LGBT Characters in Kids’ Fiction

The release of the short film In a Heartbeat has gotten me thinking about a lot of things, namely the fact that it never would have been able to have been released to such a supportive audience a few years ago.

As the years go by, we are entering a new age of hope for many people. It isn’t remotely close to where we as a society should be, but it’s infinitely better than what it used to be. We are on an upward curve where each step means that people in the LGBT community are just a little more accepted than they were before.

This is obvious in a lot of ways: The passing of laws protecting gay rights, the public outrage against Trump’s attempt to ban transgender people from the military, and, of course, the evolution of fiction.

As I usually do, I’ll speak of my own experiences concerning this issue.
For most of my life, my experience with LGBT characters was limited to lesbian, gay, and occasionally bi individuals, and these were generally in shows and books meant for young adults and older. Even then, the characters often felt like two-dimensional caricatures that were made simply to be “the gay character.” More often than not, these characters were in anime, and were therefore only accessible to people who were specifically looking for them. Anne Rice’s vampires were a blessed exception.

The idea of having gay characters in kids’ media, obviously, was almost unheard of. There was an ongoing belief that exposing children to gay characters was a bad idea, that it might influence them to “be gay,” and that it was overall inappropriate. Hell, this attitude still prevails today, even more so when it comes to trans characters.

Things changed minutely, and I mean very minutely, when J.K. Rowling came out with the knowledge that Albus Dumbledore is, in fact, gay. There was a great deal of controversy over the issue. And…that’s it. It’s never actually addressed in the series that Dumbledore is gay. His feelings for Grindelwald are never shown in a way that makes his gayness obvious. In my opinion, there were a lot of missed opportunities with this character.

Things became a little better with the introduction of Kurt in Glee, a series that, while meant for young adults, was watched pretty religiously by the younger generation. I remember hearing about Kurt and being surprised at the fact that there was a legit gay character in mainstream media. Later on, when he actually entered a relationship, I was stunned. I was so used to the few mainstream gay characters I found being the victim of unrequited love and terrible endings. The “Kill Your Gays” trope comes to mind here.

With the creation of Adventure Time, a whole new wave of controversy hit. The implied relationship between Princess Bubblegum and Marceline evoked such a sense of outrage from so many people, the creators were forced to say that they were just platonic friends. From what I understand, that has mostly ben retconned by certain episodes and even a comic series where they are ruling the kingdom together.

The reaction to Adventure Time, as well as the limitations put on Alex Hirsch when he wanted to show a gay couple in an episode of Gravity Falls, shows that we are not anywhere close to where we should be. Still, we’re getting there.

Probably the biggest victory in the world of television for LGBT representation is Steven Universe. With the supposedly genderless, but still referred to as female Gems, Rebecca Sugar was able to explore relationships in a way that no cartoon has been able to do before. We have a canonically lesbian relationship in the form of Ruby and Sapphire. We have unrequited love in the form of Pearl. We have the potential for a beginning relationship in the form of Peridot and Lapis or Amethyst (depending on how things go there). We even have a gender nonbinary character in Stevonnie. The most recent episodes introduced us to a six-Gem fusion who is clearly meant to represent a polyamorous relationship. And all of these things are shown in a way that is totally normal and understandable for any audience.

The world of children’s books is also catching up with the times. In the Heroes of Olympus series, we have Nico di Angelo, a misunderstood son of Hades who is in love with Percy initially. In Wings of Fire, there have been references to several gay dragons, including Umber, and the lesbian couple Snowflake and Snowfox.

And now, we have In a Heartbeat, a very important short that shows that gayness is not only okay, but that it exists in people younger than high school age, and that it isn’t inherently sexual. It is a simple, cute story about a kid with a crush. That crush just happens to be another guy, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I hope that LGBT characterization in media only continues to evolve from here, and that the next step will be an increase in trans characters and characters with alternate gender identities. The way to acceptance is paved with understanding, and I firmly believe that the evolution of fiction is a reflection of the evolution of us as a society.

The evolution of kids’ fiction, in particular, is very important, as these kids are the next generation. If we keep teaching love and acceptance, each following generation will be better than the last. Every LGBT character is a chance to show that we are people, nothing more, nothing less.

Who knows? Maybe someday, we’ll live in a world without metaphorical closets, where LGBT characters are every bit as common as cis/hetero characters, and don’t cause anyone to bat an eye anymore. It’s a nice dream, isn’t it?

Peace out!

My Top 10 LGBT Ships

Since this is the last day of Pride Month, I decided to post my first Top 10 list. This one will be my top favorite LGBT ships in fiction. Some are canon, some are only wishful thinking. For variety’s sake, I will only do one ship per franchise.

WARNING: There will be spoilers for the series in question. Proceed with caution.

#10: Merlin and Arthur from Merlin

I’m kicking off this list with the slash ship that started it all for me. Granted, I may have stopped watching Merlin around the time Aithusa entered the picture, but I always loved the dynamic between Merlin and Arthur.

From when Arthur risked his life to find a cure when Merlin was poisoned, to all the times Merlin saved Arthur with his magic, they were always there for each other. They had so much more chemistry with each other than with anyone else on the show, even their canon love interests.

Also, the freaking Great Dragon shipped it! “You are two sides of the same coin.” Come on, guys!

#9: Deputy Durland and Sheriff Blubs from Gravity Falls

This ship didn’t get that much focus, since they were side characters, but it’s one of the few canon gay ships in a kids’ show, and it was my OTP for Gravity Falls. Every interaction between these two cops was freaking pure and adorable. They were just so happy to be in each other’s presence every second they were on screen.

Let me just give you a few quotes: “If being delightful was a crime, you’d be breaking the law!” “With you, every day is a dream.” “Edwin Durland, you are a diamond in the rough.”

Let’s not forget the finale. They embraced, they straight up said that they were in love, and they shot off a freaking cannon! Alex Hirsch, I love you!

#8: John, Sherlock, and Mary from Sherlock

I have not seen season 4! No spoilers in the comments!

Ahem. I was a die-hard shipper of Johnlock ever since the first episode of BBC’s Sherlock. Their chemistry was undeniable, and I fell for every queerbaiting moment like the sucker I was (and still am). Can we all take a moment to remember: “I don’t have friends. I’ve just got one.” I love how Sherlock helped John get over his post-war boredom, and helped him realize he didn’t need his cane. I love how John is one of the few people Sherlock legitimately cares about and will go to great lengths to protect. I just love everything about those two!

When Season 3 rolled around and Mary came into the picture, I was convinced that I would hate her. I was dead wrong. Not only did she have an amazing dynamic with John, but she and Sherlock understood each other in a way that amazed me. She made everything better by being there. One scene that stuck out for me was when the three were planning John and Mary’s wedding, and Mary encouraged both boys to go on a case together, since they were both obviously bored, winking at each of them in turn as they left. My OTP quickly turned into an OT3.

I have heard that season 4 is going to break my heart, but I hope that I can at least keep this ship alive in my mind.

#7: Grif and Simmons from Red vs. Blue

“You ever wonder why we’re here?”

These guys have been together for years. They are best friends, even though they give each other a hard time. Their chemistry is amazing, their dialogue is hilarious, and they complement each other in the best way. Grif’s laziness and snarkiness meld perfectly with Simmons’s neurotic nerdiness. Hell, even Tucker and Lopez ship it!

Tucker/Washington used to rank higher for me, but season 15 has skyrocketed Grimmons to the top of my RvB ship list. I mean, it was straight-up stated that they fucked! They are basically canon. Now, with Grif leaving the group and Simmons pining for him, I’m convinced that it’s only a matter of time before we get a beautiful reunion and a love confession.

It’s gonna happen!

#6: Sam and Frodo from The Lord of the Rings

Yes, I know that Tolkien wanted to emphasize the platonic love between friends with these two. I’m fully aware that that was the purpose of their relationship. I adore friendship pairings and have many BroTPs across countless fandoms.

That being said, Sam and Frodo were 100% gay for each other, and no one can convince me otherwise. The movies in particular give off a heavy vibe. I mean, look at the loving glances they give each other in literally every other scene!

I love how they regularly risk their lives for each other. I love how loyal Sam is, even when the Ring starts changing Frodo’s personality. I love how Sam freaking carries Frodo up Mount Doom when Frodo can no longer carry himself. I love that the book specifically states that Sam joins Frodo in the Grey Havens after living a full life in the Shire. I just love these two so much!

#5: Ruby and Weiss from RWBY

I have shipped White Rose ever since Volume 1. I love these two together, largely due to how well their personalities complement each other. Ruby is sweet, naïve, and excitable. Weiss is cold, prim, proper, and has suffered an abusive childhood. After the two become friends, Ruby is a clear positive influence, helping Weiss to come out of her shell and be a kinder person. On the flip side, Weiss helps Ruby focus and pushes her to do better in her studies and as a leader.

I love the idea of Weiss being unable to resist Ruby’s cuteness and of Ruby looking up to Weiss. It may not be canon, but I can hope. We were promised LGBT pairings in this series, and I’ll keep holding out for White Rose until I’m proven wrong!

If nothing else, I’m convinced that Ruby is a lesbian.

#4: Germany and Italy from Hetalia: Axis Powers

I will never stop loving this series. I mean, what other show turns history class into a multishipper’s paradise? I have countless ships, but my OTP will always be Germany and Italy.

Their interactions are so freaking adorable! Germany is stoic and strict, but is always gentler and kinder toward Italy. Italy is ditzy and cowardly, but is completely devoted to Germany. Remember when Italy first asked to become friends, and Germany freaking blushed? Remember when Germany kissed Italy when Italy asked for a hug? Remember when Germany freaking tried proposing to Italy?!

Add in the fact that Germany is likely an amnesiac Holy Roman Empire, who Italy was in love with as a child, and you have the perfect love story!

#3: Max and Chloe from Life is Strange

I discovered this game a year ago, and holy crap. This was the first time in ages I was completely and utterly immersed in the world of a video game. Arcadia Bay felt like my home, and all the characters felt like my friends. At the center of it all is the relationship between Max, the main character, and Chloe. Best friends as children, they grew apart after Max moved away and had some rocky moments after she came back. Their relationship is so complex and filled with so many layers of regret, guilt, loyalty, and intense devotion.

I think what I like most about this ship is that Max and Chloe bring out the best in each other. Max acts as Chloe’s impulse control, keeping her from doing immoral things and protecting her from danger. Chloe encourages Max’s passion for photography and helps her out of her comfort zone. They are just so perfect together!

If you’re like me and have played the game, I’ll just say this: Play the fan-made game Love is Strange. It will provide the ending these two deserve. And it’s fluffy as hell!

#2: Ruby and Sapphire from Steven Universe

I couldn’t make an LGBT ship list without including these two! My friends got me into Steven Universe when I had all but given up on Cartoon Network, and I have never gone back. This is one of the best animated shows I have ever seen, for kids or adults. It explores sexuality, consent, grief, family relationships, anxiety, dealing with the sins of your parents, and countless other complex concepts. And it tackles them in a way that people of any age can understand!

There are various space rock lesbians, as I call the Gems, but the ultimate OTP in this series is Ruby and Sapphire, who fuse to create Garnet. They are total opposites, with Ruby being hotheaded and angry and Sapphire being calm and collected, largely due to her ability to see the future. Whenever they interact, they are so freaking adorable! I mean, just look at the baseball episode! They literally couldn’t function because they couldn’t stop flirting!

More than that, these two have been shown in various situations that one will come across in any real relationship: getting together, coming apart and arguing, making up, flirting, and making decisions as a team when they’re Garnet. It’s a wonderful, beautiful pairing in an amazing show.

#1: Lestat and Louis from The Vampire Chronicles

I am very behind in this series, and have yet to read the more recent installments. Spoiler-free comments, please.

Here we are at the Grand Messiah of LGBT ships, one of the first to appear in modern mainstream literature, the original gay vampires, brought to life by the true Queen of the Damned: Anne Rice.

So, I was introduced to The Vampire Chronicles during high school, and was immediately struck with how superior the series was to basically any other vampire book that was popular at the time. Seeing the world through the eyes of these ancient, poetic, beautiful characters was a reading experience I had never had before. I was also struck with the passionate way the vampires talked about each other. Even now, I have yet to find an author who can bring a world and the passions of a character to life in a way that comes close to rivaling the beauty of Anne Rice’s writing style.

Now, Lestat has had various love interests throughout his long life, the first being a violinist named Nicolas, but his relationship with Louis always struck me as the most important one. I still remember squealing out loud when the two reunited after decades apart in The Vampire Lestat. Lestat was the one to give Louis his immortality, and Louis was Lestat’s support through many hard times. When Lestat started his rock band, one of his goals was to reach out to Louis and find him. Hell, they even raised a vampire child together, even though things ended very badly with that.

Theirs is truly a love that was meant to last for all eternity. Even if they come apart, they will always find each other again. Honestly, could there be a more beautiful romantic concept? I think not!

Also, Anne herself has stated that Louis is Lestat’s true love, so there.
~
So, those are my top LGBT pairings. I definitely have more, and I may do another list in the future. For now, enjoy the gay and check out the series I mentioned if you haven’t already.

Peace out!

Personal Story: How Shipping Helped Me Discover My Sexuality

There is an unfortunate number of people who believe that fiction is unimportant, that being invested in worlds that someone else dreamed up is a waste of time. These people couldn’t be more wrong. A work of fiction is a culmination of thought, imagination, and passion from one person or a group of people, and is meant to be shared with countless more. A person can find solace in a work of fiction when they’re sad, when they have no one else to talk to, or when they simply feel the need to escape reality for a while. Sometimes, fiction can lead to self-discovery.

Since it’s Pride Month, I think this is a good time to share the story of how shipping fictional characters helped me figure out more about who I am.

I grew up in a small, white, Catholic town. Though I was lucky enough to be born to two tolerant parents, I was still in a very homophobic environment. Children’s shows made jokes out of being gay. The word lesbian was flung at me like an insult by bullies. In middle school, when I developed my first crush on a girl, I desperately quashed it down. Even though I was determined to be tolerant of things like homosexuality in other people, I refused to believe that there was any possibility that I was anything but a straight young woman.

Then, I started watching the BBC series Merlin.

I remember watching that series and being amazed by the relationship between Merlin and Arthur, who are the same age in that setting. Their friendship was so perfect, so effortless. Yet, I also found myself wanting something else. Against my better judgment, I looked up a “Merthur” AMV on Youtube. Then, I looked up another. Then, I read a few fanfictions.

Just like that, I found myself actively shipping a gay couple, and the idea of gay people didn’t seem so weird or foreign anymore. Merlin and Arthur weren’t the strange, alien beings I usually thought of when homosexuality was brought up. They were regular, relatable characters who I genuinely liked. That was my first step toward actual understanding.

When I was introduced to Axis Powers: Hetalia, I was shocked by how quickly I started shipping gay pairing after gay pairing. I mean, what else can you do when you watch that series? I adored the relationship between Germany and Italy. I gushed over America and Japan. I laughed at France and England. The more I watched, the more fanfictions I read, the more involved I got, and the more normal it felt.

When one of my friends came out to me as bisexual in high school, I found that I had no problem with it. By this point, the idea of a gay relationship was not only normal to me; it was freaking adorable! I began to wonder about whether I was as straight as I had always claimed to be.

The true realization that I didn’t care about gender came quietly one day. I was on the bus coming home from a field trip. I was half-asleep and sitting with two of my friends, one male and one female. In that moment, I realized that I had found both of them attractive at some point in my life. In that moment, I was completely okay with that fact. I came to terms with the crush I had back in middle school, realizing for the first time that it hadn’t been a fluke.

I’m pansexual, and I knew that was okay, largely thanks to all of the fanfictions that told me so.

I’ve discovered several things about myself over the years: that I’m pan, that I’m genderqueer, and that I’m poly. Coming to terms with being poly, or able to be in a relationship with multiple people, didn’t happen until recently.

We live in a very monogamous culture. Throughout most of my life, I was convinced that you could only love one person. The only time I ever thought differently, besides now, was when I was a little kid. Again, it was shipping that caused me to think this way.

I was watching the Dinotopia miniseries, which is about two brothers being stranded on an island with a utopian society of humans and sentient dinosaurs. (As a side note, I would recommend getting your hands on anything you can find having to do with Dinotopia. Except the animated movie. That doesn’t exist.) Anyway, both of the brothers had romantic interactions with a woman named Marion. At no point did it occur to me that she would have to choose. And she didn’t. She tells them that she loves them both, and I accepted that immediately. Marion was the first polyamorous character I ever knew.

Of course, there were several years when I was convinced that it was impossible to love more than one person. I even went so far as to hate reading about characters who fell in love again after their significant other died.

Monogamy tainted my non-existent love life, as I didn’t want to get involved with anyone. The idea of getting tied down and not being allowed to even look at someone else freaked me out. Through this fear, I began to realize that I would not be a jealous person in a relationship. That was the first step.

This was around the time I became very involved with RWBY. I adored the show, the characters, and the fanfictions that I found. I found myself loving multiple pairings at once, and really came into my own as a multishipper. Then, I started reading the poly fics.

I was skeptical at first, but I eventually started checking a few out. I was shocked at how much I loved the relationships portrayed between three, four, or even more people. It seemed so open, friendly, and healthy for everyone involved. The more I read, the more the idea of not being bound by monogamy really appealed to me. There was no sudden realization. I just knew that I was poly.

By this point, I’m more comfortable with myself than many people my age probably are. I’m unashamed of my identity and sexuality, and I know that there’s nothing wrong with being the way I am. I owe that to many factors, especially the fictional characters who guided me through childhood, high school, and even college.

I hope that you, my dear readers, are also comfortable with yourselves. Whether you’re gay, straight, bi, pan, or ace, you’re amazing. Whether you’re cis, trans, genderqueer, or agender, you do you. There are as many personalities, ways to see yourself, and ways to love as there are people in this world. Try to remember that, even when things get difficult.

Peace out!