The transmasculinity of Ryan Gosling’s Ken

I admit it, the title of this post is deliberately pretentious. It was fun to type.

Obviously, Ken is not canonically trans. He was assigned male at boxing and shows no signs of identifying as anything but a man. But thematically, his character arc? Is super trans.

Plenty could be written (and probably has been written) about the gender roles in Barbieland. The women are strong, powerful, in charge. The men are eye candy. The movie doesn’t even pretend to be subtle about this, it’s the whole point. “I’m a man with no power, that’s basically a woman” is literally a thing someone says.

When I lay it all out like this, this post begins to feel a bit redundant.

So Barbie And Ken go to the real world and Ken realizes, for the first time, that he doesn’t have to be “basically a woman”. What if... he could be a man? Being a man doesn’t give him all the power, not at all, but it feels right to him.

But what is “being a man”? Driving an obnoxious huge truck? Brewski-beers? Being a misogynist?

Ken thought so, and a lot of newly-out trans guys think so too. But obviously it’s none of those things. I can’t tell you what it is. And nobody can tell Ken, either. He has to discover for himself who he is, on his own, without Barbie. Without the stereotypical, platonic idea of femaleness. If that symbolism was an accident, it was a really lucky one. Because when you’ve spent your entire life defining yourself in relation to a woman — whether that woman is the doll you were literally created to be in love with, or whether she’s “you” — it’s confusing and scary to lose that relationship. Who are you?

Who is Ken, without Barbie?

Who am I, without the womanhood I was so attached to for most of my life?

And finally: This movie was as subtle as a brick to the face. It made heavy use of lampshading tropes while also playing them relatively straight, which is fine for the movie that this is.

But in $CURRENTYEAR, when we’re explicitly making commentary on gender and gender roles... maybe let’s not make fun of dudes for crying.

Yes, ha ha, they lampshaded it (“I know it’s not weak to cry”), but it was still framed as funny. Don’t do that.