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Earlier this week I was introduced to Gay Bob when a co-worker dropped him onto my desk and revealed that his sister had given him the 13-inch anatomically correct plastic figure nearly 40 years ago as a gag gift.
But Gay Bob wasn't meant as a gag (and I'm guessing, if asked, he'd probably say he doesn't even have a gag reflex). Released in 1977, he was the brainchild of inventor Harvey Rosenberg, who reportedly did not identify as gay. GAY BOB has been described as "the world's first gay doll."
In an article published in 1978, the Associated Press quotes Rosenberg as describing Gay Bob as "a cross between Paul Newman and Robert Redford." Aside from his large plastic penis, Gay Bob also had an earring, a fashionable leather man bag and a cardboard closet to come out of again and again. His packaging also included a "doll clothing fashion catalogue," complete with a manifesto of sorts that reads in part:
"Hi Boys, Girls, and Grownups... I'm Gay Bob the world's first gay doll. I bet you are wondering why I come packed in a closet. "Coming out of the closet" is an expression which means that you admit the truth about yourself, and are no longer ashamed of what you are. Gay people use the expression "coming out of the closet" to explain they are no longer afraid, or ashamed, of being gay, and no longer hide the fact."
Later in the manifesto, it states:
"...Gay people are no different than straight people... if everyone came "out of their closets" there wouldn't be so many angry, frustrated, frightened people... People who are not ashamed of what they are, are more lovable, kind and understanding.. It's not easy to be honest about what you are -- in fact it takes a great deal of courage... But remember if Gay Bob has the courage to come out his closet, so can you..."
With so much queer visibility currently coursing through mainstream culture,] it may be difficult for some people to understand what's so shocking about a gay doll. But in 1977, same-sex marriage was not legal in a single U.S. state and many queer people, especially those in small towns and rural areas, remained in the closet. In fact, Gay Bob was so controversial, he even earned several mentions in Ann Landers' popular advice column. After incredulously telling a reader that she'd "believe it when [she saw it]," she later admitted in a follow-up column that she'd received 112 letters about Gay Bob's existence and admitted “that crunching sound you hear is me eating my words.”
In the years following Gay Bob's debut, other (both openly and PREsumedly) queer dolls appeared on the mass market including, Rhogit-Rhogit, Zhdrick & Tiimky, Billy, Carlos & Tyson, and Earring Magic Ken. But despite these other toys muscling in on his territory, Gay Bob continues to live on in the hearts -- and basements -- of those who were lucky enough to have met him four decades ago. For the rest of us, these photos below will have to suffice (or, if you really want to welcome Gay Bob into your life, snag your own on eBay).