Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Real dolls, real men, real Erin

Once in a wax museum, I got separated from my group and suddenly found myself alone in the gallery of dignitaries. Hillary and Bill, Desmond Tutu, Tony Blair and the likes were frozen all around me.

Each figure possessed a silent and unique point of view.

I looked from one to the next as a vague fear of the unknown washed over me. I shuddered against the eerie sensation; then hurried off to find other living people.

After I shook the chill, an epiphany bloomed: the lifelike nature of the wax figures imbued them with a presence that bordered on mystical. A new belief akin to superstition settled in me, and on that day my paradigm moved one click closer to the realm of voodoo.

Now shift gears.

If a room full of fully-clothed waxen people could cast a spell on me, what power does a beautiful photo have? Or what about a lovely doll? And if that doll is life-sized and anatomically correct, if she is a RealDoll, then what?

I had to find out.

Much has been written about RealDoll and her owner, but most of it is flat and predictable. Guys screwing big Barbies. Har-dee-har-har. Anyone can write that snarky story, including all the obvious one-liners that go with it.

"So, buddy, does that doll feel like the real thing?"

"What real thing?"

Or you can go the other easy route: Disgusted Feminist. This piece that ran in Salon* for instance, wherein the doll owners are depicted as sad social misfits or sickoes.

Nothing is ever that pat. Nothing. I knew there had to be more.

So for a few weeks, I immersed myself in a huge online doll community, the Doll Forum, in order to write something fresh and unique. The ordeal was stunning and exhausting. After a couple of drafts and discussions, my editor thought that my online experience was more interesting than the dolls, so that's what I wrote up.

Here is a link to the Free Times article.

As soon as I started asking questions, a hundred stories bloomed, some surprised the hell out of me. There were sympathetic stories amongst the doll owners, none of which were represented in the Salon story. My Free Times story is also insufficient. There were so many other things I could not cover: all the different kinds of dolls (including those not designed for sex), the range of attitudes towards real women, and the difficult logistics associated with sex with the dolls. That's just to name a few of the things that didn't make it into my final cut. Hence my article is not all-encompassing, but it is honest and (hopefully) balanced. It also talks about my emotions and reactions, yes, but it does not judge.

You can read the exhaustive discussion I had with the doll owners here. You might wonder why some of the quotes and references in the Free Times article are not there.


Members and administrators were constantly going back to edit and delete comments, although nearly everything I quoted survived--at least since the last time I checked.

I took one hell of a beating at the Doll Forum (most of the bullying comments have been deleted--only after they were up for about ten days--plenty of time to do what they intended), but I stand by my method. I could have gleaned quotes from all over the forum and shaped the doll owners any way I wanted. But I didn't because that is manipulative at best and dishonest at worst. Instead, I stepped into the light, introduced myself with my real name and links, and solicited comments about dolls. Everyone knew they were "on the record."

To close, a few anonymous (and edited) comments from the Doll Forum:

"(My dolls) are respected companions. Because of my mystical beliefs, my dolls are also "spirit guides" or "guardian angels" who are always with me. This is a wonderful feeling. They often help me with important things. If I were ever to lose the dolls themselves, their spirits would still very much be with me."

"The body seven doll was molded from a real woman and I find access to Dolly's fudge shoot to be very easy from a standing position. I had to enlarge both the anal and vaginal openings by leaving in a wooden phallus for one week. I guess they could have moved the asshole after making the mold."**

"We all have thresholds beyond which we will not explore. Love dolls cross so many boundaries for a lot of people."

Every doll picture on this post was taken by the doll's owner. And yes, every pic includes dolls and only dolls. Here is another photo that is NSFW.

*That story was a mangled version of Meghan Laslocky's longer and more even-handed piece that ran in Salt Magazine. I have no idea how she felt about it, but when the longer article was pointed out to me, I was shocked and dumbfounded at how Laslocky was edited in Salon.

**This comment was part of an older post, one in which I had no participation.

I encourage letters to the Free Times editor Frank Lewis. Here is the email link. Be sure to include your full name and city.


Helen Mansfield said...

Beautiful! Wonderfully balanced and sympathetic.

I am of the belief nothing should be off limits in the realm of sex as long as reasonable laws are not broken (don't get me started on sodomy laws), and people are not hurt or made to feel inferior – unless that's his/her bag.

We have a generation of autistic children growing up right now. If they can get their shit together long enough to get through school and college, they will make fantastic mathmaticians, but these people can't have relationships – ask their poor parents.

As my college psychology professor said when talking about relationships and compatability: "There's a lid for every pot." So what if you find these lids creepy and unsavory. Leave the pots alone.

I'm sorry your experience on the forum turned so vicious.

Maureen McHugh said...

Actually, I think the forum worked pretty hard to moderate itself.

It's a fascinating world, Erin. Some of the photos are really pretty. I had to laugh. You posted questions about people's realtionships to their dolls, and someone turned around and asked you the same questions, only replacing 'doll' with 'car.' And I thought, YES, Erin loves her Mini Cooper! She talks to her Mini Cooper! It had the funny result of showing just how much we anthropomorphize things that don't even look human.

jungle jane said...

wow Erin, you could have asked would be AMAZED at my (very) bizarre doll collection. Perhaps i will take some photos for you....:-)

Dean said...

Very balanced, O'Brien.

That whole doll scene is fascinating. A scifi writer could have a field day with that shit, ya know?

I tend to think of the dolls as works of art. They're exquisitely beautiful.

Erin O'Brien said...

Good grief.

Here's what the doll owners are saying.

Helen Mansfield said...

Yep, I thought as much. Sexual preference is a lot like chosing to be a Democrat.

"I'm so goddamned open minded, I don't HAVE to listen to what anyone else thinks."

Paul said...

You're always going places I didn't even know existed - and bringing me along. Keep it up!

josh williams said...

Back when I was growing up we were so poor all we had was Mr Hand and a old National Geographic. I was talking to a friend the other day about green burials and I suggested human diamonds compact the body with enough time and pressure to create a diamond.Today I read about just such a service, dolls I missed the boat, dead people diamonds I can hear the whistle but the boat has left the harbor,what next? Great article by the way. Keep fighting the good fight Erin...JW

Renee Somebody said...

A very good treatment of a very difficult subject, I admire you for doing this.

Amy said...

Nice work Erin. Now I know what you were talking about...

Real Doll: any port in a storm.

I wonder if any women buy Charlie, the only male doll mentioned in the Salon article?

Denny Shane said...

In view of my recent stroke, I think Real Doll is what I need to me. They did one for Real Girl Nurse? ;)

Jarvis Rockhall said...

It's good to know that I'm not the only one who gets creeped out by synthetic vaginas etc...

They just seem to reduce sex to something that is mechanical and meaningless, or maybe I'm just being naive...

Anyhow, great article Erin!

EBEZP said...

Great article absolutely fascinating.

~d said...

Super, Erin!

(I am tilde1d, in case like-duhhh, you miss it)


Malnurtured Snay said...

Hey, that doll's kind of cute!

Norm said...

Incidentally, by accident I typed your website address into the wrong place today. Instead of the address bar I typed it into the Internet Anagram Server. I got


Which I thought was pretty darned apropos.

Vince said...

I feel sorry for those dolls. I bet most are miss treated. Maybe some guys pimp their dolls out to other men. And some dolls are cheated on, probably in polygamous forced to watch situations. Oh, the emotion. Sad, but that's life I guess.

Norm said...

BTW Erin did you see this article in Nerve?

Hedy De Vine said...

I'm sorry you couldn't get more space from your editor--this is a very intriguing story and I wanted to hear more.

Erin O'Brien said...

Thanks for all your comments.

This project sapped the daylights out of me. It was difficult to write about. I had to hang around the Doll Forum for a long time in order to get a varied collection of stories and then trying to decide what to include in the small space was daunting.

But this is what I do and I love it. You all make it worthwhile by reading it and reacting to it.

luvya always,


Toby said...

I have a few chained to my water heater in the basement.

DollGuy said...

Hi Erin,

I'm a long time RealDoll owner. Thank you for your article. It is just about impossible for me to read it objectively, but I enjoyed it and it made me grin in places. I like your sense of humor.

To the folks who have replied here, I am actually pleasantly surprised at all the positive feedback. You are a thoughtful and funny bunch. (the water heater wisecrack cracks me up!)

Erin, I appreciate how hard it was for you to write this. It doesn't help that most of us are wary due to journalists in the past coming on friendly, then writing a sensationalist piece (is that a word? What if I ordered a sensationalist piece of pie?). That has burned us so bad in the past that resentment, as you found, is not too far under the surface.

Something struck me the other day. There's the old saw about why dildoes are ok, but dolls aren't. I'm about bored to tears by that one. But, as a professional pilot, I was thinking....every year I'm requierd to spend 2 or 3 days in the simulators. (see where I'm going with this?). Yup. No one wants to dig into my psyche and find out why I could possibly feel the need to simulate something I can do 'for real'. (but, then again, I pretty much hate the simulators).

I think the concept of doll ownership, and bonding (to whatever degree) is one of those "either you get it or you don't" thingies. You should see how deeply some owners of collectible 16" 'fashion' dolls bond emotionally with their dolls. It is fun.

I think I'm just about beyond being defenive about how others see me as a doll owner. Others in the forum are not so magnanimous. It comes from experience, trust me. I wish you'd had the time and inclination to get your own doll, or to see a few first hand. In person, they can make quite an impression in a way that seeing photos of them cannot. The simulators don't fly like the real airplanes. Neither do dolls. But they sure are a hoot!

Hey Toby, pass the chain.....I have a surprise for 'someone'.

Timothy Gager said...

I'm a doll owner. I can eff mine and they don't tell me to get a job. They don't make me take out the trash. I can eff any part of them, any position, even breaking some real doll bones. Sometimes I hit mine...there is no restraining order, no court appearance, NO jail. When my former girlfriend came out of the shelter and came home, do you know the very first thing she did? The DISHES if she knew what was best for her.

My real doll does not mouth off either.

Timothy Gager

zen wizard said...

The resultant article was thought-provoking and well-written.

I think we need to just discount the Internet "road ragers"--they are a small but vocal part of the input, but it was just the same couple of misogynist guys writing over and over again. Plus, we already knew those guys were out there.

The problem is sort of like the problem with a "customer comment card" in a Radisson hotel--only the tip of the iceberg fills it out.

Also--I am not saying you should do this, but--it would be nice to interview these guys--or like maybe for a male therapist to interview these guys one-on-one, somehow randomly selecting ALL purchasers of Real Dolls and giving them an interview.

There appears to be a wide realm of reasons for the Real Dolls, some of the reasons I daresay are "healthy." Or at the very least, not pathelogical--i.e., the as long as the guys don't end up in court (though 6.5G's might put some of us in bankruptcy court) the Real Dolls are not causing an Existential problem.

But you could argue in some cases they are solidifying a problem that was there before--the guy buys the doll because he can't hack it with a live woman. Now, he's 6.5k poorer, and has a lifesize, silicone doll in his apartment. In other words, he has less capital to meet real women, and he has to explain the silicone doll in his apartment when and if he f***s up and gets a real woman (note I did not say "if") the woman finds it. (And that's what women do while they are in your crib and you are at work, they snoop around and smell your clothes and shit, let's face it--she's gonna find that damned doll if she has an X-chromosome, I guarantee it...)

zen wizard said...

I meant, "path-O-logical"...duh!

Meghan Laslocky said...

Erin, I just got happened to come across this. Davecat has my email address if you want to talk. Hope you're holding up okay!
--Meghan Laslocky

Zarnon said...

Welp, only a week or so late.

Yeah, I thought the bashing was harsh and said so, but I've never been shy. I think each person needs to be given a chance.

Doll ownership has been a blessing and a curse.

The dolls take care of 'sex sex' and because of that I've found my encounters with 'real women' far less objectified than before.

At the same time, now I have a bunch of freakin' dolls in my bedroom! I wonder if any woman I'd dated 'pre-doll' would have stuck with me if I'd been an owner back then?

Anonymous said...

As I see it, women have had the 1 up in the sex toy industry for over 2 decades. Last year alone grossed over a billion dollars in the vibrator department. A billion! Aside from being a bit eccentric and overkill, I find it's perfectly acceptable for men to put their faith in rubber as women have put theirs in batteries.

Nancy Doll said...

Beautiful! Wonderfully balanced and sympathetic. There appears to be a wide realm of reasons for the Real Dolls, some of the reasons I daresay are "healthy."