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In the Closet with Barbie
By Harlyn Aizley

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.

Despite my ignorance, I had the evolutionary wherewithal to guess that, whatever the details, penises most likely were more substantial than the slight lumps Ken and GI-Joe sported -- the cowboy's anatomy obviously remained a mystery, sealed as it was beneath his permanent plastic clothing. If you want to see a penis, and you want your dolls to be able to have sex -- real sex, not lump mashing sex -- then lumps are frustrating and entirely inadequate. I longed for the facts, the secret to which all the boys around me (and most of the girls) were privy. But mostly I longed for bulges. I wanted my male dolls to bulge obviously and firmly at the crotch. I wanted to be able to pull down their pants and find something there, taking up space, an explanation for why boys' underwear was different from my own. I wanted to see one damn it. And later in life I wanted to have one, but that's a whole other story.

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.

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