Local Doll Artist Makes World's First Transgender Doll

Even in the face of hate mail, Robert Tonner hopes his latest collectible will make a positive impact.

A Hudson Valley doll maker is taking a bold step forward with his latest collectible:  the world’s first transgender doll.

Ulster County’s Tonner Doll Company, a widely recognized doll design company that has licensed their creations for movies like Harry Potter, Spider-Man 3, and Twilight, first launched the transgender doll at the Toy Fair in Manhattan this February, and the public has, unsurprisingly, not been silent.

According to Robert Tonner, the world-famous fashion designer, sculptor, doll artist, and entrepreneur behind Tonner Doll Company, “the public has been very positive about it.”

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Tonner tells us a majority of his fanbase is very accepting of the doll, based on 16-year-old transgender celebrity Jazz Jennings of TLC’s I Am Jazz. Still, not everyone sees eye-to-eye on this topic, and receiving hate mail is never a fun surprise.

“We really had to laugh after awhile. It’s a doll for crying out loud,” explains Tonner. “I don’t know why it’s such a threat to people.”

Tonner first caught wind of Jennings in 2007 when she appeared for an interview with Barbara Walters on 20/20 at 6 years old. “I was really impressed by her and her family,” he says. “Her story surprised me, and over the years her name kept popping up and about three years ago I thought she might make an interesting doll.”

Ultimately, Tonner believes that now is the right time, if any, for a doll like this. Firstly, the Hudson Valley doll artist hopes people understand that Jennings being transgender is not the only reason he is making her into a doll. He’s confident “it’s the right thing to do. To do a doll of a kid who is such a great kid.”

Still, if someone benefits from his creation, Tonner will be satisfied. “I don’t know if I’m going to change any minds. My goal is if there’s one or two kids out there that are struggling with this, and they see themselves represented as a toy I think that’s pretty powerful.” 

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