We’re Here, We’re Queer, And We’re Cartoon Characters: Positive LGBTQA Portrayals In Cartoons
For most people, the first reaction when comparing the cartoons of today to the ones we grew up with will be knee-jerk nostalgia. And of course, there’s a lot to love from the Saturday morning programming we watched as kids: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, DuckTales, Garfield and Friends … As much as we can look back fondly on these old shows, there’s one thing sorely missing from the retrospective–and that’s representation of LGBTQA characters.
Kids who grew up gay, bisexual, or otherwise queer in the 1980s and 1990s couldn’t switch on the TV with their Saturday morning bowl of over-sugared soggy-marshmallow cereal and find a character in the lineup like them. Sure, if you squinted, maybe Daphne and Velma from the old Scooby Doo reruns had something going on; or maybe Peppermint Patty and Marcie from Charlie Brown were more than just elementary school BFFs. But squinting and fudging the details a bit was the best you could do–even characters that were supposed to be queer, like Sailor Moon‘s Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus, were straight-washed as literal kissing cousins to sanitize their relationship for pearl-clutching audiences before it aired on Cartoon Network. So yes, cartoons were awesome, as long as you were one of the kids who got to feel included by their awesomeness.
But cartoons today can get away with so more than just cracking the closet door open a bit to let their characters peek out. (Also, there are some awesome cartoons out there today, and if you’re not checking them out thanks to some mis-directed sense of loyalty to your childhood favorites, you’re missing out.) Nowadays, we have cartoons like Legend of Korra (the sequel series to Avatar: the Last Airbender ended with its bisexual female lead walking off into the sunset hand-in-hand with her female bestie/love interest. The show’s creators have confirmed that at least two other named characters fall somewhere on the LGBTQA spectrum, too. Four queer characters in a single show that isn’t about queerness? Is that even ALLOWED?
There’s also my favorite source for bizarro cuteness, Adventure Time, whose series creators have confirmed a past relationship between the characters of Princess Bubblegum and Marceline the Vampire Queen. For even younger viewers, one of the main characters on Steven Universe is a giant lady formed by two smaller ladies who were so in love that they permanently fused together. (Look, it makes sense in the context of the show.) If you’re playing along at home, that’s eight LGBTQA characters among three shows, and none of them have decided to “switch teams” in order to start a heterosexual relationship with a male lead, which means they’re already beating adult TV like Sherlock. Well done, cartoons!
Obviously there are still a lot of gaps that need to be filled in. Eight queer characters still aren’t that many, and of those, none are transgender, only one is a man, and he was a villain at that. But noting that there’s a long way yet to go down this road doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be glad to finally be taking the first few steps. LGBTQA characters are starting to become part of mainstream cartoons, part of the constant culture kids are swimming in, and that is a big deal–for them to grow up seeing that these kinds of relationships are normal, and for them to find heroes and role models that love the same way they do.