By Joe Glass
There's a little show on the Cartoon Network that is working wonders for diversity, representation and crossing gender barriers, and it does it with such casual ease that it leaves you wondering why on earth it has taken us until now to see such a thing.
That show is called Steven Universe, and it is positively wonderful.
Telling the of the titular young man, Steven lives with the Crystal Gems, magical, alien women with incredible powers and abilities, named Amethyst, Pearl and Garnet. In fact, Steven too is a Crystal Gem, but he's also half human and, well, ten years old, so we follow his strange little adventures as he learns more about himself, his abilities and his mysterious mother, who was lost when he was born.
The show not only contains a largely female cast of characters, but they are all vastly different body shapes and sizes, skin colours, and personalities. Steven himself isn't your typical hero: he's short, chubby and is much more interested in talking out his problems than jumping in all fists and kicks (unlike his heroic guardians, who sometimes fall into that stereotype and actually wind up learning from Steven).
But there's even more. Recently, Garnet, who has always been presented as the most cool-headed of the Crystal Gems, was revealed to be a fusion: a Gem formed by two or more Gems fusing together into a new entity. Think the fusion technique from Dragonball Z, but this one is very much based on the emotional connectedness of the pairing. In this case, Garnet is the fusion of Ruby and Sapphire, and Garnet is the literal personification of their relationship.
Now, when this was revealed, events in the episode that revealed it seemed to imply that this was a romantic relationship…one between two women with very different personalities, but whose love was so stable, sure and strong it created a powerful, stable, level-headed fusion. Garnet even sings a song with lyrics that seem to back this up (oh, did I not mention, the show contains fantastic musical elements too).
However, some considered that it couldn't be a homosexual romantic relationship on kids TV, and they had to be good friends, or sisters or something.
Well, the latest episode has put paid to that theory.
In the episode, Steven's apparently long-erstwhile mailman, Jamie, becomes completely infatuated with Garnet and gets Steven and his friend Connie to pass along a love letter to her. This leads to the following exchange:
STEVEN: Garnet is already in a relationship.
CONNIE: Wait, really?
STEVEN: Well, yeah! She IS a relationship.
CONNIE: Oh, you mean because she's a fusion?
STEVEN: Ruby and Sapphire are so close, that they can't stand to be apart.
CONNIE: So I guess this date with Jamie is out of the question.
GARNET: Three's a crowd.
Explicitly, it's now definitely and completely cannon that Garnet is the personification of a lesbian, loving relationship. In a children's television show. And that is an amazing step forward.
After all, one way to help fight stigma and hatred is to make sure the next generation is better informed and does not see the LGBTQ community as something strange and unnatural, or to be feared and hated. And Steven Universe does an excellent job of presenting this relationship, and all the relationships, as natural, honest and meaningful.
It's not the first time a kids show included LGBTQ characters, or even necessarily a LGBTQ relationship. After all, Adventure Time cast and creators have discussed the idea of Marceline and Princess Bubblegum being or having once been in a relationship, but they haven't made it canon in the show. And Avatar: The Legend of Korra ended with the reveal of Korra and Asami starting a relationship together (confirmed by the shows creators), but this show shortly before this was taken off the air of Nickelodeon and was aired exclusively online (though granted, in this shows case, it did also explicitly show characters dying and scenes which may also be considered unsuitable for very young children). The difference here is in Steven Universe it is shown, explicitly, normalised AND aired on network television.
There will undoubtedly be those who claim that this is too adult for children and they should be protected from such things, and were there anything sexual in the presentation of the relationship I would entirely agree. But the show and the relationship is not presented in any way different from the way a heterosexual relationship is shown both in Steven Universe, and other shows. It's not like you ever see this same argument leveled at a heterosexual romantic relationship in a children's show or film, and nearly every one will feature at least one such relationship. So how about being more diverse to show kids that love can be found anywhere, and it's okay.
This is what the world needs: it needs to stop trying to separate relationships as being different or other, any more so than every relationship is. We do it with almost everything: we're looking at marriage equality and calling marriages either marriage or 'gay' marriage. We view things as being 'for' gay people or straight people and so on and so forth, widening the gaps between us when we should all be realising that yes, we are different, but that there's so much we all share the same too. Love, after all, is love.
Joe Glass is a Bleeding Cool contributor, and creator/writer of LGBTQ superhero team comic The Pride, which is available on Comixology and at The Pride Store. He is also a co-writer on Welsh horror-comedy series, Stiffs, which can be bought at the Stiffs Store and is now also available on Comixology. You can follow him on twitter and tumblr.