As a trans guy I feel an affinity to Ken. No body hair? No male genitalia? Parted hair? Fashionable outfits? And the undying belief that women are wonderful? Sign me up!
So, I donned my best Beach look (this wasn’t hard: I already own a matching, patterned swim-trunk, button down combo) and showed up ready for two hours of Ryan Gosling as an unproblematic sidekick and a rare male icon.
Before I go any further, I must make something very clear. Unlike some other men, I do not need a movie about dolls to affirm my masculinity.
So, when Greta Gerwig had other ideas about Ken, I (mostly) rolled with the punches. Part way through the movie, I turned to my partner—donned in their best Nonbinary Barbie fit—my jaw wide and half gasped, “Ken is the villain?”
They looked at me confused, “You didn’t know?”
It turns out I had been living in a little bit of a delusional Mojo Dojo Casa House. Gerwig undoubtedly knocked Ken’s arc—resentful-lover-boy-sidekick to sneering incel to sad-boy-obsessed-with-horses—out of the park.
Having given up on Ken, I wondered if Barbie might surprise me in another way, a la: “This Barbie got top surgery and now goes by Aiden.” Because I promise plenty of trans people played with barbies and I can’t be the only one who cut their Barbie’s hair and renamed them Ben. Right?
I really do not want to be another man complaining about not being represented in the Barbie movie. But, from a purely marketing perspective, I must say there is missed trans potential that Gerwig and Mattel can still capitalize on. Because we know that it is all about the money.
Don’t get me wrong, there was a standout LGBTQ cast—Hari Nef, Kate McKinnon, Alexandra Shipp, Scott Evans, and Ncuti Gatwa—and plenty of queer Easter Eggs, including cock-ring-wearing Earring Magic Ken’s appearance. (The movie cut the cock ring, but the nod was still there.) While I wish they had been brave enough to make the representation explicit, it didn’t stop critics from claiming the movie was “full of transsexual, and transgender, and homosexuality.” Whatever that means.
It may have been too much to fit into one movie, but if plastic dolls and Gerwig can break down the patriarchy, the gender binary is a natural next step. With blowout box office sales, I would be surprised if there were not conversations about a Barbie 2. And the setup is all there. May I direct you to arguably the best line of the movie, delivered by Robbie while gliding down Venice Beach in neon roller skates: “I don’t have a vagina, and he doesn’t have a penis. We don’t have genitals.” The trans internet exploded with quips like “Tell me you’re trans without telling me you’re trans.” Some even got emotional when they saw themselves reflected in the Allan character who fell outside of the Ken/Barbie binary.
It speaks to Barbie’s opportunity to complicate the connection between gender and sex. As Robbie explains, “She’s a plastic doll. She doesn’t have organs. If she doesn’t have organs, she doesn’t have reproductive organs.” Our lead Barbie goes on to ask and answer, “If she doesn’t have reproductive organs, would she even feel sexual desire? No, I don’t think she could.” While some are lauding Robbie for saying this means Barbie is asexual, it is important to note sexuality has nothing to do with anatomy and reproductive organs are not needed for sexual desire. Barbie may be asexual, but its not because of what’s in her pants.
The logic that Barbie’s gender may be determined by any biological sex is also silly. When Robbie’s Barbie turns into human Barbara, it’s suggested she gets her very own vulva, but that is new and chosen—not predetermined.
Even Ken points out the fallacy that gender is really set or standard. “To be honest, when I found out the patriarchy wasn’t just about horses,” he cries, “I lost interest.” He couldn’t care less about beer, guitars, fur coats, or manliness. He is just an immature horse girl figuring his shit out.
We already know that Mattel is not opposed to playing with gender, having launched a “Gender Neutral Doll” in 2019, or to uplifting trans people, having made a Laverne Cox barbie doll in 2022. As long as it’s profitable, of course. So it’s time to step up. Let Hari Nef have as many lines as she wants. Let Elliot Page wander into Barbie land and see what happens. JVN can queer eye some Kens and introduce them to the term nonbinary.
Ben Shapiro’s head may explode, and he will look silly filming a three-hour video on a movie about dolls. And that is always a plus.