Non-binary characters like ‘Gonzo-Rella’ are lighting up kids’ TVs and encouraging self-acceptance

“I don’t want you to upset me, but I don’t want to do things because that’s what it’s always been like,” Gonzo tells his friends with renewed confidence. “I want to be me.”

For children whose gender expressions may not subscribe to preconceived notions of whether a boy or girl may look or act, it can be extremely important to reflect on screen themselves, whether the characters are puppets or cynical gems—people who dress in pastels. Live in Wonderland, said Lindsey Toman, assistant professor of LGBTQ studies at Colgate University.

Representation alone doesn’t make the story strong. It is rare for characters to refer to the words “non-binary” or “gender-diverse” on the series above. But on each of these series, characters whose identities don’t fit well within the gender binary are celebrated by their friends on the show and respected by the creators of their series in stories that are largely positive. Huh.

“Everyone can benefit from being validated in their identity,” Toman told CNN. “The important thing is that all young children are seeing positive images so that they can better learn about themselves and other people.”

‘Muppet Babies’ and ‘Steven Universe’ show positive nonbinary storylines

When “Gonzo-Rella” aired this summer, it seemed that what some Muppets fans believed about Gonzo—that Chicken-loving Muppet is nonbinary. But for a much younger audience — “Muppet Babies” is geared for kids ages 4 and up, according to general knowledge media – It featured a protagonist who eschews labels and gender norms.

In less than 15 minutes, Gonzo is heartbroken, dressed And Have the time of their lives at a ball. And though the Muppet Moppets are surprised to learn that Gonzo was their mysterious princess, they wholeheartedly support their “Gonzo-Rella”, throwing out the “royal handbook” that once gave the male-presenting Muppets a Must wear knight outfit for the ball. .

Gonzo did not formally come out as non-binary in this episode. But Gonzo’s dream of wearing a beautiful gown isn’t played for laughs—his wish is sincere, as is his fear that his friends won’t accept him. Miss Piggy also uses the pronouns “they” and “them” to refer to “Gonzo-Rella.” Critical response to the episode was largely positive, save for a few. Vocal Exception
“Gonzo-Rella” is just one episode in a long tradition of children’s TV that covers complex topics that young viewers can understand. “Sesame Street” Taught children about death, racism and addiction through puppets. Feather “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” everyone’s favorite neighbor talked about gun violence After a series of high-profile shootings. Children’s series can discuss topics that parents may not know where they are when meeting children.

Rebecca Sugar, creator of Cartoon Network’s sweet, contemplative series “Steven Universe” and its sequels, seemed to think younger audiences would understand their characters without being labeled. The cast is full of characters who are non-binary, LGBTQ or otherwise challenge the gender binary through gender expression.

“We knew the kids would get it,” Sugar told CNN in an email. “Kids love good stories and funny cartoon characters! It was hard to convince adults that LGBTQIA+ stories and characters may be nice and funny, but the kids weren’t worried about it. They were too busy watching the show!”

“Steven Universe”, which premiered in 2013, features a semi-human boy and his family consisting of feminine crystal gems. While the series is full of humor and hijinks, its soul lies in its exploration of the identities of its characters and the ways they develop.

take one initial case, in which Steven and his friend/love interest Connie “fuse”—that is, the two physically and mentally bond and one, tall, model-esque that attracts men and women alike. Becoming “Stevennie” prompts both Steven and Connie to reach a confidence they never knew they had, even though the two later resume their lives as separate people. .
"stevony,"  "steven universe"  The characters are Steven and Connie, one of several gender-diverse, LGBTQ or non-binary characters on the children's series.

“You are not two people, and you are not one person,” says Garnett, a crystal gem that is itself a fusion of two gems, in a helpful conversation with Stevony. “You are an experience! Make sure you are the one Good Experience.”

Another beloved episode sees two halves of Garnet, the gems Ruby and Sapphire, engagement after long relationship (Crystal gems are all non-binary women, as Sugar has said in the last interview) and an episode of the epilogue series, “Steven Universe Future,” Introduces the non-binary character shape, as a new partner for Steven’s friend Sadie, voiced by actor Indya Moore, who is transgender and non-binary.

“Steven Universe” doesn’t make subtle allusions or winks to character identity or sexuality, and it doesn’t deal with crude jokes designed to go over kids’ heads. Characters in shows are not always labeled as non-binary, queer or trans. They are just who they are—and that was intentional, said Sugar, who uses both “he” and “they” pronouns.

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He said the Chinese and many of their close people have “fluid gender and sexual identities”. They badly wanted the apparently queer characters in cartoons—something that could have benefited them when they were younger, when they felt alienated from the children’s entertainment.

“I just wanted something for us, by us and about us,” he said.

Animated series have a little more freedom to tell stories about gender identity and gender expression because their worlds are usually more fictional than ours. There are fewer rules – why, Undoubted A magic rat can turn a Muppet into a princess – and the characters’ appearance is not dictated by reality.

On “Steven Universe”, Sugar aimed to “scramble all gender tropes”, from plot points to color choices. The abstraction of animation leaves the audience room to “project themselves into the character,” Sugar said.

“Their humanity is our humanity!” They said. “To love a cartoon character is, in a sense, to love the part of yourself you see in that character.”

Kids see themselves in these TV series

It benefits both gender-diverse and non-binary And cisgender young people to watch Positive Stories of Gender Diversity, said Laura Edwards-Leiper, a child clinical psychologist who works with gender-diverse children and adolescents.

“Kids learn a lot from what they see in the media and they look for characters they can identify with,” she said.

Edwards-Leeper said, once children identify a character on TV to which they relate, they “internalize aspects of how that character is perceived and treated by others.” gives.” And if that treatment is positive, that positivity can inflict on a younger audience, improving their confidence and validating their unique way of expressing their gender.

But perhaps the most important influence lies not within the younger audience, but within their parents, she said.

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Edwards-Leeper said, “These representations can help teach cisgender parents and other adults that rejecting the gender binary and being more accepting of gender diversity in children is more important to their psychological health and quality of life.” ”

garnet, "steven universe" But one of the main characters is a non-binary woman.

Edwards-Leeper said that giving children an example of what a gender-diverse character looks like—especially when that character is accepted and loved—can provide them with the language with which to fully themselves. can be expressed.

“Many gender-diverse youth talk about having language to describe how they feel until they never know about gender-diverse identity or represent it in the media,” he said.

Even Sugar said that creating “Steven Universe” helped her understand herself better — and introduced her to a community within which to live.

“I realized that I was saying things about my sexuality and gender with cartoons that I didn’t really admit to my friends or family or even myself,” he said.

Non-binary characters are a big part of children’s TV

The last 10 years have seen a significant improvement in the representation of queer and non-binary characters on children’s television. Insider Recorded The children’s show featured at least 259 LGBTQ characters, 38 of whom were non-binary (a large part of this came from “Steven Universe”).
But representation itself doesn’t move the needle when it comes to wider social acceptance, said Toman, who has studied the impact of negative portrayals of LGBTQ characters in children’s media. In a 2014 study On children’s books, Toman found that most of the LGBTQ characters in those books were white boys, and most of his stories focused on the harassment they faced.

“I think the visibility and presence of an LGBTQ character over a long period of time felt like such a big step in the right direction, but it is no longer enough,” Toman said. “We need to reflect on our cultural shifts and create a platform for all kinds of people.”

Gonzo's longtime friends accept her when they reveal that she was dressed as a princess in Muppet Babies;  ball.
The Chinese did not include non-binary characters in their series to make history or fill out a database or Wikipedia entry. They wanted to reflect the world as they experienced it – and make any child feel welcome in the “Steven Universe,” whether or not they identified themselves as non-binary or gender-diverse. This is a message with special resonance this year, when At least 33 states have introduced bills Which will target minors who are transgender.

“I wondered what it might mean to ask a generation of children for that empathy and interest, and if it could be a very small part of creating a safer world,” Sugar said.

Good stories move people who connect with them and make room for them within the story. When viewers see themselves in a character or story, they can get to know themselves a little better—even if those stories feature shining gems and zany toddler Muppets.


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