In 1964, Hasbro introduced the now-classic line of poseable action figures known as G.I. Joe, the name a play on the generic term for soldiers in the US military. G.I. Joe was the brainchild of Manhattan licensing agent Stan Weston who presented them to Hasbro executive Donald Levine in 1963. The original 12" toys were marketed as ‘action figures’ with Hasbro explicitly forbidding sales reps and retail venues from using the term ‘dolls’ to refer to them. Anyone caught referring to them as dolls faced a fine. As GI Joe became increasingly popular, retail venues were more than happy to comply. The ‘action figure’ moniker stuck through subsequent iterations where GI Joe was rebranded to meet changing times.
Social Pressure and Identity
So what does GI Joe have to do with transgender identity? Allow me to give you an example. When I began coming out to people as transgender a common reaction I got was confusion, with the respondent wanting to be supportive, but lacking a framework
“How can you be transgender? You never did… <insert stereotypical feminine behavior>?”
I was rough and tumble, a daredevil, loved GI Joe action figures (the smaller, more modern version), and would never play with dolls, not even close. Of course, these people only saw me from the outside and hadn’t spent the amount of time I had thinking about transgender issues and identity, so it’s understandable if they had some misconceptions.
If you’re reading this, you may have some suspicions as to why I never played with dolls. It was completely and utterly socially unacceptable for any boy, including the one I was perceived to be, to play with a doll or any other girl’s toy. As a kid, I just wanted to fit in, be accepted by friends, and loved and supported by my parents and society at large. There was no way I was willing to put that safety and security on the line by playing with a Barbie doll.
Dolls are Dolls
The reason I bring this up, and the point of this article, is the toys I was playing with in my childhood, and that millions of boys played with, were dolls. Don’t believe me, just look at these two soldiers!
Hasbro felt “Life Like Hair” was an important enough selling point that it is the only feature to receive a call-out on the box! If the verisimilitude of GI Joe’s hair, uniform and poseability were important to the product, so are they equally important to the Army Barbie which debuted in 1989.
In a similar way, the actions I performed, the likes and dislikes, were no more authentically masculine or feminine than a doll. Many people across the gender spectrum misunderstand what makes someone transgendered. It’s not which activities they enjoy, either now or as a child. It is always and only their gender identity.
In society in general, we place fewer restrictions on acceptable gender roles than, say our grandparents did. Although we have very far to go, a woman is now freer to pursue a variety of career options outside of the house. For one, when I enlisted in the military as a man, I served right alongside many young women. For some reason however, society still expects transgender women to fall into a stereotypically feminine deportment, enjoying only fashion, makeup, and boys, and transgender men to enjoy cars, babes, and tools. Transgendered people have, and should be allowed to express, as wide a variety of interests as the rest of society.