father. One summer our family spent a week in a small and smelly two-room cottage on Cape Cod. We all shared the bedroom, my parents on twin beds and Carrie and I on cots. One afternoon Carrie innocently came in from the beach looking for a towel. She padded into the bedroom without knocking and immediately was witness to my father changing into his bathing suit. He barked something at her and then chased the stunned but smiling six-year-old out of the room.
As soon as Carrie had regained her composure, she ran down the beach to where I was playing, and chanted, "I saw Daddy naked. I saw Daddy naked."
Like any older sibling used to the painstaking measures each parent takes to maintain a semblance of equality between offspring -- cutting perfectly symmetrical pieces of cake, spending exactly the same amount of money on birthday presents -- I ran inside to claim what I had no doubt was rightly my due, a chance to see my father naked.
"I get to see him too," I announced to my mother who stood guard by the bedroom door.
"No you don't." I know now that this was one of those pivotal parenting moments. "Go back outside while your father changes," the sentry said.
"But Carrie got to see him."
"Your sister walked into the bedroom by accident."
"Well, then I can too," I said as I tried to storm by my mother to reenact the incredible occasion. As if my father still were standing there, mid-change, frozen in time until justice was served and balance restored to our eternally symmetrical family.
"It's not fair!" I shouted as my mother physically restrained me. I had wanted to see a penis for so long. And to make matters even more unbearable, as far as I knew, Carrie hadn't even wanted to see one. Besides hadn't Carrie's faux pas broken the ice surrounding the issue of Dad's nudity? Like what difference would it make if another daughter saw him? Come on, the modesty gig is up, show me the goods.
Instead, my father came barreling out of the bedroom embarrassed and angry -- not to mention, dressed -- and bellowed, "Outside! Now!" And that was that.
On the other hand, I was very well versed in the anatomy of women and girls. I knew that girls had either bald or blond-haired vaginas and that when you grew up they grew curly dark hairs in the shape of a big triangle. (This hair color myth wasn't shattered until one day in the locker room at summer camp when I saw that my friend Janice, exactly my age, had dark down in her pubic region, the same color as my mother's curly triangle; Revelation! The color of pubic hair has nothing to do with age.) I had seen the Playboy magazines owned secretly by the boys in the neighborhood, not to mention those owned secretly by my repressed, conservative father. My mother had showered and taken baths with us when we were very young. So I knew, too, all about breasts and nipples, and their varying shapes and sizes.
Maybe it was because of my competence with female anatomy that I was not as frustrated by the lack of detail among my female dolls. So none of them had nipples, big deal. It made me feel superior, like I was more knowledgeable than the doll manufacturers. Every so often I would draw on a pair of nipples with a magic marker, but really it hardly was an issue.
The penis/lump thing, however, gnawed at me. Sex between my dolls became unsatisfying. Because, despite having never seen a penis, I did know a little bit about sex. My brazen mother, early on, unhesitatingly had answered the "where do babies come from/why do boys have penises/what is sex" question with this informative story: A man and a woman love each other very much, and then the man puts his penis in the woman's vagina. She even bought me a book with some vague sketches of naked boys and girls asking their naked parents (!) similar questions, to which they received the same answer.
My best-friend, Lori, who had an older brother and knew everything, confirmed this story, and once, to my extreme titillation, even acted it out for me. At any rate, the vague sketches revealed that boys had little hot-dogs instead of lumps. This made much more sense to me since I was a veritable expert on female genitalia and reasoned, therefore, that a lump, could not go into a vagina, thank you very much.
So the male-doll/lump frustration weighed heavily upon me until one day, during a particularly steamy orgy in the closet, I was host to yet another revelation: why not make penises and attach them to the guys? The idea excited me more than I care to admit. Enter: modeling clay. I burst out of the closet and began sculpting away. The results were remarkable. Ken now had a modest package beneath his dress pants. GI-Joe had a nice bulge to match his biceps and washboard stomach. Even the transsexual packed a load. (If I was thrilled, one can only guess how Barbie and Julia and the small ballerina, who smelled like perfume, felt.)
Since doll-sex took place in the closet, it's obvious that I already had internalized my parent's inclination to keep silent all evidence of sex and/or nudity. But now, unless I wanted to load and unload genitalia daily, all my doll-play would have to be relegated to the closet. I deemed it a small price to pay, and began a ritual of hiding my dolls and all of their belongings in a box in the back corner of my bedroom closet. I couldn't figure out which would be worse, my parents finding out that my dolls were sexually active, or that I had carefully sculpted little clay penises and attached them to all of the men.
Everything was going along fine. The cowboy, in his permanent plastic clothing, had had affairs with both the transsexual and Julia. Ken was gay most of the time. Barbie hung out with GI-Joe, a lot. And I was quite content, having satisfied my desire for a well-hung cast of plastic friends. My sculptures even evolved a bit as I learned more about the anatomy of a penis (one day, Joey, a friend and neighbor, had sat cross-legged in his bathing suit offering me a quick glimpse of the bounty within).
So given how well my clandestine doll-playing was going, I naturally got a bit lax in my secrecy. One day, just once, I left the doll box next to my bed rather than in the closet. One time only. Just one false move. My fatal flaw. I was downstairs watching television when Carrie, four feet tall, with crazy blonde hair and small pot belly poking out from under her pink t-shirt, came into the den. She stared at me. A blonde, beer-drinking elf, staring at me with an expression akin to that of Perry Mason having just led his opponent into confessing the most heinous of crimes. Her eyes were on fire.
"You put clay down your dolls' pants," she said grinning from ear to ear as it was apparent she had just scored the most powerful of all weapons against me. Even potentially more dangerous than when she was told that I had to go see a "talking doctor" because I cried whenever my mother left me at my friend Wendy's house. They said I had separation anxiety but I think it was because Wendy's mother had a German accent and my post-WWII Jewish parents had taught me to fear all things German. Anyway, this was better. Because everyone on the block knew what dolls were. And everyone knew what clay was. And everyone knew that you don't put clay down your dolls pants unless of course you were obsessed with shit or, God forbid, genitalia.
"You put clay down your dolls' pants," Carrie repeated, as she continued to stare at me. Proof that yes, in fact, her older sister truly was the most embarrassing creature who ever lived.
"Why did you put clay down your dolls' pants?" She was eight. I was eleven.
Not interested in, or perhaps terrified of the answer I might give, Carrie took off down the hall yelling, "Harlie puts clay down her dolls' pants. Harlie puts clay down her dolls' pants!" All around the house.
You'd think she would have raced into the street right then and there, to tell anyone she could find. But she didn't. She saved it. Saved it and tortured me with it. Blackmailed me as only an eight year old sister can. Threatened me with it whenever it suited her. Used it to get all sorts of things out of me. It worked better than when she turned up her lip and threatened to burst into tears if I wouldn't let her have a toy, the last cookie, whatever she desired at the moment.
Carrie saved it and played it. Until one day her moment came. She had been angry with me for I don't remember what -- having taken the front seat, having changed the channel, having gotten to stay up later than her too many nights in a row. I was sitting in my bedroom looking at magazines not with Lori, my best friend, who somehow would have helped me to turn the tables on Carrie, but with Jamie and Renee, representatives of the "popular crowd." Sure we were reading magazines, but we also were participating in some serious hazing. We were sixth-graders, rulers of the elementary school. Jamie and Renee were our two leaders. They were checking me out for potential inclusion in their clique.
Carrie, visibly fuming at me, peeked her intuitive blonde head into my room. She waited until we all noticed her. And then she threw the grenade, "Harlie puts clay down her dolls' pants!"
There was silence for a moment. Terrible, dreadful, prepubescent silence during which an awful heat crept up my spine and into my face causing me to blush the most embarrassing shade of red ever to be found in a New Jersey suburb. Even Carrie stood speechless and spent in the doorway, as unsure as I as to what might happen next.
And then I got it. I would tell them it was a project for art class. While everyone else was told to go home and cut pictures out of magazines in order to make collages, I -- because I knew so much about the anatomy of boys and men -- was given special permission to sculpt genitalia out of clay. My little sister was just bragging.
But before I had a chance to gather my breath and spin my lie, Jamie and Renee, with looks that were a mixture of disdain and pity, said to me almost in unison, "You still play with dolls?"
Much to my surprise, their absolute inability to imagine the possibility of making clay penises and forcing your dolls to fuck their brains out somehow, suddenly made me the expert in male genitalia I'd always wanted to be. "Yeah," I said.
Carrie and I exchanged glances, and then she wandered away down the hall.
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