|Otters, really doing that whole outsider thing. (Literally.)|
I saw, in my high points of the fandom, at least two other communities split from the one that I first found, AGFMB. And I was pushed out by the two biggest boards by about 2008. And gotta say that shit all has changed from the little I hear from the places. Let's get this out right now--I was flat out banned from two separate American Girl message boards within the span of two years, for reasons that were petty, bigoted bullshit. At this point I no longer think that there's a board out there that would accept me as I am other than AG Over 18--which, thanks to LJ fading away, has gone near-dormant. It's annoying that I've been banned, but not embarrassing. I'm more offended by what went down than hurt, as time has gone on, because it screams of privilege and maintaining status over open mindedness and actual inclusion. While many people would say the problem was me and my brashness/personality, I believe that the fact that I am who I am was never the problem. It was an easy excuse and I was an easy target. The problem was and still is prejudice, privilege, bigotry, and Mean Girls/Nice Girls mentalities, just to name a few of the issues.
There is a problem in a lot of doll collecting communities. And MLP fandom--yes, even before Bronies1--and BJD collecting and on and on. Doll collecting among women has a running strain of separation--the idea is that you're never too old for dolls, but that doesn't mean that you don't have to grow up, and these people have never grown up. There is a huge middle and high school mentality that has never ended and, until American Girl Fandom--and several others--actually really look at themselves, isn't going to get any better. I'm starting to feel part of the circle again with doll blogging, but it's a touch like a wounded wildcat--I'm going to lash out if hurt, and be wary.
I will tell as much of my story as I can, from my side. But my AG rejection doesn't start with an American Girl. It starts with a sweet little Baby Face, in the early part of the new millennium.
|The Sweetest Little Baby Face.|
We'll discuss prillycharmin and her ilk in a bit. But first, we have to go back a little more--to Giftmas 1991 when I was eleven years old. My older sister was in high school and only asked for adult things like clothes and books and perfumes, and my little sister was a toddler and so young she still mostly had things picked out for her. But I could ask for my Giftmas gifts, and I was still young enough to ask for toys, as it were. So I asked my grandparents for any of the black Baby Face dolls, except the sad one. I didn't like pouty faces in my dolls.2 I specifically asked for So Funny Natalie or So Playful Penny, but they couldn't find her. So they got me So Surprised Suzy, a brown doll with a "startled" expression.
My sweet Suzy became one of the centerpieces of my young girl toy collection. I sewed clothes for her (some of them utterly hideous), and slept in the bed with her, and adored everything about her--even pilfering some of my clothes from other dolls to dress her in them. The next year I asked for a Bible (I still own mine, even if I'm not Christian) and once you asked for a grow up thing, the rule was no more toys from Grandma Valeria and Granpa Clester. So Suzy was the last doll they ever gave me, and she meant and means a lot to me. Yes, I still have her, even if she is in desperate need of restringing. What do you expect, she's twenty-plus years old.
|Suzy: Hanging with Neth long enough to drink.|
I signed up, and I introduced myself as a Baby Face collector who was still in my middling years of college--I liked reading, art, sewing and craft, and I was young, naive, and trying to find my place in communities. And the members of the community appeared to welcome me with open arms and open hearts. They were mostly white, middle aged women--some were grandparents--and while I was different for being young and black, I thought I should give it a shot. So I stayed. I found a white Suzy (with her bangs all messed up and shorn) and a Cynthia, and started working on a little collection of them--even getting the black Penny I wanted as a child. I have a sizable number of Baby Face dolls actually, but there is currently no room to display them so they're tucked away in a box.
Either way, at some point, I got a white Suzy whose bangs were not hacked to shit. And I had seen people redesign and customize their dolls, and white Suzy was pretty common. So I decided to customize my damaged one, like I had decided to do with some ponies. I have--since early college and some before--been inclined to the gothic style of dress, and I was just starting to explore and ultimately become a pagan3. I had even started wearing a pentacle and going to the Pagan meetings at the college and making friends and trying to find what would work for me and my beliefs. Paganism felt right and happy for me--I was even learning to read tarot cards and reading tons of books and getting the starting items for what would become my altar. So I decided that "Suzy" would be reborn as So Gothic Kiara Raven.4 I shaved her bald, black markered over her scalp to blend it, hot-glued black curls around her face and worked them into a presentable ponytail, very carefully painted black nail polish on her lips, and made her a blue dress with black webbing. I can't say I did an excellent job--I was working with what I could get at Wal-Mart and the nearby Hobby Lobby. But I thought that I did okay for my first custom. I took a picture of her--before, middle, and after--with my roomie's digital camera, and posted them to the mailing list and my website. This was fall 2002. And this was when it all went downhill.
|So Gothic Kiara Raven. The Beginning of the End.|
Then someone said that, though I had shown a lot of talent, that I hadn't used it properly. Kiara looked scary and wrong, and she was worried about the mentality that made me want to take such a sweet, pretty doll and destroy her like this. prillycharmin and several others on the list backed that person up. There was a discussion and warning towards me--in that sickly sweet, condescending way that older women talked to people younger than them--on how I should watch myself. That dabbling into goth and "spooky" things and death and darkness--even Harry Potter, which had quickly become my favorite series--was like dancing with the devil. It led to a slippery slope of worshiping Satan and witchcraft and homosexuality.5 I was potentially tricking myself into getting attacked by evil spirits, and Jesus wouldn't want me using my gifts in such a dark, evil way. I could invite demons into my soul and fall from heaven's grace. They even wondered if I was actually dabbling into "Satan" worship, and someone talked about how they had a friend who started with what they though was innocent study of astrology, fell into the evils of tarot and card reading, and ended up crazy when the "demons" attacked them and messed their mind up.
I was hurt. Painfully, achingly hurt. Here I was, sharing my talent and my creativity with people I thought I could be friends, and they told me that my soul was in trouble for it. What had I done wrong in making Kiara who she was? Why were they rejecting me like that, over something so innocent as black lipstick and goth dress? And the thing was, my friends at college who--while many of them found dolls and pony collecting weird--didn't outright call my dolls creepy to my face in a mean way like that. Some even thought Kiara was a lovely twist on a doll, turning her into something less disturbing. And considering I was also dealing with finding my sexuality as well as my paganism, I was really wounded by their rejection and condemnation of me. I actually cried alone for a bit, and wailed to my brother and my boyfriend about it and had to be comforted by their statements that there was nothing wrong with me for what I'd done to make Kiara over.
I still have her. But I never showed Kiara to anyone else on the list again. I didn't talk about how I actually was pagan, and that I did read cards and went to pagan meetings and had made lots of friends who had loved me for me. And I left, bit by bit. I stopped reading the e-mails that came in, and didn't reply to anyone's emails towards me. I barely communicated back. Slowly, I started to drift away from the mailing list and, when it transitioned into a message board at some point, I didn't continue on with them and I let myself leave their community. I started to turn towards pony collecting to fit in with collecting communities--they didn't think that being goth was wrong at all, even if they didn't know I was pagan. But somewhere inside, I felt like letting a lot of the more personal aspects of who I was--specifically, the gothic, pagan part--needed to be downplayed if people in doll communities were ever going to like me and accept me into the group.
That semester had a lot of shit go wrong. But when it came to doll collecting, that was the first time I was really and hurtfully rejected for who I was. That was the first time online I ever felt like a doll-collecting outsider. Like what I liked, what I believed--who I was as a person beyond a doll collector--was something that people wouldn't like about me, and that if I was going to be part of online doll collecting communities I was going to need to appear "normal" and "mainstream" and not disturb people by who I was.6
That was bullshit. These people were wrong to reject me like that. To this day, I believe every single one of those people were wrong to say those kinds of things, and to this day I've never forgiven them, even if they probably have forgotten about me. I got rejected from a doll collecting community for being "creepy" to a bunch of Christian, White middle class women who had the privilege leverage to make me feel like I was in the wrong for being myself and sharing a small aspect of who I was.
It was a pattern that, unfortunately, didn't stop happening when I first stepped into the American Girl Collecting community in January 2006.
And it all started with a sweet little customized Baby Face named Kiara Raven.
Part One: Finding AG Fans, or How Periods are Bad for Children
1 Do not get me started, I'm taking doll fandom today.
2 Apparently no one did. Black Sarah is considered one of the rarer dolls.
3 Specifically, I'm eclectic pagan. This means that I forge my own path, instead of following any specific locked path such as Wicca, Hellenic, Kemetic (Egyptian) or African Traditional.
4 Yes, that's the site I made about it. My domain site needs massive updating, but it's all mine.
5 I am one of the many examples of the statement "Sorry I haven't been going to church, I've been busy practicing witchcraft and becoming a lesbian."
6 I have since said "fuck that entire shit." You love me whole piece or you get the entire fuck out.