One of the subplots in Sleigh Ride revolves around Arthur’s nephew, Thomas, who is six years old and has a doll. Thomas appeared in the story after I’d been writing for a month. Something seemed to be missing, and then one day when revisiting the opening, Arthur started talking to his nephew, which was delightful—and then Thomas trotted out his best girl, Soupy. It’s never been revealed to me why this name was chosen, but I suspect it’s like Ramona Quimby’s doll Chevrolet. What sounds good to a child doesn’t always translate socially.
A lot of what Thomas loves and desires doesn’t necessarily sit well with a small, dying town in the Minnesota Northwoods. His mother in particular obsesses with how her son is perceived, and though some of her choices hurt Thomas, she means well. She legitimately loves her son and wants what’s best for him.
My own child has taught me a lot about how in some ways, though we seem to be more aware of gender identity and roles, we’re also somehow more backwards than ever. She loved purple as a young child, until she realized purple and pink were codes for girly. Abruptly one day she switched to green, and then became annoyed at how she was being forced into purple and pink in clothing, toys, and décor.
She chose dinosaur pajamas because she liked them, but resented that she had to go to the boy’s department to have that option. She liked Legos until she realized the company didn’t want to include her in its marketing—then when it did, relegated her to a horrible pink and purple ghetto of stereotyped activities, separate from the cool boy toys. She finally rejected any current systems and used her father’s set from 1970. Now she plays Minecraft, but gets annoyed when she plays online: if she shows the slightest bit of femininity she gets either sexually harassed or dismissed. She is upset at the hazing done to boys who love one of her passions, My Little Pony.
The book Gabriel reads at storytime in Sleigh Ride is called William’s Doll, and it’s a real book, written in 1972. It’s startlingly current for a forty-year-old story, and it’s sad to see how little has changed in how we code toys and roles for boys and girls. In some ways I feel we’ve become worse. Take the 1981 “What it is is beautiful ad” from Lego contrasted with the company’s offerings for girls in 2014. If you don’t have children, take a walk through the toy aisle sometime. Not only are the toys nothing but marketing junk now, they’re absolutely, utterly coded into boy and girl. Even infant clothing, once a haven, seems more gendered than ever.
There are some silver linings. Children have always been more open-minded than their adult supervisors, and many of them aren’t taking their gender force-feeding lying down. This little girl has a lot to say about it. When a trans student in Brazil was fined for wearing a skirt, her male classmates wore skirts too to show their solidarity. The bottom line is when adults get out of the way, gender identity doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, it’s one of the more natural navigations there is. It’s society that makes it tricky.
When I was young, my aunt bought me tractors. In fact her gifts were always either coded the other way or absolutely gender neutral. At the time, I was annoyed because I didn’t really want a tractor. I wanted Barbies because they could act out my stories. I did appreciate the gender non-specific Fisher Price people, though. So did my brother. He loved the tractors—but he was known to play Barbies too, and he lovingly put babies to bed with my sister and I.
This past week that brother had his own baby, a son, and he’s already an incredible dad. He’s taking care of his wife and insisting he will take off whatever time necessary to be with his family. On the shelf in his living room is a little bear I recognized from our childhood. One he loved to bits and saved over the years, and now I suspect will pass on to his boy.
If my nephew August wants a doll, my brother will give him one. And help him put it to bed, and change its diaper, and feed it and love it. If my nephew is gay or informs them at some point that actually, he is not a he at all, my brother and sister-in-law will love their child in whatever incarnation presented.
I’m pretty sure my brother was going to be a great parent no matter what happened. But all that doll-playing and caretaking he did when we were little? I can’t see that it hurt him any or took away from this moment. And yeah. It might have even helped.
I hope you enjoy reading about Thomas and his doll, and Arthur and Gabriel and how they support him in his passion. And I hope if you find a boy in your life who wants a baby to take care of that you do your best to help him get one too.
Blurb: Book Two of the Minnesota Christmas Series, Sequel to Let It Snow
The way to a man’s heart is on a sleigh.
Arthur Anderson doesn’t want anything to do with love and romance, and he certainly doesn’t want to play Santa in his mother’s library fundraising scheme. He knows full well what she really wants is to hook him up with the town’s lanky, prissy librarian.
It’s clear Gabriel Higgins doesn’t want him, either—as a Santa, as a boyfriend, as anyone at all. But when Arthur’s efforts to wiggle out of the fundraiser lead to getting to know the man behind the storytime idol, he can’t help but be charmed. The least he can do is be neighborly and help Gabriel find a few local friends.
As their fiery arguments strike hotter sparks, two men who insist they don’t date wind up doing an awful lot of dating. And it looks like the sleigh they both tried not to board could send them jingling all the way to happily ever after.
Warning: Contains a feisty librarian, a boorish bear, small town politics, deer sausage, and a boy who wants a doll.
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About the Author: Heidi Cullinan has always loved a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. She enjoys writing across many genres but loves above all to write happy, romantic endings for LGBT characters because there just aren’t enough of those stories out there. When Heidi isn’t writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, knitting, listening to music, and watching television with her husband and teenaged daughter. Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights and is proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality. Find out more about Heidi, including her social networks, at www.heidicullinan.com.
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