The Rise of Queer Cartoons

As a kid, finding out that Uranus and Neptune from Sailor Moon were lesbians was quite the scandal. In the American dub, they were cousins, because of course blushing is a natural reaction for the characters to have when they’re told these two girls are “cousins.” At the time, this revelation of their true relationship was treated like a joke among my friends who liked the show. Uranus and Neptune were no longer the cool, collected, older Sailor Scouts we thought they were. Now they were something else, something we didn’t understand and were taught was wrong and weird and not to be taken seriously. After all, if being a lesbian was OK, then why would the American dub try to hide it?

In 2014, I watched the finale of The Legend of Korra feeling absolutely giddy. The last scene showed Korra and Asami walking hand-in-hand toward a portal to the spirit world, turning to face each other in the very last moment before the show ends. The music track called “The Avatar’s Love” played over the scene. My friend and I couldn’t contain ourselves. “Did that really just happen? Are Korra and Asami canon? Did Nickelodeon let these women be bisexual?” And I lost it again when Adventure Time ended in 2018 and, after hinting at a romantic connection throughout the series, it finally culminated in a kiss between Princess Bubblegum and Marceline. These moments were important to me as an adult who craves non-heterosexual representation, and I could only imagine how life-changing this representation could be for the kids watching. If I had grown up seeing butt-kicking girls who kiss girls in the cartoons I watched, maybe I wouldn’t have thought for so many years that being gay was something to whisper and laugh about. Of course, this is exactly why there were no significant queer characters who weren’t derogatory stereotypes in the cartoons of the past. If children saw positive representation like that, it would turn them all gay! Couldn’t impose that kind of sexuality on children! Let’s just keep imposing heterosexuality on them instead, because it’s normal! *eye-rolls myself into the sun*

Now that queer characters have finally started popping up in cartoons, it looks like there’s no going back. There’s Steven UniverseThe Dragon PrinceShe-Ra and the Princesses of Power, and The Owl House, just to name a few. I will give the biggest shout-out to Benson from Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts for being the first and only cartoon character I’ve ever encountered to state, in no uncertain terms, the words “I’m gay.” And what happened after that? Nothing, really. Kipo felt a little embarrassed for having a crush on him, but she quickly moved on and held nothing against Benson for being who he is. Which is another thing that’s so great about these characters and the shows they’re in; they’re queer and it’s not a big deal. It doesn’t define them as characters; they’re just normal people, just like in real life.

I know TV executives and the like didn’t just wake up one day and say, “Ah, yes, we could use some more queer representation in our shows.” The showrunners had to fight for these characters, and I am so grateful that they were able to win those fights. The response to these characters has been overwhelmingly positive, so I hope from now on the queer representation keeps on coming.