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It was like watching somebody come alive, watching a ﬂower bloom, watching a rainbow cross the sky. It was the day that C.J. discovered Barbie. He was two and a half years old. One late fall afternoon, as I was doing some cleaning, I found a boxed Barbie in the depths of my closet and tossed her on my bed. “WHAT DAT?!” I wobbled and nearly fell off my stepladder at C.J.’s shriek. “It’s Barbie,” I said, regaining my balance. This particular Barbie was pretty fabulous. It was Mattel’s 50th Anniversary Bathing Suit Barbie. She was a modernized version of the original 1959 doll, with a two-piece, black-andwhite bikini trimmed with her signature color pink; pink hoop earrings; a long blonde ponytail; and a pink cell phone. “I want to open she!” C.J. declared. He held the box as he jumped up and down, up and down, up and down. I’m sure he gave Barbie a concussion. I hesitated. I had been trained well by my mother; you don’t open a boxed Barbie if you can at all help it. I was a little annoyed; I was going to open the box and take Barbie out, and my son
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was going to play with her for a few seconds and move on to something else bright and shiny. Then I’d be left with a depreciated piece of plastic. But his face, his sweet excited face could convince me to do worse things. We opened her. In that instant, our lives changed forever in a way that we never expected. In our family’s history there is now B.B. (Before Barbie) and A.B. (After Barbie). Never underestimate the power of an eleven-and-a-half-inch woman. Of course, at that exact moment, I wasn’t aware that our lives were changing. I couldn’t have predicted the magnitude of C.J.’s actions or mine. I ﬁgured that C.J. would play with Barbie for a day, maybe two, and lose interest—as he had with all of the other toys he had encountered in his short life. I was wrong; Barbie has been a constant in his life since that day. Oh, my son wasn’t dabbling; he was hard-core from the start. C.J. had found his life’s passion—and he wasn’t even three. Matt arrived home from work at the police department to spy a big-busted blonde in his younger son’s grip. He shot me a look that said, What the hell is that? I replied with a glance that whispered, Settle down. We’ll talk about it later. Matt changed out of his uniform and sat on the living room ﬂoor next to C.J., who was sitting criss-cross-applesauce and trying his hardest to put clothes back on a naked Barbie. “What do you got there, buddy?” Matt asked C.J. C.J.’s eyes lit up and a huge grin crossed his face as he excitedly described the doll in great detail to his father. I smiled from my spot at the kitchen sink. Later that night, after C.J. and Chase were asleep, Matt shared with me the unease he’d felt when he saw his son play-
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r aising m y r ainbow
ing with a doll. Having grown up with no sisters, he’d never even had a Barbie in his house before and couldn’t remember ever touching one. It didn’t feel right to him, though it didn’t feel completely wrong either. After all, C.J. was just a child and Barbie was just a toy. It was the ﬁrst of thousands of conversations we’ve had in the privacy of our bedroom late at night as we’ve tried to ﬁgure out how best to parent a boy who, at times, is clearly more girl. “My brother played with Barbies,” I reasoned with Matt, reminding myself and trying to squash the indescribable feelings of unease we were ﬂirting with. “And he turned out ﬁne.” Matt gave me a look that expanded on my last sentence. Fine and gay. Of course C.J.’s zeal for Barbie reminded me of my brother, Michael. My brother and I had a bad Barbie habit as kids. While other kids we knew were committed to karate, baseball, piano, and dance, we were committed to playing with Barbies. We did it all the time, just as I assumed all brothers and sisters did. I didn’t realize until much later in life that my family’s deﬁnition of “normal” was different from other families’. On any given weekend Michael and I would convert the entire ﬂoor of the front family room into a fabulous world for our Barbies. There was a wardrobe area and a styling area for accessories, hair, and makeup. We arranged the miniature furniture to create a spacious four-bedroom, one-story, ranch-style home, since we weren’t fortunate enough to possess the Dream House or even the Malibu Beach House. We
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convinced ourselves that ours was way better anyway, because it was custom-built, our lot size was bigger, and we could keep our brown plastic horse in our backyard. Sometimes we’d create a mall, and our Barbies, Kens, Skippers, and Midges would all go shopping and eat in the food court, where some one-off Barbie who had suffered some sort of disﬁgurement (such as a bad haircut, a lost limb, or general disrepair) would take their order and serve them lunch from Hot Dog on a Stick. I called my brother. “Guess what C.J. found when I was cleaning out my closet?” I asked. “Your vibrator?” “No, you idiot, he found one of my Barbies.” “You still have Barbies?! How come you never get them out when I come over?” he said, his feelings genuinely hurt, as if I sat my thirtysomething-year-old ass around playing Barbies all day every day and then hid them when he visited. “It’s one Barbie. Mom just gave it to me. It’s the ﬁftiethanniversary Barbie,” I said, trying to get to the point. “How come she didn’t get me one? This is just like when we were kids; you always got the Barbies and I didn’t. I got footballs. I hate footballs.” “This isn’t about you. C.J. found the Barbie and loves her. He’s obsessed,” I explained. “Oh,” my brother said quietly. “What do you think it means?” “I don’t know,” I said, although I knew exactly what I thought it meant: my two-and-a-half-year-old son was gay.
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