Kids are smarter than we give them credit for, but, like adults, they’re also impressionable. That means what they see in their media helps shape their worldview.
Adults have ready access to information about and/or experience with the community, so while it’s still REALLY important to have 3-dimensional queer characters in our shows and movies for older audiences, it’s important for a different reason.
So, in honour of LGBT+ Pride Month, and the U.S. nation-wide legalization of gay marriage, we’re taking a look at the portrayals of characters who canonically fall in the category of LGBTQQIP2SAA (I could be wrong, but I think that’s the full acronym now). Let’s see how much they get away with, how they do it - and if they can at all. This is FGA: Pride Edition.
GAY FOR GIGGLES/NEGATIVE PORTRAYALS
Multiple Male Characters - The Looney Tunes
Whenever Bugs, Daffy, Elmer Fudd, or any other number of characters dressed up like the opposite gender, it was a joke. A popular one at that. The 1950s Looney Tunes didn’t know how to handle it and cross-dressing has been a part of comedy for a long time- mostly just because the people of the past thought it strange. It went outside their comfort zone.
It isn’t much of an excuse, though, because even the latest Looney Tunes show took cues from its predecessors a couple of times. If cross-dressing still makes people uncomfortable enough to laugh, it says a lot about where our societies stand on transgender individuals.
Other shows like Tom and Jerry and Scooby Doo also fall under this category, but they’re so similar I thought I’d leave them off the list.
Mitch - Paranorman
Here’s a more modern example. Paranorman liked to play with the audience’s expectations, so it came as a pleasant surprise to find out Mitch, the jock Norman’s sister had been trying to get with the whole movie, turned out to have a boyfriend.
This isn’t the worst offender here, and honestly, it does a lot of things right (not defining his personality by his sexuality, he’s met with a positive and causal reaction when the reveal does happen, etc.).
Still, it was clearly meant to be the punchline. It’s more a laugh of ‘oh, my expectations were that he was automatically straight, wasn’t I wrong’ than anything else - which is good in the sense that it teaches kids not to assume everyone has to be straight - but I don’t know, the fact that his sexuality was a joke doesn’t sit 100% well with me.
H.I.M. (His Infernal Magesty) - The Powerpuff Girls
From the echoing, lilting voice that can turn guttural on a dime, to the fact that he is very clearly the Devil, they made sure the kids were extremely uncomfortable with the idea of someone who’s gender isn’t immediately obvious. I like the PowerPuff Girls, but dang, that’s really not cool.
CONFIRMED! (… OFF-SCREEN)
Ren and Stimpy - Ren and Stimpy
After the show’s run was completed, creator John Kricfalusi confirmed to the world that, yes, Ren and Stimpy are a gay couple. Fans had long suspected it from the loving way they sometimes treat each other (and the fact that they share a bed), but this made it official: the world’s best gross-out cartoon secretly got you to root for two gay characters this whole time! Joke’s on you, audience!
Sponegebob - Spongebob Squarepants
Again, fans have long been speculating the direction in which Mr. Squarepant’s barn door swung. I mean, growing up, I never considered it just because I didn’t care about romance in the slightest, but getting older with the series has lead me to question just how close Patrick and Spongebob really are (I mean, they did raise a child together in one episode).
Stephen Hillenberg, bless his heart, finally decided to put an end to the questions, and confirmed once and for all that Spongebob is … asexual (”because he is a sponge”). Sweet!
Mr. Simmons - Hey Arnold
Craig Bartlett, the show’s creator, confirmed Arnold’s math teacher is actually gay, even if they couldn’t explicitly say it in the series. Though, there’s quite some convincing evidence already present (and I don’t just mean because he like theatre):
Buzzfeed did a play-by-play of how Mr. Simmons’ disastrous Thanksgiving dinner was really a portrayal of how painful it can be to be in the closet around the holidays. Check it out! If you didn’t already see it when watching the episode, it makes everything make so much more sense.
Lexington - Gargoyles
Here’s yet another character confirmed to be gay that never had the chance to explore that aspect of himself on screen.
The nice thing is there’s not really any of the stereotypical ‘evidence’ that Lex was attracted to other guys. There’s no outstanding trait of his that would make you pick me out of a line-up, which is a lot more realistic. Good on Gargoyles.
Marceline and Princess Bubblegum - Adventure Time
And, of course, the big one! Ever since that promotional wrap-up video of the episode What Was Missing?, an awesome number of fans took it to mean Marcy and Bonnie used to have a thing- but it wasn’t officially confirmed Marceline’s voice-actress, Olivia Olsen, spoke on behalf of Pendleton Ward (Adventure Time’s creator), saying that Bubblegum and Marceline used to date.
Since then, there’s even been a comic series, Marceline Gone Adrift, that explores the nature of their old relationship, even ending off on a hopeful note for their future (it’s also notable that in a story-arch of the main comic series, Mar-Mar and P-Bubs end up ruling they’re kingdoms as one in the future, implying that someday, as much as it didn’t work out the first time, they eventually mature and get it right).
The main reason it can’t be explored is that some of the countries Adventure Time airs in ban homosexuality of any kind, which would get the studio and the network in a lot of legal trouble. It sucks, but at least we know what they are to each other.
The Love God - Gravity Falls
Just another example of Alex Hirsch and his team being AWESOME. Even though the Disney Channel was too afraid to risk the backlash (after Good Luck Charlie tried it), the gay very much exists, and we know where the crew stands.
Also, I can’t neglect to mention that the Love God used to wear the Transgender symbol around his neck (at least, that’s what I believe it is from the picture; this is why you’re more than allowed to correct me, a quick Google search isn’t always reliable)- though that was sadly cut, too.
QUEER IN DISGUISE/UNDERTONES AND UNASHAMEDLY AWESOME
I’m not sorry, that’ one of my favourite things SNL ever did.
Perry the Platypus & Heinz Doofensmirtz - Phineas and Ferb
This one was suggested by 212pawprints after the fact! I didn’t even remember this, but in the episode It’s About Time, Perry and Doofenshmirtz act like a feuding couple on one of those day-time reality tv shows.
The Wikipedia calls it ‘possible homosexual subtext’, which is about the size of it.
I’m including it on the list not because it’s been confirmed, but because of how comfortably this show portrays it. The jokes in the situation don’t come from the fact that it’s two guys, it comes from the hilarious set-up of these two non-talking animals + Doofenshmirstz being guests on a talk-show of all things. Plus, it’s genuinely heart-warming to see Doof and Perry reunite at the end, and even though it was as nemeses, the loving way they act is enough to teach kids there isn’t anything wrong with two males sharing a deep connection.
Courage the Cowardly Dog was an extraordinary show for many reasons- not the least of which being that it was the first Cartoon Network show to portray a lesbian couple, in the episode The Mask.
Even for this show, The Mask is an especially dark episode; Bunny was forced into an abusive relationship with a dog (so, uh, if you’re going to check it, just make sure you’re okay to watch that sort of thing), and was thankfully saved from it, finally reuniting with Kitty at the end of the episode (they do use the words ‘best friends,’ but honestly, if you watch the episode it’s very explicit that they’re a lot more).
Gobber the Belch - How to Train Your Dragon 2
When Gobber mentioned there was a reason he never got married, it’s fairly easy to guess why- and yes, his voice actor confirmed it’s because he’s gay. Which is rad, because it’s another case where there aren’t any of the typical effeminate stereotypes present in his personality.
Though never confirmed, I still think Gobber might’ve been attracted to Stoic. The way he follows him into battle to protect him, the way he treats Hiccup like a son … I’m just saying, is all.
Lyra and Bon Bon - My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
I’m so proud of this one, and it’s really cool who they got away with it. In their 100th episode extravaganza, MLP:FiM had an episode entirely dedicated to showing the lives of the background characters the fandom gave personalities and stories to. It was so over-the-top awesome I just-
Back on topic. One such pair the fandom has always seemed to unquestionably support is Lyra and Bon Bon. In the past, they’d been shown doing things around town together- on one occasion looking like they were having a date, on another like they were about to kiss.
But, of course, they were background ponies who rarely got any lines, so we couldn’t know for sure.
But the tricky thing with MLP- even more so than any of the others on this list- is it’s target audience. This is the kind of show they play after Dora the Explorer, so it’s not even on the same rating-level as Adventure Time or Gravity Falls. So, then, how’d they do it?
Well, it’s actually pretty cool. In the scenes they share in this episode, the two of them keep using the words “best friends” over and over again- an excessive amount, actually- while, at the same time, acting like they’re in a relationship (similar to how Kitty and Bunny were best friends). That way, no one can get mad when these two obviously queer ponies stare lovingly into each other’s eyes, because hey, they’re just friends (*wink* *wink*). It’s actually pretty brilliant!
Princess Cookie - Adventure Time
Okay, so this one’s a little iffy, but it’s still so compelling that I couldn’t leave it off the list. Princess Cookie is one of those infamous episode of Adventure Time because of the way it handles what could be seen as the struggles of a transgender female or a transvestite (*Which, btw, are two totally different things, and shouldn’t be used interchangeably).
Damn, Adventure Time. I mean, damn.
The Crystal Gems - Steven Universe
There’s no way I’d leave Steven Universe out. How could I when there’s so much awesome to talk about?
First of all, the gems themselves. The gems are an alien race, and actually have been confirmed to have no sex at all. They chose their appearances, and it just so happens to look traditionally female. Rock on!
Ruby and Sapphire/Garnet - Steven Universe
THESE TWO ARE SO DAD-GUM PERFECT I CAN’T. But, since I have to:
Ruby and Sapphire are two characters whose love is undeniable. Whether they’re lesbian, bi, pan, or any number of other sexualities, we just know they’re two lovely gems who’s bond is stronger than, well, pretty much anything! Their fusion (when two gems combine into one being) is Garnet, a permanently fused badass. What’s not love?
Pearl is a character whosesexuality has slowly been defined over time. At first, it was reasonable for some fans to believe Pearl’s admiration of Rose was based more in friendship than attraction and longing, but as time in the series went on, we were given more and more conclusive evidence of Pearl’s unquenchable thirst until now, where it’s just silly to believe she’s anything but in love.
Stevonnie & Sadie and Lars - Steven Universe
Might as well talk about these three together!
Stevonnie is a fusion between Steven and his friend Connie, and because they’re human and both have sexes, this arguably makes Stevonnie the first intersex character in cartoon history! And they’re beautiful (I don’t remember if Stevonie’s preferred pronouns were ever defined)!
Secondly, Sadie and Lars are either Bi or Pan. In the past, they’ve been shown to sort of have a thing for each other, but when Stevonnie enters the doughnut shop, both of them are instantly pretty flustered, which is just awesome.
BMO - Adventure Time
The one gender-fluid character on this list just so happens to be one of the most lovable! BMO, being a video game console, has no sex, really, but people have argued over the gender for a while now.
At this point, though, it’s pretty safe to say BMO is whatever BMO feels. No matter what, BMO is adorable, and isn’t that what really matters?
It’s also worth noting that BMO was attracted to a bubble at one point, which doesn’t have a sex, either. The bubble’s was very clearly male, but who can really say?
Jeff’s Moms - Clarence
This one just makes me happy. Without suggesting it’s anything but normal, Clarence presents a non-traditional family made up of real and lovable characters. Now, that’s what I like to see.
Kevin and His Boyfriend - Clarence
Even before Jeff’s parents were shown, we got to see some same-sex adorableness with Kevin and his handsome fella. Kevin is a pretty minor character in the show, so it’s not like it’s explored in depth or anything, but I love how blatant it is, and how positively Ms. Baker reacts from her both across the restaurant.
Even though they were intended to kiss on the lips, I’m still glad Cartoon Network continues to supply awesome tid-bits of representation where they can.
Korra and Asami - The Legend of Korra
And, now, for the moment you’ve all been waiting for! Korrasami!
Korra’s first season featured the infamous love-triangle between Korra, Mako, and Bolin, and while it was toned down as the seasons went on, there was always an element of romance to the show, along with everything else.
Throughout the fourth season in particular, Korrasami shippers started to notice more and more what seemed to be a budding romance between these lovely ladies, and imagine our absolute rapture when the last image of the series is of the two of them holding hands, ready to start a new life together. The team saved it for the last episode so they wouldn’t be cancelled because of backlash, and it was so worth it. I guess we shouldn’t have been too surprised, though. The hero always gets he girl.
Well, that’s all I got for now. If I missed anyone, feel free to add on or hit us up on the ask-box! Also, I won’t mind making corrections if anyone has any, so feel free to call me out.
With that said, I know we’re not where we should be ideally, but for the world we live in now, that has so much trouble navigating through social change, I’m proud of these little victories. Not only are they awesome in their own right, but they stand as stepping stones for the future. So, yeah, it takes a lot of time, but every single success-story counts.
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