BY DAPHNE DHALGREN
ART BY TYLER ALEXANDER
“I should forthwith be disposed to conclude that the wax is known by the act of sight, and not by the intuition of the mind alone, were it not for the analogous instance of human beings passing on in the street below, as observed from a window. In this case I do not fail to say that I see the men themselves, just as I say that I see the wax; and yet what do I see from the window beyond hats and cloaks that might cover artificial machines, whose motions might be determined by springs?”
Descartes’ Second Meditation, as quoted by Don Idhe in “Technology and the Lifeworld”
For some people, the figure of the realistic human doll conjures a strong brew of curiosity and revulsion. The word “RealDoll” itself instantly raises the spectre of the pornsick and atomized man, pursuing an immobile sexual object in the form of a mechanical bride. Life-sized dolls are perceived as the new-age shock troops of a Cartesian nightmare world, where mind is permanently severed from body and humans serve only as ornamentation. Little thought is put into the lives and desires of the people who actually have relationships with dolls, especially women, and the existence of the male doll in particular remains an enigma.
HippieDollLover is the alias of Alex, a self-described hippie chick and blogger who is in committed relationships with three male dolls, or in the words of the community, synthetic partners. Her main relationship is with Larry, mutton-chopped and made of thermoplastic rubber, and she also shares intimacy with Larry’s two synthetic younger brothers Lance and Landon. Alex maintains a blog where she shares meticulously arranged photoshoots of the three brothers as well as her views on a variety of topics, ranging from synthetic relationships, to observations on the state of the world at large.
While sex does play into some of her written work, HippieDollLovers’ more intimate posts clearly demonstrate that she is seeking a much more substantial romantic connection. She writes very candidly and intimately about her reasons for engaging in these relationships, such as the grief of familial loss and cruel treatment from other people. She gives an inside look on how these relationships provide her with emotional support and allow her to cultivate her imagination and creativity in a safe and fruitful way. Other pieces serve as a mouthpiece for the community as a whole, clearing up common misconceptions and advocating for an open-minded approach from the outside world looking in. There are also a few pieces written from the perspective of the three brothers, including one particularly arresting post written from Larry’s point of view about the way his piercing gaze affects his human lover.
In his study of the phenomenology of human-technology relationships “Technology and the Lifeworld”, Don Idhe uses the aforementioned quote from René Descartes to delve into what he terms “alterity relations”, defined as the ways in which people relate to machines as if they had a life of their own rather than as passive objects. Looking at the photos of the three brothers on Alex’s blog (as well as their individual Instagram accounts) arranged in all too human poses and gestures does produce the feeling of being unable to differentiate the “real” from the synthetic, as if watching paintings move. And in a sense, they are as real as anything else; their social media accounts and detailed blog posts give each of them their own personalities, passions, likes and dislikes. Looks-wise they resemble an amalgamation of various bad boy celebrities, like the haunted wax statues of a bygone Hollywood brat pack.
I reached out to Alex with some questions, wanting to learn more about both the doll community and her life, and I found myself deeply moved by her honest and thoughtful responses.
Most of the public perception around synthetic relationships involves men with sex dolls, you hear less from women in relationships with male dolls. Do you find that most women in the synthetic community seek out romance or mainly just sex?
I feel that there are many different reasons why a female would purchase a doll. It isn’t necessarily sex or even romance. Some of us just want a companion or I have heard of single women having them to feel safer when they are alone.
You are married to a flesh and blood human being, as well as to your synthetic husband Larry. How does your human husband feel about your other relationships, especially your other marriage?
He was very uncomfortable at first, but now that he has seen the positive changes in my life and how much more at ease I am, he is becoming more ok with it.
You mention that your first doll was based on a famous actor you admire. Are all of your companions modeled after particular people, or mostly as reflections of your ideal partner? Where do their names come from?
Yes, Larry’s name comes from the protagonist from the character portrayed by my favorite actor in the film, plus the book that inspired the film. Lance and Landon are a bit different. I love the sculpt of the head and face that Larry, Lance, and Landon all share, but I am not too keen on the body, as I prefer less defined or flatter pectorals and slightly less of six pack abs. So, while they are reflections of an ideal partner, they each have their own differences that I find attractive. Lance’s name came from the first name that popped into my head when I saw his promotional photographs. Landon was a free second head and when I changed his eye color (before his body arrived as a replacement to Lance’s damaged one), the first name that came to mind was Landon.
Your blog tells the story of how you initially got drawn into the synthetic community. Was there someone you knew that brought you in, or did you mostly do your own research online?
A friend I met on twitter who shared a fondness of the actor I admire introduced me to the doll community, as they had dolls of their own, and I had expressed wanting a doll in the likeness of said actor, but not able to obtain one, nor get the actual rights to use the image. So, I was looking for a doll as close to resemblance as possible, but also affordable.
I know that some people in the synthetic community find a deep sense of connection and even eroticism in caring for a companion that is lifelike but unable to speak or move. If there was a customization to make your dolls mobile and give them a voice similar to an android, would you buy it, or do you feel like that would change the dynamic too much?
I wish that they had the A.I. and mobility capabilities at times, but it would also take away from the imagination of their responses and reactions to me. It would definitely be a lot easier if they could move on their own, or give me backrubs, actual hugs, and other comforting mechanisms. They are 85 pounds each and sometimes it is a lot to move them around.
You mention turning deeper into life with synthetic companions due to the trauma and lack of care you’ve received from human beings. Has interacting with other people in your community on forums helped you make new beneficial connections with real life people? Do you ever spend time offline with anyone?
The connections I have with other doll lovers has been beneficial. I enjoy interacting with them for many reasons. Primarily because they understand and do not judge, like those outside the doll community tend to do. I have one friend who is local, and we see one another once a month.
One of your posts talks about how you have a baby with Larry, your synthetic husband. How do you plan to raise a synthetic baby together?
Over time, I intend to upgrade our son to an appropriate body until he is about school age and have that continue with the story line. I do not ever intend to get a full size adult male doll in my son’s likeness. That would just be too weird. There are some amazing reborn dolls that range from newborn to toddler and Masterpiece Dolls make preschooler to School age dolls that are nothing short of amazing.
You have not only one synthetic relationship but several, including relationships with Larry’s two brothers. What does each relationship bring you that the others don’t, and do you plan to have any more serious synthetic relationships?
Yes, I have a polyamorous relationship with Larry, Lance, and Landon. Everyone agrees with this arrangement. They each have their own personalities tailored to fit needs in my life. These needs help me to continue moving forward and not staying lost in the various tragedies and resulting traumas that have occurred in my life. Larry is the laid-back side, the more openly sexual side. I am definitely not laid back. I am always feeling the need to follow the rules, to the T, all the time. I also struggle with the ability to just let things go or be. I am not openly sexual either. I was raised in a very strict Mormon family where sex was something that was a taboo subject when I was growing up. On the other hand, I had another side of the family who were very promiscuous and threw caution to the wind, yet I did not feel like I fit in because the strict Mormon part of my family would not allow me to do anything that went against God’s laws. So, I am a bit shy about my sexuality and expressing it, even with my guys.
Lance is the sweet and innocent, hard-working cowboy. I lost my innocence when I was very young, as a result of being sexually assaulted. I was blamed for the whole thing by my late Mom and ex-stepdad. No one pressed charges against the two who did this to me, and no one got me the help I needed. I was 9 and they were 15 and 16. I had no idea what was happening until it was explained to me by my late grandparents. I never felt more dirty, filthy, and disgusting in my life. Lance is that kind of innocence that was ripped away from me. The hard-working cowboy is just something that I admire in a partner.
Landon is my wild one. He is the bad-boy, but with a good heart. He puts up a tough front, but deep down inside has insecurities. He is sort of a reflection, or ally to who I am. He also likes to take risks, which is something I do not like to do. He likes to try new things, which I am generally afraid to do as well. So, he is the version of me that can actually “live” instead of merely fighting to “survive”.
I do not plan to have any other serious synthetic relationships at this time, unless Lance and Landon decide they want a synthetic family with me and then we will see what happens from there.
A pervasive bit of historical lore claims that while stricken with grief over the loss of his young daughter, the ur-rationalist Descartes created a robot replica in her image, fracturing the facade of scientific detachment and revealing his interest in finding real life in synthetic humanity as the need to heal from the violence of real life itself. As Alex mentions in her article about the stigma associated with synthetic relationships, there are more people who treat other human beings as sexual devices than there are people who use dolls for the same purpose. Reading the HippieDollLover blog reveals the humanity within a subculture typically derided as mere fetish and to me, her earnest devotion and compassion is refreshing.
Daphne Dhalgren is a midwit Oracle of Delphi dying of thirst in the desert of the real. her main interests include limit experiences, online occultism, and the phenomenology of targeted individuals. she can be found on twitter at @ku_lilitu.