Sexualized Saturdays: The Crystal Gems

I recently sat down and watched all the existing episodes of Steven Universe, and first of all, let me say that Rin was right: everyone should be watching this show. It follows Steven, a young boy who’s inherited his late mother’s magic Gem. He lives with his mother’s teammates, all skilled Gem-users who are raising him and helping to train him in his new powers.

Steven-universe crystal gemsWithout digging deeper into word of mouth and the multitude of headcanons, the show is a fantastic subversion of gender norms, as it features a trio of diverse ladies with very different personalities and body types working together to save the world, and a little boy who looks up to these women as his ideal role models. The Crystal Gems are excellent examples of how varied a cast of women can and should be on television.

It’s probably Steven Universe’s easy rejection of societal norms that lent veracity to a rumor suggesting the Gems were even more unique than we originally thought. Recently, a post began to circulate on Tumblr asserting that show creator Rebecca Sugar had, during a Women in Animation panel at a recent convention, stated that the Gems were canonically non-binary.

Unfortunately, like 90% of information circulated by Tumblr in a fury of reblogs, there was and continues to be no reliable source for this info, so I have to leave that idea in the realm of headcanon. And honestly, I don’t think it makes as worthwhile of a statement if all the Crystal Gems fall outside the gender binary.

The major hesitation I have about the Gems as a whole being non-binary is that they are, essentially, aliens. They’re not human; they’re immortal magical beings with no concept of age and limited contact with the human world except when it needs saving. And while media of all sorts has a depressing dearth of non-binary characters, creators also have a tendency to assign gender identities outside the binary exclusively to nonhumans. This only serves to perpetuate the idea that identifying as something besides male or female is something alien and strange, rather than something natural and human—especially if all three Gems are uniformly non-binary. As Lady Geek Girl points out in her post about nonhuman genderfluid characters:

Having nonhuman characters who don’t fit the gender binary can be a great thing, because, in the same way that Wonder Woman, brought up in a matriarchal society, can critique the patriarchal organization of our society, nonhuman characters who don’t fit the male/female binary can critique our society’s false ideas about gender.

But if the only non-binary identifying characters people ever see aren’t human characters, people start to wrongly assume that only nonhuman characters can be defined as anything other than male or female.

However, I think it’s reasonable to believe that a non-binary character is still in Steven Universe‘s universe. And if I was going to tap just one of the Gems as non-binary, it would be Amethyst.

amethyst sleepingAmethyst is the partier of the Gems’ team; she likes to sleep (even though, as a nonhuman, she doesn’t need to), wrestle, and eat, and she has an irreverent and sometimes hurtful sense of humor. She’s also a shapeshifter who treats her powers with casual disregard, often shifting mid-sentence to make a point or to provide a punchline.

The same casual disregard seems to apply in regards to gender presentation. In the episode “Tiger Millionaire”, Steven discovers that Amethyst has been sneaking off at night to take part in amateur wrestling competitions as a way to relieve stress. Her wrestling alter ego is “Purple Puma”, a large, hairy, masculine form. As Puma, Amethyst uses male pronouns and a deeper pitched voice.

purple puma tiger millionaire

You can tell Purple Puma is definitely considered male because there’s no way Cartoon Network would let a female character wear that wrestling onesie.

And far from experiencing dysphoria or anxiety about her fluid gender presentation, for Amethyst, Purple Puma is a comforting persona. As a wrestler, she can unwind and have fun in a way that she can’t when engaged in serious Gem-related business, and it’s a non-issue that her wrestling form is male.

It makes me happy that a character who displays casual fluidity between genders is being presented as a totally natural, and regular thing. On one hand, I appreciate that it is really made a non-issue by the show. However, I would also like to see the characters engage in sort of thoughtful, in-character dialogue about gender — for example, in “Giant Woman”, where Steven learns that, in the rare circumstances that they can agree on anything, Pearl and Amethyst are able to transform into a giant form named Opal. Steven spends the whole episode trying to get them to combine, rhapsodizing all the while that if he had the ability to turn into a giant woman he would in a second. He displays none of the standard “ew, girls” disgust that society has taught us to expect from young boys, and I think it’s interesting that he specifically said he would totally turn into a giant woman as opposed to a giant boy or giant person—but it stands at that, without any further mention or reference in the rest of the episode.

Art via tumblr user doidles

Art via doidles.

In the end, Steven Universe is a children’s show, so I wouldn’t want them to get too complicated or philosophical. But something like the conversation in this fanart would be a perfect way to introduce a kid-friendly dialogue about gender into the show. It’s simple, it fits well with both of their characters, and wouldn’t bring down the tone of the show by being too serious or issue-y. I think that a simple dialogue like this would go a long way to normalize the idea that being non-binary is a normal and natural thing, as opposed to a quirk specific to the nonhuman Amethyst.

And hey, the show isn’t even done with its first season, so we hopefully have a long run ahead of us where concepts like this can be addressed.

ETA: This post was written well before Rebecca Sugar’s AMA, in which she said gems are gems – there are no female gems and Steven is the only male gem because he’s half human; essentially, all gems are agender. At the time of writing there was no source for the claim that they were nonbinary, and I maintain that my concerns about only ever showing non-human nonbinary characters are valid.

18 thoughts on “Sexualized Saturdays: The Crystal Gems

  1. Though it is a kid’s show there already have been some pretty philosophical scenes in the show. The major one I can think of is when the youngest son of the Frynesty talks to the futility and emptiness of abandoning freedom for the sake of work without meaning. No amount of rides on the rocketship can give him back the time that has passed.

    This show is probably the best cartoon network has going on, and I think it’s because of how casual it is. The characters genuinely like each other and with a few exceptions they rarely fight or use conflict as the crux of the show. They mainly fight together and rarely talk down to each other. It’s really just pleasant to watch, and has a welcome tone I don’t see often in modern media.

  2. What if Satan’s which is,in fact,the Black Phantom Quartz(A.KA, Connie’s Father)?
    He and his ‘wife’A.K.A,derby hat robot Z-H 7.07’s attacked ooo from about 15 years ago before his boss, Lord Moldavite have took control Ooo with an iron fist,and already executing all the princesses in ooo on one map,and also,the Black Phantom Quartz got a new friends with unspeakable powers,and their name is The Lich and Melissa of Lumpy Space(who’s she’ll soon be henchforth as a new villain name Hope Diamond).

  3. Is Beach City’s oldest hero named Finn Mertens,was once the creator/father of the crystal gems before new Ooo’schanges its town’s name Beach City?
    From the Adventure Time’s hero,now here he is got married to Princess Bubblegum and eventually,turned The Land Of Ooo into Beach City,the newest futuristic City for humans.

  4. What If Pearl really does have a thing on Steven?
    They’re like,an actually a perfect match(even though Steven’s aging power might good and useful,in a good and usual way):||)

  5. Connie(Steven’s Friend appeared in two episode, Lion 2 the movie & Bubble Buddies)is actually not ready for that relationship for Steven because it’s quite probably his aging process aura began fluxing throughout his body including his stresses like anger,and saddness:^||||(|
    It’ll be best that if the black girl with glasses Connie,Steven’s Friend,should be broke-up(in definitions,by the means,to be break up their relationship with each other).
    Because not only if she’d been disappointed herself toward at her parent(who’d turned out to be 2 evil scientists.a black human male,and a black,crowned-shaped,english-style derby hat robot with an average A.I processor inside her hard drive and got actual robotic small spider-like legs for walking and one robotic red eyes for seeing things).

  6. What if Pearl and Steven really fall in love with each other?
    The 2 gem’s got swords,and they’ve always fall in love secretly(on Coach Steven,episode 20).
    Because like Steven’s aging powers,imagines that she(Pearl) have gotten her similarity of the aging problem since she’s been created by Queen Bubblegum(Finn’s future Wife),she was once a creation of her father(Finn the Human,as an older man with one robotic arm).
    Here the origin about Finn and Jake’s future: the three(Finn,Princess Bubblegum,Jake The Dog) on the run,and eventually met up with a teenage human boy.A boy name Greg. and first singlehandley found the new land(Beach City) and finally, build a new town,making sure that there’s no mutants and no nuclear war,just Humans only(right before they’d invited a lot of humans,including mayor dewy(as a young teen)
    To Rose Quartz:a single(string) strand of Princess Bubblegum’s pink like-like sweatshirt,and a little bit of titanium,and the small strand princess bubblegum’s blood.
    To Pearl:Finn and Princess Bubblegum’s hair and blood sample;and a dash of their intelligences,and loving and compassion;even tender-loving potions and a little bit of the two’s tear drops and small shard of aragonite and a small shard of moonstone,and a Princess Bubblgum’s old books of hand-to-hand combat specialists and a dancing movement book(Baker’s Shard).
    To Amethyst:A fleck of Lumpy Space Princess lips (from kissing LSP last time since finn’s whole arm incident),and a small hair of a cat,and a small strand of Susan Strong’s hair. and a small iron and silicon dioxide and purple food dropping;and a small strand from the stolen Baker’s shard(Baker Shard).
    To Garnet: small Finn’s old armor potion,and a small strand of hair strand from muscle princess hair from her strengh,and a little bit of carbon,and extract a small blood sample from Finn’s strong muscular arm by using shot(with one needle,for a little pinch)and a little bit of baker shard, because she(Garnet) consider to be strong and be one with the fist and hands.”

    To this headcanon and eventually,from every origins about the Crystal Gems,It was both Finn And Princess Bubblegum that consider that the 2 as the greatest scientists of the new land.

    • It’s like your trying forcing two puzzle pieces together that obviously don’t fit together. I’m starting to get that feels ng in my gut when you read a bad fanfic.

      • Which is a pity since the idea that both series are in the same universe is kinda interesting, but not like this.

        Since we see so little of the world outside beach city, which seems to be overrun with crystal monsters (cleaning them up as a full time job for thousands of years?), they could be in an isolated region of AT-earth.

  7. I love Steven/Pearl episodes!
    Because they’re secretly in love in Coach Steven,on episode 20 of steven universe!
    And boy like steven and a girl like pearl would be a perfect couple!

  8. Pingback: Steven Universe and Grief | Lady Geek Girl and Friends

  9. Pingback: Sexualized Saturday: Steven Universe and Soft Masculinity | Lady Geek Girl and Friends

  10. I don’t think the show needs to be too explicit. It’s strength is in how it shows social mores as part of the fabric of the universe. It doesn’t fight for any corner which it would do if it was as overt as suggested in the above article.

  11. It seems to me that the creator of the show may have modeled the gem’s taking on ‘female’ form and characteristics may have some layers … being a woman may have factored into it, in much the same way a Black or Asian creator would model characters like themselves (Jack Kirby’s ‘Black Panther’ not withstanding!) . It may also be, to my old eyes, also to reflect characteristics viewed as traditionally feminine – and that would certainly make them distinct from most cartoon ‘heroes’. I’ve kind of turned the cartoon watching around my home over to my grandson, so that’s how i noticed SU. Love that Amethyst! She reminds me of a girl I had a crush on …

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