Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Gems Aren't Gay (Steven Universe)

I'm a big fan of Steven Universe. It's a really solid cartoon with lovable characters, a fun story, and some really solid themes about building strong relationships. The show depicts all sorts of relationships; some strong, some fragile. Some of the most talked about are the relationship between Pearl and Rose Quartz and the relationship between Ruby and Sapphire.

It's those relationships and the concept of a young boy being raised by a several women that gives the impression of the gems being a bunch of lesbians. I posit that they are not.

The problem with saying they're lesbian is that the gems are all the same gender. And even that's probably not entirely true, as the show so far has suggested that the gems are quite a bit more alien than their physical forms suggest. My point being, though, that they're not women, and their race doesn't reproduce the way Earth creatures do. In short, there is no alternative in their race: since the entire race is feminine, any relationship would be a pairing of feminine creatures.

In that sense, it's like the Asari from Mass Effect: an entire race of feminine creatures basically means that "lesbian" is meaningless. It's homosexuality, sure, but in a situation where there is no alternative. In our culture, homosexuality is taboo only in comparison to the alternative. If there is no alternative, then the concept has fewer parallels to our own culture.

That's not to say that Steven Universe isn't doing a great job of normalizing the depiction of homosexual relationships. This is not intended to be a criticism of the show at all. In fact, I think this half-measure is important. At this point on the path to normalizing the perception of homosexuality, the depiction of Ruby and Sapphire having a strong relationship is valuable because of that level of separation between our race and theirs. By making it that much less overt, the idea is that much easier to accept for those who might otherwise object to homosexuality.

As I mentioned before, the show is subtle. And it should be, because subtlety is powerful.

It's through this degree of subtlety that this show for children can touch upon other important relationship subjects like consent, unrequited love, and interracial relationships. Amid this goofy, fantasy cartoon, we're learning a lot about what makes healthy relationships, as well as the fact that there are all sorts of relationships out there. Lessons and outlooks you can apply to relationships in your own life, whether you're gay, straight, or just friends.

Really, though, I'm just tired of people watching the show and saying, "it's so gay." Yeah, okay, it is kind of, but that's not the most important thing about it. And, to me, saying so blunts the show's elegance.

1 comment:

  1. I think the show is good for the reasons you were talking about. But answering the question of whether the gems are gay requires more than looking at the in-universe explanation. Cultural context also plays a role. Which answer is the "true" one depends upon the level you examine the question.

    I think it's undeniable the gems are using cultural short-hands for gay characters, though. I'm not sure it could do the subtle work you're ascribing to it if they weren't.