Comics Alliance Presents Kate Or Die: All-Ages LGBT Content
Show a six-year-old a YouTube video of two men getting engaged and you’ll watch that child smile at giggle at the romantic gesture. Give another kid a comic book and tell them two of the girl characters in it like each other, and more often than not that child will just shrug and flip it open and get to reading. Kids care about stories. Kids care about characters. Kids care about finding something in the world to relate to. Kids don’t give a care about sexual orientation, not the way adults do.
So why, then, are adults so intent on censoring LGBTQ content for kids?
As a cartoonist I hear stories all the time of production companies, book editors and other media gatekeepers filtering out queer characters and content in all-ages entertainment. The reasoning behind it is usually the same; “we don’t want to offend people”, “we don’t want to lose money”, “LGBT content it is too adult for the kids”.
I understand not wanting to lose out on the money spent by customers from the religious right or other large groups who may have a problem with LGBT content … sort of. It wouldn’t be my choice to worry about them, but that’s another story. What I can’t wrap my ahead around is the idea that non-straight romance is inherently too sexual for young audiences.
Thousands of cartoons and comics aimed at the youth audience feature straight characters in love; characters actually dating and actually kissing each other. It’s not an issue, obviously. Finn can swoon after Princess Bubblegum in Adventure Time; Ash can go gaga over Nurse Joy in Pokémon; you get the picture. Are those relationships too sexual? Are Dipper’s affections for Wendy in Gravity Falls too adult?
Of course not. But try and introduce similarly age-appropriate same-sex relationship in North American kids’ entertainment and the barriers spring up all around. For a generation of kids, Sailors Neptune and Uranus are cousins, not girlfriends!
Kids can’t handle it, they tell us, when it’s the opposite that’s true. If the last few years of North American equal rights history have taught us anything, it’s that adults on the other end of the age spectrum who can’t handle kid stuff.
Fortunately there are titles out there challenging the prevailing media attitude: Drama by Raina Telgemeier; the Kevin Keller series from Archie Comics; and recently the Lumberjanes from Boom! Box (full disclosure — I illustrated a variant cover for that series). It’s great news. It means that change is coming, slowly but surely. These works take us a needed step away from the notion that homosexuality and bisexuality must always be explicitly sexual actions; that transgender characters are too confusing for children, implying inescapably that heterosexuality is the only “normal” option; and that the kinds of romances many of these young readers will one day find themselves in are abnormal.
It’s time to take kid-friendly queer content out of the back of the bookstore and put it next to Garfield. It’s time to make queer heroes well-rounded characters instead of just tokens. It’s time to show kids that a crush is just a crush at ten years old, and that it’s okay — that if you’re that ten-year-old reader, you are okay.It might seem insignificant to people used to seeing their romances reflected in fiction and other entertainment throughout their whole lives, but there’s nothing small about the moment when an LGBT ten-year-old flips open a comic book and realizes that maybe, just maybe, there’s nothing wrong with them after all.