6 mins


What is it about queer people and our collections? From Punko Pop figures to Barbies, Lego to action figurines, LGBTQ+ people have long been avid collectors of what many would deem mere toys. But is there a deeper meaning behind the things we save, the things we love? Chris Rooke talks to queer collectors while at the same time sharing his own tiny loves.

It’s a busy day on Brick Lane. The notorious doughnut thief has struck again, right under the noses of the police. Perhaps they’ve been spending too much time at the jazz club down the road? They have had to consult the local detective for assistance, who was already investigating a case of very literal money laundering: he’s discovered that gold bars deposited into one of the laundrette’s machines are sent down a secret chute to the bank’s vault next door.

Elsewhere, the owner of the bookshop is heading down to the art gallery next to the boutique hotel to buy the latest piece from the artist who lives above the restaurant. As she passes the natural history museum, a puppy runs out with a bone its mouth, quickly followed by the museum staff in a panic.

It will shock you to learn that these events are not real, but are stories that play out across Lego’s series of modular buildings. A new building is released each year, and each can be attached to previous ones to create a full street of stories and activities. And of course, each can be broken down and rebuilt in any way or as anything you can imagine.

They are also part of a collection of Lego that sits on almost every surface in my home.

The collecting of toys by queer people is not uncommon: for example, you need only check a couple of videos into Trixie Mattel’s YouTube channel to find her unboxing of Barbies, cooking with EasyBake ovens, or showcasing the latest collection of her makeup line in toy-inspired packaging.

In our own community too, collectors abound and toys enhance the decor of many a home.

“Many friends of ours have said our place is an ‘Aladdins Cave’ of random stuff, and a museum of things we’ve collected over decades,” says Aaron of his and his fiancé’s collection. “It’s really a mix of items that tell a story of the things that I loved from childhood to now. Items that are sentimental that I kept from my childhood (such as a Pinky and the Brain vinyl set from the ‘90s that was in the window of a hairdresser’s in St Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre that my mum bought from the owner), to movie and TV show collectibles that I love.”

That link to childhood is a common thread when people talk about their collections. “From as early as I can remember I’ve always been attracted to the darker side of things in life,” explain Kris, describing his collection of figurines of Star Wars villains, evil green Gremlins, and Draculas. “I’ve also got some witchcrafty things, taxidermy, vinyls and the collection I'm most precious about is of Vivienne Westwood items. I spend most of my money on that one — who needs food when you've got Westwood?”

“I have the ‘Neca’ Greta Gremlin, which was a birthday present from my best friends a few years ago, and Gremlins was a movie that I always loved growing up and into my adulthood. It has always made me laugh and I've always loved the evil green ones. I think it was the chaos and humour that the gremlins brought to the movies. They are just crazy green creatures obsessed with anarchy, food, dressing up in interesting outfits, and pranking humans. My kind of punks!”

Whether there’s a connection between someone’s queer identity and their collection is largely personal. “I don't think there is any direct link to queerness and my collection,” continues Kris, adding that his figures of “Madonna, Elvira and Greta might be the only ones that would correspond with that. But generally the figures I have collected are links to my interests as an adult that stemmed from the loves and interests I had as a child.”

For Aaron though, there’s a more distinct line. “As a kid I totally lived out my queerness with toys, before I fully realised I was queer,” he recalls. “I loved to make little animations and tell stories with my toys and then show them off to my family. They were two-minute-long masterpieces made with happy meal Disney toys and handmade sets! To me, Aladdin was besties with Jasmine but had a thing for Jafar. In my teens, I remember seeing a Mr Smithers figurine from The Simpsons and I thought how cool it was to have a gay toy — he wasn’t officially out by this point but teenage me knew - and in a way it was validating to see him in toy form. Especially when his accessories included a framed photo of Mr Burns!”

The joy that these collections bring can manifest itself in different ways, but is an important motivation for collecting. “When I was in my late teens, I pretty much stopped collecting action figures and toys because I thought it was time to ‘grow up,’ so there were a good few years where I didn't buy any and I didn't have any on display in my home. It became dreary and dull!” remembers Kris. “I’m very glad that within the last few years I decided to go back and start collecting again. These little things can bring so much joy to us, whether it's reminiscing about our childhood or things we used to love, things we still love, or just because they look amazing on display. I recently got in touch with a woman from Poland who I'm commissioning to make three more dolls: one of my all time hero and inspiration, Vivienne Westwood, as well as Trent Reznor and Robin Finck from Nine Inch Nails. I love that I've got back into it!”

For Aaron, the aspects of his toys that he enjoys have changed, but still bring about a sense of nostalgia. “As I got older, I just enjoyed seeing the toys from my childhood on my shelves, and appreciated the artwork and design of the toys and the boxes. A Mars Attacks alien figure that my mum bought me in my early teens still takes pride of place in my living room. If something was made well — like McFarlane Toys figures, their Austin Powers line is wonderful — I would appreciate the likeness, and it’s a fun extension to the movie or show and a way of celebrating it and the joy it brought. As both my parents have passed away there’s so many memories attached to these little pieces of plastic: Christmas mornings and simpler times.”

His collection has also helped him to forge new connections — including getting to know his fiancé. “When we first met, we were both worried about showing our collections to each other after our first date. It turned out we were both massive toy nerds so it was a match made in plastic. 16 years together and now both of our collections take pride of place in our home. It always sparks joy seeing how our childhoods and adulthoods were similar even though he grew up in Italy and me in a small town in Meath. They put a smile on my face and make me think of him. And for that, they may be just ‘stuff ’ but now it’s our stuff and they make me happy.

“Also, I don’t have to make little stop motion animations with Aladdin anymore to experience my queerness!”

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