When I came out at the age of 31 (yep, it took a while), more than one relative on that side of the family repeated the theory that the reason I was a homo was because of those G.I. Joe dolls I had as a kid.
People who understand the medical science know that a person’s sexual orientation is determined sometime before the age of two (it is almost certainly earlier, but it’s much more difficult to measure before then), so toys I received as presents at the age of seven didn’t have anything to do with it. But the claim is wrong in another way.
I never owned a G.I. Joe action figure as a child.
The original G.I. Joe was created by toy designer Stan Weston. He licensed the idea of his articulated action figure that could have a infinite number of costumes and accessories to Hasbro. The deal wasn’t an exclusive license, so Weston took Hasbro’s money and formed his own company.
Once he saw that Hasbro was going with only soldier accessories, he secured licensing deals with D.C. Comics, Marvel Comics, and King Feature Syndicate to produce a similar action figure, but one that was a something of a shape-shifter.
Captain Action’s exact shape differed from G.I. Joe in several ways, the most noticeable being that his head seemed a bit small for the body and the facial features are a little weird. The reason was that, thanks to all of those licensing deals, among the accessories you could buy for Captain Action were kits to transform him into characters such as Superman, Spiderman, Batman, Aquaman, Steve Canyon, Buck Rogers, the Lone Ranger, Flash Gordon, and so on. Each of those kits included a “mask” that completely covered Captain Action’s face, giving him the face of the character in question.
The Christmas that I received Captain Action, I also received the Superman kit. Note that there is no action figure in the box. That is a full-head face to go over the Captain Action figure’s head, a costume, and other accessories, but no action figure.
The thing I remember most about the Superman kit is that when I put the Captain Action clothes back on the figure, I often put the red Superman boots on him. I even remember explaining to someone why I thought the red boots looked better with the Captain Action costume. I also remember that another kid swiped my Krypto the Superdog toy. And I never got it back.
The following Christmas, several relatives got me G.I. Joe accessories, because they were easier to find (and probably most of them didn’t realize that Captain Action wasn’t a G.I. Joe). They only kind of worked. Captain Action’s chest was just enough bigger than G.I. Joe’s that I couldn’t fasten the shirts and jackets that came in the G.I. Joe kits. So when my Captain Action was dressed up as a marine or a sailor, he also had his shirt open, showing off his hyper-muscled chest. It made him look like a member of the Village People—except that the band didn’t exist until ten years later.
Now that I think about it, maybe that was part of the reason that one uncle was convinced the action figures were making me gay: my Captain Action was always baring his chest!My uncle wasn’t the only person who had misgivings about boys playing with dolls. When Hasbro introduced the first G.I. Joe, they invented the term “action figure” to label and advertise it precisely because their marketing research indicated that a lot of parents were reluctant to buy a doll for a boy.
While I remember seeing figures for Dr. Evil, Captain Action’s nemesis, I don’t think I ever saw the Action Boy figure in stores. I know, from reading collectors’ web sites, that there were Action Boy figures and there were accessory kits to turn him into Robin (to go with Captain Action in the Batman kit) or Superboy.
It’s probably just as well. As I recall, my Captain Action was laying in my toy box completely naked most of the time. Whenever I wanted to play with him, I had to spend a while tracking down enough clothes and accessories to dress him up as someone. If there had been a naked Captain Action and a naked Action Boy lounging about in my toy box, that uncle would have probably had a stroke!