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The power of play is immense: A transgender Barbie is more than representation
Queer Gaze Transgender

The power of play is immense: A transgender Barbie is more than representation

Marley Conte
Marley Conte
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 SHE/HER Queer autistic trans woman  Kestral Gaian Writer, performer, general nerd, cat mum

The trans/non-binary kid inside me did a twirl when I first heard about the Laverne Cox Barbie doll. I wish I’d had one as a kid. As a trans parent, I know how powerful it is now.

This year more than 200 anti-trans bills have been proposed in the US. In the UK we are constantly bombarded by anti-trans content in the media, while the government excludes trans people from conversion therapy protections. We need positive representation more than ever.

Yet the representation we’ve had to become accustomed to is trans people being portrayed as evil, mentally unstable, or the butt of the joke.

Think of movies like ‘Silence of the Lambs’ and ‘Ace Ventura’; as Laverne Cox’s documentary Disclosure details so well, Hollywood has long misrepresented trans lives. And as Sam Fender explains to Vanity Fair, these misrepresentations translate into real-world harm.

That’s why this toy matters. And it’s not a quiet release - the slogan ‘Trans is beautiful’ is emblazoned across the launch.

For young people, seeing positive, real-life trans stories can help them feel like they are not alone. That good things can happen. Living in a world where governments, media and anti-trans campaigners try hard to erase us, positive representation is the only way we can avoid internalising transphobia.

Imagine a young trans kid not feeling ashamed of wanting toys that are usually not deemed to be right for their gender.

Seeing themselves represented in a positive light can actually really help them imagine a better future where they are allowed to explore their identity without fear of rejection. That’s what this Barbie does.

"Laverne’s story has the power to celebrate acceptance and kindness and encourage everyone to be their authentic selves through play,” Lisa McKnight, Mattel’s Executive Vice President and Global Head of Barbie and Dolls told Forbes.

“It’s a vehicle for self-discovery with limitless possibilities."

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And the power of play for kids is immense. The neural science in this field hasn’t yet reached a consensus. But there is a growing understanding that it can help children practice social skills without the threat of exclusion or rejection.

As ‘Exploring the Benefits of Doll Play through Neuroscience’ published in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience explains "pretend play with dolls provides a unique outlet for practising social and emphatic skills even when playing by oneself.”

This Barbie doll is more than just representation. It has the power to be a way for all kids to learn about being trans, and their transgender friends.

I look at Laverne Cox’s Barbie doll and I cannot help but think back to that little trans/non-binary kid inside me.

What a difference it would have made to have seen myself represented in a doll or any other toy I could play with.

It would have benefited my self-esteem and sense of self. Maybe I wouldn’t have waited 35 years to voice my identity out loud.

I would have known I was not alone. That there were so many people like me, we had dolls to represent us.

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 | First commissioned Jun 2022 as part of our mission to fund queer media careers Queer AF @thenonbinaryparent @HeyLauraBlake Contact Laura, and commision her too  Marley is a writer with a passion for travel, Diversity, Equity, Justice and Inclusion and Trans rights. Creator behind the @thenonbinaryparent sharing their journey and resources as a trans/non-binary parent.    They/Them Trans/Non-Binary, Bisexual, Greysexual  Marley Conte LGBTQ+ and Travel Writer, Speaker and Content Creator

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