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.
Without 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 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.
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.
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.