My best friend has an eight-year-old nephew, named for the purposes of this article as Jimmy, that I have helped raise since his birth. The nephew was kind of the baby everyone in the neighborhood helped raise. So it came as a shock to me when, while watching Spongebob Squarepants, the nephew said that Spongebob was “so gay.”
I didn’t raise him like that.
It shocked me, sure. It also made me think deeply about why Jimmy thought that Spongebob was gay.
None of these are proper ways to describe a homosexual male, but cultural stereotypes describe gay guys as eccentric people with a lisp and a girly voice. If Jimmy wasn’t taught at a young age to treat gay people like other humans, he would take society’s stereotypes, commit them to memory, and project the ideas on characters, just because that’s what everyone else is doing.
Another problem Jimmy has is that, because there are no LGBTQ characters in children’s television, he views the concept of same-sex or alternative relationships to be alien. Television has made strides towards ethnic equality, but you don’t see many children’s shows where there is a kid with two lesbian mothers.
Let’s look at Sesame Street, for example. And please, let’s ignore any Bert/Ernie jokes.
How useful would it be to have a muppet move onto Sesame Street that had two dads or two moms? It would open up the dialogue about same-sex attraction being part of life and acceptable, the same way it’s acceptable to be born of a different race or gender.
This is the show that, may I remind you, had a muppet with HIV. Sesame Street has always been the gatekeeper of what is acceptable for children’s television to do. If they created a family with same-sex parents living on Sesame Street, they would say that homosexuality is normal, and could end the trend of children using gay as an insult.
As for Jimmy? I explained that Spongebob may or may not be gay, and it wasn’t fair to pick on his annoying characteristics and label them as gay. He thought I was insane. I’ll try again at nine years old.