In my G+ mentorship program we’re asked a daily question. These questions are designed to get us to think about our lives in new and different ways. I thought I would answer one of the questions that came up this week publicly since it has some relevance to recent events.

Describe a time in your life when you had felt like an outsider and then someone connected with you to the point where your sense of belonging was restored.

When I first saw this question I immediately dismissed it because I’ve always been on the “outside looking in” my entire life. Some of this is by personal choice, some of this is because I have a personality that most people don’t want to deal with. I think the word commonly used to describe me is ‘intense’. I agree, I am.

Last night I realized there’s one group of people who’ve accepted me for who I am no questions asked – the toy photography community.

I became a part of this community many years ago when I posted an image called “How to catch a Wiiman” and I was overwhelmed by the comments and connections I’d made with this one simple photo. It wasn’t long before I was swept into this fun, welcoming, enthusiastic community of toy photographers.

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How to catch a Wiiman.

In those early years I never revealed my age or my gender, because I didn’t want to be judged. I knew I was outside the norm of the typical pop culture obsessed male toy photographer; it turns out my fears were ungrounded. In all the years I’ve been a part of this community, I’ve never been judged, I’ve only been welcomed. Even when I met some of my online heroes (and future friends) at the Las Vegas toy safari, I was instantly welcomed into the group as one of the gang. For this I will always be grateful.

In my work promoting toy photography and my own work, I’ve come into contact, and I’ve had to find common ground, with a variety of people. These included men, women, children, housewives, doctors, lawyers, stock room workers, retail employees, graphic designers, students, ex-military, active military, mentally ill, suicidal, transgender, gay, moms, dads, new parents, grandparents, unemployed, devoutly religious, plus a variety of cultures. The list is varied and covers all walks of life, all sexual orientations, all ages, all income brackets and all education levels. I’ve always tried to treat everyone respectfully and as an equal. This has always been reciprocated.

If you’re thinking: ‘Wait! There’s so much drama in the community!” Sure there’s drama in the toy photography community; there will always be small skirmishes within any community that’s full of creative and passionate people. What I’m talking about is acceptance and a feeling of belonging, about not having to hide your hobby because you don’t think anyone will understand. The moment I found this group of people, that moment when they welcomed me with there comments and support, I knew that these were my people and this was a group I wanted to belong to and support.

From the number of ‘Why?’ posts that talk about this same feeling, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. A sense of non-judgement, a feeling of kinship, a knowledge that you’re a part of a group that will not judge you but welcome you, is a precious and rare commodity. The feeling of joy when you realize you found a home, a place where you can be yourself and that you belong, is moment many of us will never forget.

I bring this up now because I think know its time to take the lessons we’ve learned here in the toy community into the real world. We hail from every part of the globe. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you’ve read posts from toy photographers living in  South Korea, Russia, Finland, Australia, Turkey, Panama, Spain, England, United States and so many more. The world is changing at a pace that many people are uncomfortable with. There seems to be a pervasive fear about the future which is amplified by the media. Fear of the unknown, fear of the other, fear of change, fear that their won’t be enough to go around, fear of the future –  these fears loom large for many of us. But we will never find answers to the many problems that we are facing us as a world community if we don’t get to know each other first.

I encourage you to take the skills you’ve learned in the toy community, the ability to appreciate without judging and an openness to a variety of backgrounds, and extend these attitudes into your real life. We are the agents for the change that we want, one friendship at a time.

Yesterday I was out photographing toys with @Wiiman, @Lady.Nightingale and @Intangibledandy; four improbable friends brought together through their love of toys and photography. We are a testament to the power of toys to help bridge the gap from strangers to friends and I know we are not unique. To me that’s the greatest gift that can be given, the gift of friendship, connection and belonging.

~ Shelly

If you want to know how I feel about the results of the US election read this eloquent piece of writing by my friend Marika Malaea. 

Love trumps hate.

Love trumps hate.