Terry, a retired Air Force veteran and sixty-four-year-old divorcé, is taking his doll for a stroll in the courtyard behind the building where he rents a small apartment in Toledo, Ohio. He takes her out as often as he can, although her seventy-five-pound weight makes a wheelchair often necessary.
Terry’s family members and neighbors know about his affiliation with his doll, Feodora. They understand what she means to him, and for the most part have learned to accept it. “Only my elder daughter expressed an objection to the dolls,” says Terry. “Now when she, her husband, and the grandchildren come to visit, they just ignore her as though she were part of the furnishing, a statue or a work of art.”
Terry is part of a community of men who call themselves iDollators, and who link together through groups around the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada and Europe. They share ideas, visions, fears, and, above all, their love for silicone dolls, made by specialized companies for as much as $6,000 a piece. Some iDollators save up for years in order to acquire the perfect life-size companion.
Terry’s relationship with Feodora is somewhat different than many other iDollators in that he does not have sex with her. Instead, he prefers to interact with her via photo shoots, setting up his apartment with scenes of dining and dates. He takes his photography seriously, saying that “the chief advantages of working with dolls is that they are infinitely patient, completely non-judgmental, and do not have health or feeding requirements.”
Feodora is Terry’s third doll. Before her, he owned a pair of inflatable dolls, but decided to change to a more realistic silicone reproduction of the now-retired porn start Tera Patrick. While their relationship isn’t sexual, he sees it as a special one. “I have always been a hopeless romantic and I have been in love more times than I should,” he says. “But I almost never expressed that love to the lady I desired.” With Feodora, he feels more comfortable.
Each season influences Terry’s fashion choices for Feodora. In winter, he tries to put some color into her style while allowing her to still be sexy.
“I do not view dolls or real women as sex objects, but as people, each with their own particular beauty,” says Terry. Cuddling is as far as it goes between him and Feodora.
“Sex with dolls is a lot of work,” he says. “It would involve undressing them, having sex, cleaning myself, cleaning them, and finally getting both of us dressed again. Frankly, that is more work than it is worth. If I want sexual relief, masturbation is a lot easier and quicker.” Besides, he says, “I have very little interest in sex” — which is one of the factors that led to his divorce.
Davecat is a forty-two-year-old data-entry professional who lives in a suburb of Detroit. He’s been in this area all his life, but wishes otherwise. “If I had the money, I’d move to Toronto,” he says.
Davecat lives with three dolls; two made out of silicone and another made of fabric. For him, this is not just a recreational activity, but a lifestyle that takes up most of his time once he’s home from work. The entire apartment is a cozy little love nest where Davecat’s intimate interactions take place. He wanted to live with more than one doll in order to create a balance among the various types on the market. He is currently looking for a larger place in order to accommodate more dolls — he’d like to have as many as six.
After a tough time dating real women, and one particularly bad breakup, Davecat decided to look into dolls on a friend’s suggestion. “I’d always been keen on the idea of artifice, particularly humanoid robots,” he explains. He saw a few examples on the web that caught his eye — one in particular had “long lustrous black hair that went past her shoulders, sensuous red lips, deep brown eyes, pale skin, and was wearing only a pair of opera-length gloves.”
Davecat talks about sex with ease. “Having a synthetic partner is something than can eliminate loneliness for thousands of people and make them happy, yet it’s an option that’s generally seen as bad or weird,” says Davecat. For him, sex with a doll is not deviant, but a sexual preference that needs to be understood and accepted by others, even if it takes time. “It is better to select a preference that you like, rather than trying to adjust yourself to something you are not keen on,” he explains with assurance.
Davecat chose this lifestyle after a few failures with human women. “By their very nature, [dolls] don’t lie. They’re never judgmental or dismissive, and they are always pleasant to come home to,” he explains. “As I’m a bit introverted, and not really a ‘people person,’ it’s difficult to find someone with similar interests, let alone someone with similar interests that you want to be in a relationship with.”
John, who lives in the Chicago area, often brings his doll, Jackie, to one of his favorite locations: the zoo. Most workers here know John and his girlfriend, often saluting both of them as they arrive— she in a wheelchair for ease of movement. John loves animals and has learned quite a bit about the various exotic inhabitants of the zoo. He sees sharing his knowledge and passion with her as one of the most important aspects of his relationship.
John describes the intimate relationship with his doll as something “like playing an instrument,” in that he must be in tune with her in order to accomplish pleasure for both of them. He enjoys sex with her tremendously, but also feels that he is helping her discover her own sexuality. He has plans to get her fixed up in the near future, as her body is run down after eight years of use, but money is tight right now.
Like many other iDollators, John has gone through difficult times with real women, which led him to seek another solution. He was married to a woman for eight years, but she was sick, he explains, and always refused to have sex with him. Eventually, he decided to move on. “She was very damaged emotionally,” he explains.
“She is capable of things I am not,” John explains of Jackie. “I am a loudmouth, very impatient, while Jackie is very judicious about her choices with me. I have too many thoughts going on in my head at any moment; she, of course, does not.” These opposing traits calm him in times of stress. “She completes me,” he says.
John has a favorite restaurant in the suburbs where he lives. The owner is more than happy to accommodate John and his lover at their favorite table, serving them their favorite dishes. Yes, she has her own favorite dish: a deep-fried cheese plate. Jackie loves Sinatra, he says, and she especially loves to dance. John wants to spoil her and make her happy, and she returns the favor at home in bed.
John wants to share as much as possible with Jackie. “She knows all my secrets,” he explains. If he spends a long time watching one of his favorite animals, she watches too. Other zoo-goers often stop and stare in disbelief, wondering if this is a real woman or a doll. Some are careful to tell their children to stay away. Whatever the reaction, John says, “I am used to it by now.”
In fact, John and Jackie get a range of reactions: Some laugh, while others mistake her for flesh and blood, then realize their mistake as they get closer. “I took her to a bar, and some men came up to her thinking she was real,” he said. One told John that she looked cold, and took his coat to place it on her. When he realized she was not real, he screamed, “Oh my God!” and retrieved the coat in shock. People’s reactions vary tremendously, but John says he doesn’t even pay attention to them anymore.
“Not everybody has the skill to keep a relationship with a fellow human,” John explains. “She is an antidote, a solution, not a problem.” It’s a message he hopes to share with others. While he doesn’t exactly consider himself an activist, by going to public places with Jackie, John sees himself as a messenger between his people, the iDollators, and the world.
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Born in Paris in 1979, Jonathan Alpeyrie moved to the United States in 1993. He has shot photographs for local Chicago newspapers, in the South Caucasus, Congo, the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. His work has appeared in The Sunday Times, Le Figaro magazine, ELLE, American Photo, Glamour, Aftenposten, Le Monde and BBC.