By Jess Bazaldua
Web Content Contributor
When I think back to my childhood, I can vividly remember the realistic magic, the epic fantasy tales and the blatant heterosexual couples that would get together by the end of every story.
These TV shows and movies would have the main characters meet, build a connection, defeat the evil that keeps them apart and live happily ever after. While this narrative feels like it was made for same-gender couples, they were largely missing from my upbringing.
Naysayers have argued that gay media is unsuitable for children, despite the presence of straight couples in these shows already. Still, as queer content creators enter the animation and entertainment world, representation of queer characters is more likely. To understand our current victories, we must delve into the entertainment pioneers.
From a young age, I have loved Sailor Moon. Magical powers mixed with love and friendship saving the day are my favorite tropes. I knew that there was an obvious connection between Sailor Moon and Tuxedo mask before they began dating because I was someone who could pick up on the context clues that made this obvious.
When I first saw Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus, with the latter having short hair and a gruff voice, I could understand that their dynamic was different than a platonic friendship. However, the company that English-dubbed the anime at the time claimed their relationship was familial. Imagine my (non)surprise when I later discovered them to be a lesbian couple whose relationship was censored for North American viewers.
When Viz Media re-released the anime in 2014, the company granted fans with not only the original relationship of the couple, but also the presence hotly debated Sailor Guardians. These guardians in particular were never seen in the first English dub as they would change sexes between guardian and civilian form. Some have considered these characters as groundbreaking for the transgender community in anime.
In recent years, the presence of queer characters has led to both outrage by conservative parents and tears of joy from LGBTQ children and their older counterparts.
When Arthur, another childhood favorite, aired an episode where the title character’s teacher, Mr. Ratburn, got married to a man, fury ensued after initial shocks wore off. While the episode in question was banned by Alabama Public Television and publicly berated by preacher Franklin Graham, others found comfort in this reveal, citing Mr. Ratburn as an old favorite.
Nickelodeon’s Legend of Korra also shocked viewers when two female characters got together at the end of the television series, with their relationship confirmed in comic adaptations. This couple is joined by Princess Bubblegum and Marceline from Adventure Time, Ruby and Sapphire from Steven Universe, and Adora and Catra from Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.
Although these are the main relationships in these shows, there are still more LGBTQ characters that have been introduced, such as Double Trouble from She-Ra, a non-binary shapeshifter, and Stevonnie from Steven Universe, a confirmed intersex character.
Animation is not the only way queer characters are presented. In 2013, a short scene from Disney Channel’s Good Luck Charlie featured a lesbian couple. From this radical crumb of content, the network was able to shift to gay character named Cyrus on Andi Mack. As a popular show for kids and tweens, this was revolutionary.
I honestly feel that these characters from kid shows set the bar for queer content. Too often we find ourselves with miniscule to poorly done representation, plus television writers who really like to “bury their gays.” The characters mentioned represent a coming out story with supportive friends, people using gender-neutral pronouns, and couples showing that happy endings and requited love does exist.
These shows are comforting and let queer kids know that homophobia and transphobia are not the only things that await queers in this tattered world. Maybe it’s not realistic to preach how love and friendship can save the day, because all it takes is one angry person to end it all.
However, we never consider the alternative, that love can save the day, that some kids will see a gay character on TV and everything will make sense, that their college-aged counterparts who struggled so much with sexuality can rest knowing that the kids and even themselves will be alright.
We want the things the naysayers said we couldn’t have, like families, purity, and kindness. We want to live our lives like everyone else, and no one can get in the way of our fight for it.
Featured image by Jess Bazaldua.