I will not cry at work. I will not cry at work. I will not cry at work...
Entertainment Weekly recently did a profile on Rebecca Sugar titled “Steven Universe creator has done more for LGBTQ visibility than you might know.” (Definitely click over and read the whole thing.) At first I huffed at the thought. Even though, as a journalist, I know headlines often have to be easily accessible to those who may not know about the topic at hand or tease what’s to come, I couldn’t help but think, “I already know Rebecca Sugar has done tons for the LGBTQ+ community at large!” But, as any good internet reader should, I read past the headline for context. And then I found myself tearing up.
The discussion centered on the strides Sugar has made for LGBTQ representation, in cartoons specifically, over the last several years. Which, yes, we knew. From the very start of Steven Universe it was clear she set out to tell a story that a plethora of people could relate to. Whether it’s through the storylines themselves or the parts of her identity she’s willing to share with the world at large, Sugar has certainly helped people—some when they needed it the most.
As Sugar told EW:
“We need to let children know that they belong in this world,” she says. “You can’t wait to tell them that until after they grow up or the damage will be done. You have to tell them while they’re still children that they deserve love and that they deserve support and that people will be excited to hear their story. When you don’t show any children stories about LGBTQIA characters and then they grow up, they’re not going to tell their own stories because they’re gonna think that they’re inappropriate and they’re going to have a very good reason to think that because they’ve been told that through their entire childhood.”
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Wow, I wish Sugar had been around when I was growing up. Maybe it wouldn’t have taken me until I was in my late 20s to realize I was bisexual. C’est la vie. But because of Sugar’s work, and countless others like her, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Like pretty much every member of the LGBTQ+ community, I see people every day making horrific comments about us. But those are the comments most reasonable people can agree are “bad.” It’s the more casual comments that get dismissed that really get me. Comments from people who don’t think they’re homophobic, transphobic, etc. but say things like: “I don’t have anything against gay people but why do we have to have their stories in animation for kids?” These people are somehow incapable of hearing what they’re actually saying.
Because—and I’m not sure you’ve noticed—heterosexual romantic relationships are weaved throughout the majority of the fiction you consume.
And maybe you really didn’t notice! Because it’s the type of thing that’s presented as the “default.” It’s that type of thinking that makes some young people doubt who they are or spend countless years trying to figure it out, and it’s needlessly exhausting. People who fight against the inclusion of stories outside the “default” are exhausting. It’s why shows like Steven Universe are vital. It’s why, as much of an advertising tie-in it is, the Steven Universe self-esteem project with Dove is amazing.
It’s why I write and encourage others to write about representation issues every chance I get. Does it annoy some people? Yup. Do I care? No. Because every time we speak about it we’re going to get through to someone—even if it’s just one person—to make them consider a different point of view. But beyond that, it’s going to mean something to someone. To know they’re not alone. To know someone cares about them.
I wish I had a TARDIS, a DeLorean, etc. (your choice of time travel vehicle may vary) so I could take some of the fantastic humans doing their part right now to make sure people don’t feel so alone back in time, and inject some of their creations into the past. But I’ll settle for applauding those doing it now, especially because they’re not doing it for applause. They’re doing it because they care and we need more of that in the world.