Ten years ago, in early October 2002, The Wall Street Journal became the first major media publication to wonder aloud if that queer little fellow who lives in a pineapple under the sea might really be, well, queer. “Something About ‘SpongeBob’ Whispers ‘Gay’ to Many Men” was their headline of choice, and the solid case they made for his sexuality — life partner is an ebullient male starfish; neighbor is a classical music-loving, bubble bath-taking squid who channls Paul Lynde; favorite TV show is a super gay Batman parody called Mermaid Man and Barncale Boy — set off a firestorm among Conservatives. Nickelodeon was quick to shoot down the queer question, but that didn’t stop the hysteria. James Dobson of Focus on the Family was one of the first responders, proclaiming that if SpongeBob was, indeed, a HomoPants, the cartoon was the most dangerous program a Baptist kid could watch.
A decade later, the controversy is still going strong. Just last month, the National Expert Commission for Protecting Public Morality, a conservative watch group in Ukraine, called for a ban on the cartoon, saying it poses a “real threat to children.”
And you know what? These Conservative organizations are kind of right. If SpongeBob is gay, it is a danger and a threat — but not to children or families. If SpongeBob is gay, it is a danger and a threat to prejudice. If SpongeBob is gay, it is a threat and a danger to the increasingly marginalized and erroneous opinion that there’s something wrong with being gay.
That’s why I think it’s time for Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network to start letting some of these queer rascals out of the closet. Let SpongeBob come out! Let Dora the Explorer come out! Let Princess Bubblegum come out!
Oh, I know, I know. Those shows are aimed at 3 to 11 year olds. That’s always the cry of creators who have to “defend” their cartoon characters against the gay thing. But that’s some kind of ridiculous. The problem with that argument is that it supposes the only thing gay characters in gay relationships would do is have gay sex. Like if you tell a kindergartener that Princess Bubblegum and her sometimes arch-nemesis/sometimes BFF Marceline are lesbians, the first thing she is going to do is ask how scissoring works. She won’t. You know how I know? Because she didn’t ask whether or not Ariel and Prince Eric do it missionary-style.
Most kids don’t know about sex. But they do know about love. In fact, Disney princess cartoons provided my sister with a way to explain my gayness to my five-year-old nephew. “Sometimes princesses love princes,” she told him. “And sometimes princesses love princesses. And sometimes princes love princes. It doesn’t matter who you love; it only matters that you love.”
And that’s why animated characters need to be allowed out of the closet. Because sometimes a boy sea sponge and a boy starfish hold hands. And sometimes the girl ruler of Candy Kingdom and the girl vampire of Ooo hold hands. And sometimes grown-up human girls hold hands. And all of those things are OK. Love is love is love is love. And not sharing that knowledge with kids is sillier than nautical nonsense.