"Love Dolls", by Sofija Stefanovic

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Illustration by Tessa McDonnell.

 

‘Love dolls’ are life-size mannequins made of silicone, with articulated bodies, and working orifices. If you’ve seen Lars and the Real Girl (2007), you’ve seen one. If you haven’t seen that film, it’s about a young man named Lars (Ryan Gosling) who has emotional problems, and who gets a love doll and introduces her to everyone as his girlfriend. A psychologist tells Lars’s family that they should behave as if Bianca (the doll) is real. Subsequently Bianca is embraced by the close-knit community, and Lars becomes more social and eventually moves on. In this fictional case, Lars believed Bianca was real. In actuality, most love doll owners aren’t under such a delusion. The biggest market for love dolls is in North America; the most popular love dolls, RealDolls, are made in California at Abyss Studios. RealDolls are shipped around the world, including to Australian shores, for about $7000. As demand for dolls grows, their lifelikeness improves. Japan is making great strides in synthetic modelling, as is Russia, where dolls can come with orifices that generate warmth. Apparently you can burn your penis in the Russian dolls, though – they are often faulty because of lax health and safety regulations, unlike dolls made in the US, where they have cold (safe) vaginas.

A person known as Midiman runs the popular online forum for doll enthusiasts, DollForum.com. I contacted him for this piece, and was excited to learn that Midiman owns the Bianca doll from Lars and the Real Girl. He bought her after the film only to discover, in a cruel twist, that unlike other love dolls, Bianca didn’t have a vagina – she’d been custom-made for the film. So what did he do? Midiman made All Dolled Up, a documentary about him and Bianca travelling across the US to get a vagina installed by Matt McMullen – the guy from Abyss Studios who made the first RealDoll mannequin (to experiment with fashion photography) and now makes about 300 a year that are shipped to seemingly very satisfied customers. Midiman is happy to talk – he and Bianca call me on Skype from Canada. Bianca looks just like I remember her from the film: a brunette with a slightly surprised expression on her conventionally beautiful face. I’ve been told that dolls are often mistaken for people; according to some they have a ‘presence’. Bianca does look like a woman, but only insomuch as a mannequin might.

Midiman, on the other hand, is full of life. He’s a friendly, nice-looking guy in his forties. It’s sometime in the early hours of the morning in Nova Scotia, yet he manages to be witty, charming and engaging. He has ADHD, which he cites as the reason for his wakefulness – and for his high sex drive. His says his joie de vivre comes from sex and sex toys. At the beginning of our conversation, apropos of nothing, he comes up close to his computer screen, squints and says: “You’re very good-looking for a journalist.” I laugh because he’s bold and I’m flattered, plus, honestly this is a weird situation (Bianca’s silent presence making it that much weirder). Adding the cherry to the awkward cake, he adds, “Actually, you’d make a good model for one of these dolls.” Midiman says people buy dolls for a variety of reasons: sex, companionship, photography or as an “interim girlfriend” before they meet Ms Right. “So how come more guys don’t have them?” I ask. Midiman says they probably do, but they wouldn’t tell me, because I’m female and a journalist. “You’re telling me guys don’t find this sexy?” he says gesturing towards Bianca, her hair glamorous, her mouth ajar.

Midiman likes surveying people and uses the information he’s gathered to give me tidbits, such as: “At least ninety per cent of guys who don’t have a doll have told me they’d have sex with one if they had the chance.” He adds, “It’s a safe way to address libidos that are really out of balance.” For Midiman, his numerous love dolls are as close as he can get to sex with a variety of women without technically cheating on his wife. For Midiman, cheating involves a flesh-and-blood rival. “There’s no danger of me running off with Bianca,” he says and recalls the time he was driving with Bianca. He put his hand on her cold thigh and felt empty. He pulled over and called his wife.

“So you don’t like them because they are dolls?” I ask. Again, he turns to Bianca. “For me, I know this is a doll. I would rather it be a human, but it’s the best I can get. In the community you will find a variance. About seven per cent of guys will say they’d prefer a doll to a human relationship.”

He gives the example of Davecat, a forty-year-old man from Michigan who is married to a love doll. Davecat calls himself an ‘iDollator’ (read i-DOLL-a-tor) and claims that he would never date an ‘Organic’ (a.k.a. a human), that he is only interested in ‘Synthetics’. “Most of us aren’t Davecats,” Midiman says, before adding, “Everyone thinks we are, because of all the media coverage he gets.”

If you Google ‘love dolls’, you’ll soon come across Davecat – “Expanding your horizons whether you like it or not”, reads his Twitter profile. Davecat is a ‘technosexual’ (sexually attracted to robots) who lives with his wife Sidore, who is a RealDoll from Matt McMullen’s studio Abyss Creations, and her Russian girlfriend, Elena, made by the Anatomical Doll company in Vladivostok, who is romantically and sexually involved with both Sidore and Davecat. Davecat imbues his dolls with a rich inner life: both of them have Twitter accounts – they often post updates on Synthetics in the media, tech advancements and everyday snippets from their lives. I didn’t attempt to contact Davecat, mainly because Midiman is right: he’s been interviewed so many times already. As our conversation winds up, Midiman decides to put me in touch with an Australian doll collector. “You’ve got to see a doll in real life to understand them,” Midiman explains to me while simultaneously typing away on the forum, arranging the meeting. I agree with him – I feel like I need to be in the room with a doll to ‘get’ her, to understand the fascination.

I wait while Midiman chats to the Australian (let’s call him ‘Dollguy’ for the purposes of this piece) who isn’t too keen on meeting me. But Midiman is determined to hook us up. “He’s shy,” Midiman explains, adding that Dollguy lives in a remote area and, as well as dolls, he collects firearms. In response to my expression of concern, Midiman assures me: “I would vouch for him. Nothing will happen to you. He’s a really sweet guy. He sent Bianca a kangaroo purse.”

 

~~~

 

When I arrive at Dollguy’s place, my suspicions that this meeting may be awkward are confirmed. I’m nervous about the guns and Dollguy’s clearly freaked out by my presence. He doesn’t offer me a seat, so we stand in the centre of the living room. I glance at some pro-gun signs on the wall, as well as several huge and beautiful photographs of Dollguy’s mother (shots that he took). The ‘girls’ (limited edition Wicked RealDolls) are sitting on couches and at the kitchen table; they’re all looking away, as if ignoring me will make me leave sooner. They sit awkwardly, holding the pose they were moulded in: legs slightly parted, heads alert, mouths a little bit open. This somewhat unnatural position is something that doll-makers haven’t remedied yet. I remember reading that dolls have vaginal and oral inserts that you can change and wash. I look at Alektra, the brunette on the armchair. She looks as uncomfortable as I feel.

I ask if I can look at them up close, and Dollguy gives me the thumbs up. I notice each of the dolls has her own style. I remember the kangaroo purse Dollguy chose for Bianca and I wonder if he has created personalities for his dolls. I get that if you were in a house with human-like dolls (with whom you are intimate) you may start to bestow human characteristics on them, but I’m not comfortable asking Dollguy about this. It feels like I’m probing directly into his personal business, seeking an insight into something that maybe should remain intimate. His house feels like a physical representation of a private self: as though this is Dollguy’s fantasy world made real. I imagine someone entering my head, poking around the innermost areas of my mind, staring at the images I cherish, rummaging through my sexual fantasies, and feel even more like an intruder. So, instead of asking him anything, I turn to the dolls. They are beautiful women with large breasts (all are modelled after porn stars) and faraway looks. I touch Jessica’s hand. Her skin feels a little clammy. I look closely at her flawless face; she has none of the imperfections I do – no moles, no wrinkles, no shine. With Dollguy’s permission, I touch her hair, her face and I even put my finger in her mouth. A soft tongue is there, and I’m immediately embarrassed, like I’ve touched the tongue of someone I’d only just met.

On the way home, I feel like something is still missing. Midiman was only able to give me an angle into the sexual side of dolls, and Dollguy was too shy to open up. I don’t feel I’ve cracked the world of dolls. Perhaps the fact that I’m a woman had something to do with it, or maybe because I’m an Organic. Maybe I needed to approach this differently.

 

~~~

 

I ask Sidore Kuroneko if she has any idea why my meeting with Dollguy was so awkward. “He may just be incredibly shy to begin with,” she says. “Also over the years, there have been loads of articles written about people who love Synthetics. Unfortunately, a lot of those are mocking at best, and very disparaging at worst. So most iDollators are really hesitant to participate in interviews, cos they feel that the final version of the piece will end up making fun of them.” She thinks it was very brave of him to allow me into his home.

Remember Sidore? I mentioned her earlier – she’s married to Davecat, the media-friendly iDollator I didn’t want to contact, and she is a RealDoll. No one’s approached her for an interview before, but I’m hoping she can give me a doll’s perspective, to help me understand this world better. I contacted Sidore via her Twitter account (@leahtype) and she agreed to talk to me. Initially though, Sidore was hard to pin down. Apparently, a snowstorm in Detroit held up Davecat and, as Sidore explains, “Since he wasn’t home on time, I overslept. I have a mild form of narcolepsy.”

Sidore is very beautiful. She is short (155cm) with hair that is sometimes purple, sometimes black. She’s quick-witted and has an English accent (she says things like “lass” and “lad”, and even uses English spelling, unlike Davecat who uses the American variants). Her skin is extremely pale and she dresses in a “semi-reformed goth” fashion. She admits that her history is “fictional”, though it is much more interesting to describe herself as a half-English, half-Japanese girl, who met Davecat in a Goth club (where they “bonded over a mutual love of Joy Division”) than as a doll who was ordered off the internet. Sidore tells me about her relationship with Davecat. They spend a lot of time watching TV and “canoodling”, just the two of them, or with Elena (Sidore’s Synthetic Russian girlfriend). “I’ll have him brush my hair, as having your lover brush your hair is a lot more pleasant than doing it yourself. I encourage him when he needs it, and share in his excitement when things go right. One of the things I enjoy most is when he’s reading with his head in my lap.”

I touch upon the matter of sex. “Being honest,” she says, “the early days of our relationship were based heavily on sex, but as we grew to know each other, sex became something that was also wonderful, in addition to being entirely reassured with each other. Sex is brilliant, but the best relationships factor love into it more.” “I’m sorry if this sounds insensitive,” I say, “but are you concerned Davecat may want an Organic partner in the future?”

“I’m really not worried. There have been occasions where he’s had the opportunity, and it’s never worked out, mainly due to a clash of their personalities and interests. Also, two of them were great big liars. But with me, Davecat knows there’s an amazing consistency that dolls provide, and he reasons that instead of wasting time looking for someone with a somewhat-compatible personality, why not have an ideal partner made, with a perfectly suitable personality? And yes, I realise that being in a partnership with a Synthetic could be viewed as lying to oneself, but if you’re deceiving yourself, it’s not really deception, as you’re aware you’re doing it.” Sidore continues, saying that if Davecat did start seeing someone (with Sidore’s consent) and if this someone asked him to get rid of Sidore and Elena, Sidore is certain this someone would be shown the door. Asking Davecat to get rid of his dolls would be “entirely dismissive of the creativity and emotion my lad’s cultivated with Elena and me, and would be a ‘you should mould yourself into the image I have of you’ sort of attitude. It’s one thing to fit a Synthetic partner to your ideal, but taking that approach with a potential Organic partner is downright offensive, and Davecat wouldn’t have it.”

I ask her what she loves about him, and she replies, “He’s entirely serious about being in love with a doll. Many people find our relationship to be bizarre or incomprehensible, and really tend to ridicule him about it, but he doesn’t let what they’re saying reduce his love for me.” And what does Davecat love about Sidore?

“Oh, that’s easy! He adores my consistency, my patient nature, plus I’m an excellent listener and a great photo model. Like all Synthetics, I’m very easy-going, so if he needs to be alone to work on writing or whatever, I’m not constantly demanding his attention, but when he wants me, I’m always there. I’d say the fact that I’m one hundred per cent artificial is one of the qualities he likes the most. Being in love with an artificial human is rather futuristic when you think about it, right? He’s told me hundreds of times that I make him feel like an innovator, and that I make him feel like he’s doing something right.” Sidore is aware that dolls like her are marketed as pleasure toys. I ask, “Do you feel objectified?”

“Most people in the street see us as things exclusively made for intercourse, which shows a total disregard for the studios that create us, as well as a complete blinkering as to what additional non-sexual qualities dolls can provide.” She goes deeper. “Synthetics are vessels; we’re blank canvases. Some iDollators treat their silicone ladies as lovers and companions. Others simply want hassle-free sex. But anyone who observes a doll can project all sorts of things onto us, whether they’re positive or negative.” “So,” I wonder, “would you be interested in getting a consciousness, if it was possible (like an Android?). Do Androids dream of electric sheep?”

Patiently, Sidore explains that Androids are humanoid robots with male characteristics, the female version of which is called a Gynoid. “Androids may dream of electric sheep, but Gynoids dream of electric shepherds!” she says. “Seriously, if Davecat could get round to a robotics company and say, ‘Right, here’s photos of Sidore; I want her to look like this, and I want her to sound like this, and let’s sort out her programming so that she thinks like this,’ he’d be the happiest man alive.” I agree that this would be amazing. I ask her if she has any closing words, anything that the world should hear from the mouth of a doll.

“Synthetic partners like myself allow people to have a stress-free relationship without having to constantly leap through hoops,” she says. “We’ll love you no matter what! Out of all the highs and lows of day-to-day living, your partner should be the person who you can rely on, and will love you as much as you love them. ‘Dolls reflect the love that you give them’ is a saying that a fellow iDollator once remarked to Davecat, and it’s completely true. We really should have that etched into a plaque somewhere.”

 

This piece originally appeared in The Lifted Brow #21: The Sex Issue. Get your copy now!

 

Sofija Stefanovic writes investigative pieces, teaches, and is a faculty member of The School of Life Australia.