Any hobby can be taken to an extreme, but it’s the supposedly harmless ones you really have to watch out for. Take the “American Girl” dolls, a Mattel-owned line of 18-inch-tall figurines manufactured since 1986, portraying the sheer diversity of this nation: There are girls (and boys) of every social background and ethnicity, from all periods of American history — including contemporary life. Collectors prize and connect with certain dolls’ stories while admiring the breadth of the brand. There is something for everyone. And this year, on the first day of Pride Month, American Girl announced the rerelease of Molly, a classic doll, leading some to conclude that the argyle-clad youth is canonically gay. (While the brand denied that they had outed her.)
If it feels like American Girl is having it both ways — playing to part of the fandom that had always read Molly as queer, but not spelling anything out — that may have been a tactical decision. Recent right-wing campaigns have demonized companies as anodyne as Disney for “grooming” children when they show any support for the LGBTQ community. American Girl had previously enraged at least a handful of reactionaries by introducing characters with same-sex parent figures; last year a petition against a storyline involving great-aunts who had wed in Australia after marriage laws changed there in 2017 allegedly drew more than 30,000 signatures. One is tempted to dismiss this as the work of cranks who only see the dolls as useful to their ongoing moral panic, but it seems that actual collectors have since joined the fray.
Meme creator @klitklitteredge — whose handle is a play on the name of the American Girl Kit Kitteredge — today shared screenshots taken by Instagram user @cottagecorekirsten and Twitter user @ivylingstanacc that revealed fans sharing doll pictures with anti-gay captions. The attempt to alter the “meaning” of a given color, as seen above, carries an explicit connection to the homophobic hate campaign to “reclaim the rainbow” from the LGBTQ movement, usually with an appeal to Christianity. Given that other American Girl fans use the dolls to represent and platform their queer identities, the anti-pride posts are also of a piece with religious resistance to displays of solidarity with LGBTQ causes, like when several ballplayers on the Tampa Bay Rays declined to wear uniforms with rainbow logos, one pitcher alluding to a “faith-based decision.”
According to American Girl enthusiasts elsewhere, the Instagram branch of the fandom (shortened to AGIG, for “American Girl Instagram”) is the most toxic. In a Reddit thread about the problems in that scene, a collector remembered someone using a Jewish character to promote the controversial group Jews for Jesus, while another said the AGIG crowd would get upset if a white girl was depicted celebrating Chinese New Year with a Chinese-American girl.
In response to the apparently coordinated anti-LGBTQ American Girl posts from a handful of disapproving Christians, some fought back with posts depicting the dolls as more than compatible with queer joy — and beloved by all kinds of people. On Tumblr, a list of the openly homophobic AGIGers (and their defenders) has begun to make the rounds so that they can be easily blocked en masse, although a number of these accounts are currently set to private.
However limited the latest eruption of bigotry within this group of devoted hobbyists, it’s a sobering reminder that no corner of American culture — no matter its outward wholesomeness — is safe from an all-pervading agenda of intolerance. The haters just can’t help themselves.