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If we “Can’t Say Gay” to Kids, How Do we Explain Ken?

2022 Ken in his surgical scrubs and matching clogs.
Eat your heart out 2022 G.I. Joe.

When I was 10 I played with the trifecta of the newest, most popular dolls on the market — Barbie, Ken and Midge, Barbie’s BFF. There was something about Ken, something I could not put my finger on. No, it was not that — dolls in the 60s were not anatomically correct. It was his perfectly coifed hair, his pink plaid slacks with matching cardigan, his delicate, pink fingernails or the way he hid under the bed when I tried to marry him to Barbie or always-the-second-choice-Midge.

It started to come together for me three years later when Ken had not so much as given a promise ring to Barbie or Midge. When I dressed the girls up in their wedding and bridesmaid gowns, Ken would disappear, only to be found later at Barbie’s dressing table, completely nude and and wearing Midge’s purple silk dressing gown, his cheeks a rosy blush. The 60s were a confusing time for all of us.

As time went on, Ken seemed out-of-sorts and mildly depressed, but perked up when my three brothers got the new G.I. Joe Action Figures for Christmas. Side note: I once made the mistake of calling them dolls and my brother screamed “ACTION FIGURES!” and proceeded to smother me with a pillow.

I was young, but I noticed Ken, unlike G.I. Joe, was not violent, bloodthirsty, obsessed with guns and never said “Dude” or “Bro.” Plus, he absolutely refused to let me dress him in camouflage fatigues, saying they were “too bulky.”

Ken tells Barbie that he can’t come to bed; he’s been called in to work. Barbie sighs, but she knows Ken is a talented and sought-after surgeon because he’s been called out every night for the past 60 years.

I had a lot of questions about Ken, whom I loved dearly and worried about constantly — would he ever marry, have children? — but I had no one to ask. My parents? No way. I think they were more confused by Ken than I was. My teachers? No way.

Well, there was one teacher that I could have asked, but didn’t. He reminded me a lot of my Ken: His sense of fashion, his ability to break into song at any given moment, his neatly clipped flattop haircut, and the way he loved the “Wizard of Oz” even more than I did. He’s the one who told me that Dorothy was played by a woman named Judy Garland. “One of the greatest performers of the century,” he said, sighing.

1960s Barbie gives Ken a “come hither” look while Ken eyes the new pool boy perched seductively on a chaise lounge. Meanwhile, 1960s Midge looks dreadfully uncomfortable at the Darling Debutante Ball in an itchy dress chosen by her mother instead of the 100% cotton, cuffed overalls she preferred.

I prided (no pun intended) myself in growing up in the 60s and 70s and emerging with better understanding of homosexuality, equality, justice and right and wrong. “How great it is,” I thought when I was in my late 20s and early 30s, “that people are finally understanding and empathizing with one another and coming together for the good of all.”

Which brings us to today and things like the Don’t Say Gay Law.

Those who don’t learn from history … well, you know the rest.

It’s sad really, because what will teachers tell kids who want to know why Ken refuses to sleep in the same bed with Barbie or why Midge and Barbie would rather sleep with each other than Ken? Or why G.I. Joe married Midge and had three kids, but often takes 2-week camping trips with Ken?

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