Books usually spur popular TV shows. It’s the opposite for this popular children’s series
There are a lot of reasons to love animated television series, Steven Universe. Along with being a colorful and zany kids cartoon along the lines of Spongebob Squarepants or Adventure Time, it’s the first Cartoon Network show to be created by a woman; three of the four lead characters are female and are all voiced by women of color; and its characters feature a diverse range of body types, races and gender representation. One of the main elements audiences love it for is the visibility of characters who are identifiably queer.
The series, which debuted its third season last month, is so popular that Cartoon Network will release a children’s book this fall about the romantic relationship between two of the show’s characters, Ruby and Sapphire.
Stonewall Book Award winning author of Sex Is a Funny Word and sex educator Cory Silverberg says representation like this in television and books is particularly important for children because it gives them options when figuring out who they are.
“How do we make ourselves? We make ourselves through interactions with the people around us and we start trying stuff on to become who we are,” Silverberg says. “If we don’t see people like us around us, the message is that we don’t exist.”
Created by Rebecca Sugar, the series follows a boy named Steven Universe who is part human, part Crystal Gem, and the three Gems who are taking a motherly role in Steven’s life since his mother (a Gem named Rose Quartz) had to give up her physical form to give birth to him. The Gems — Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl — are incredibly strong women who fight weird creatures and solve problems to protect the planet, and they are teaching Steven to do the same.
Other Cartoon Network shows feature queer relationships including Clarence, which features a character with two mothers, and Adventure Time, which alludes to a past relationship between two of its female characters. But none are as well integrated and refreshing as Steven Universe.
Perhaps what’s most refreshing about the series is that it features two lesbian characters, the muscular and athletic Ruby and the elegant and feminine Sapphire. Gems on Steven Universe usually fuse together for battle to create stronger Gems and then un-fuse after combat is over. But the love Ruby shares with Sapphire is so strong that they decided to fuse together for life to become Garnet.
Silverberg says he believes it’s crucial that children see characters like Ruby and Sapphire not just in certain episodes about equality, but integrated into the continuing story, just like all the other characters.
“What’s important is that kids get to see themselves as a group of superheroes or kids solving mysteries, rather than as a targeted, marginalized group,” Silverberg adds. “We’re opening up possibilities for all kids and their families.”
The book, due for release in September, will expand on the Ruby/Sapphire relationship. The book, titled after the episode that first introduced viewers to the relationship between the two female Gems, The Answer, will be aimed at 8 to 12-year-olds. It will be a compassionate tale of Ruby and Sapphire’s love as well as reveal how Garnet came to Earth.
Lindsay Gibb is a Toronto-based journalist and librarian. She is the author of National Treasure: Nicolas Cage (ECW Press), an award-winning celebration of Nicolas Cage’s unique acting style. Her writing appears in Bitch magazine, Broken Pencil and The Establishment, and she is a co-founder of Spacing magazine.