In June 2020, I discovered my life steadily unraveling. Whereas quarantining throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, I felt besieged by cages: my home, the place my complete household lived in suffocatingly shut proximity; my room, which, due to Zoom, had turn out to be an advert hoc auditorium for varied professors; and my physique, whose masculinity felt more and more alien. I had efficiently prevented interrogating my gender for months, however that modified after I watched Steven Universe.
Over its seven-year run — which incorporates 5 seasons, a TV film, and a restricted sequel sequence — Steven Universe’s storytelling rocketed from a give attention to neighborhood disputes throughout the sleepy city of Seashore Metropolis to an intergalactic opera about life, loss of life, love, and radical acceptance for your self and others. The Cartoon Community present can be unabashedly queer. It turned my newest obsession after I learn an interview between sequence creator Rebecca Sugar and ND Stevenson in Paper Journal — Stevenson being the creator of my earlier binge: Netflix’s She-Ra: Princesses of Energy. Within the interview, Stevenson admits that She-Ra’s central enemies-to-lovers lesbian romance between Adora and Catra was solely doable due to the groundwork Sugar laid with Steven Universe. Sugar is fast to dispel the notion that their pioneering was straightforward: When the present first aired in 2013, most kids’s animation nonetheless shied away from centering queer characters.
Figuring out the difficulties of executives and censors, Sugar — who’s bisexual and non-binary — smothered integral points of her identification, which made her “actually mentally unwell,” she advised Paper. Regardless of that, the present baked points of queerness straight into the lore: The extraterrestrial Gems current as feminine regardless of not belonging to both intercourse. When two Gems fused — a Dragon Ball-esque mixture to type a extra highly effective being — it appeared like intimacy between two ladies, giving queer followers a solution to see ourselves mirrored on display screen for the primary time. Garnet, the soothsaying stoic, was the present’s queer Trojan Horse; on the finish of the primary season, it was revealed that she’s a fusion between Ruby and Sapphire. By that time, she was so integral to the sequence that even with out a direct affirmation, followers instantly understood that Garnet was the embodiment of their love, a strolling lesbian relationship. By the point Ruby and Sapphire lastly bought married throughout Season 5’s controversial “Marriage ceremony Episode,” it felt pure. Youngsters’s animation was slowly being dragged into the progressive current.
Picture: Cartoon Community
The episode that impressed my very own upheaval aired a lot earlier. In Season 1, Episode 37 “Alone Collectively,” Steven unintentionally fuses along with his human pal and romantic curiosity, Connie. We first see the fusion in items: A hand runs up lengthy, slender legs after which via thick, curly hair earlier than they wobble to their ft. Like a new child child, Stevonnie giggles with pure pleasure, runs round with abandon, and journeys within the sand. Their physique appears gawky and international; it appears good and comfy, too. Stevonnie was the primary overt reference to queerness throughout the sequence, and their temporary interplay with the Crystal Gems — notably Pearl’s discomfort with the “inappropriate” fusion between a half-Gem and a human — parallels coming-out conversations with which most queer individuals are painfully acquainted.
Stevonnie dislodged one thing inside me, one thing that I had labored so exhausting to maintain repressed. I used to be jealous of how they lived between genders, not a boy or a woman however, as Garnet merely places it, an “expertise.” By the point the credit rolled on the episode, I couldn’t cease eager about how they absolutely inhabited their physique, working and leaping and dancing with out an oz. of disgrace. They had been so completely satisfied. Everybody checked out them and noticed somebody assured of their identification. They had been every thing that I didn’t know I needed.
I had by no means felt comfy with my masculinity. For so long as I can keep in mind, I felt totally different from different boys; I wasn’t fluent in sports activities, ladies, and beer, all important points of farm city boyhood. The older I bought, the extra I chafed towards masculinity. I despised sporting fits to formal occasions; I grew my hair into an unruly mop high; I refused to take off my shirt to swim. It wasn’t till puberty, which stained me as unmistakably masculine — decrease voice, broader shoulders, jungles of hair — that I felt no alternative however to lean into it; everybody else noticed me as a person, so I used to be one. I reduce my hair, went to the gymnasium, engaged in extreme PDA, and grew a full beard earlier than I might vote.
Stevonnie offered me with an alternate, an escape from the gender binary towards someplace extra comfy and actual and, nicely, me. Deserted reminiscences lit up like a runway: stolen glimpses at feminine puberty books, borrowed bras dangling from my pudgy baby physique, goals of a button that might change me from a boy into anything. Seeing Stevonnie thrive unearthed the emotions I had muted. I saved considering: “That’s me.”
The concept of fixing genders scared the shit out of me, and I spent the remainder of the summer time simmering inside my nervousness. Because the world slowly opened up once more, I escaped my home and my ideas to attend tables six days per week, in any other case occupying myself with books, exhibits, films, and video video games. In uncommon moments, I listened to the self-acceptance anthem “Change Your Thoughts” from Steven Universe’s finale and rehearsed my popping out. I needed to imagine that I used to be like Steven, that self-acceptance was much more necessary to me than the acceptance of others.
It wasn’t till early August that I lastly determined to check that perception. My greatest pal was staying with my household, and though I didn’t know the way he would react, I needed to inform somebody. The key was consuming me up inside. We sat on my porch, illuminated by the celebrities. Ocean waves punctured the silence as we sipped our drinks till I lastly blurted out my practiced phrases: “I believe I’m non-binary.”
“So that you don’t need to be a boy?” He requested, not unkindly.
“What a few woman?”
“… I don’t know.”
“What would you like, then?”
I took a breath of the salty air, moved the ice round in my glass. “I don’t actually know but.”
This non-answer was sufficient, in the interim anyway. After I bought as much as hug him, I felt lighter. Over the previous three years, his has remained the million greenback query, and my household, associates, therapists, and docs have requested it over and time and again. Even now, after 19 months of HRT and with a deeper understanding of my gender, I don’t have an ideal reply. However there’s one which I heard just a few years in the past that is perhaps shut: “To be an expertise.”