When friends recommended Steven Universe I was ambivalent. It all sounded too complicated – there are different ‘gems’? The gems are somehow also people. They can turn into other ‘gems’?! There was a lot of specialist terminology.
I was totally wrong! Within two episodes, I was utterly hooked! Yes, there’s world-building and backstory, but it’s ultimately about a kid (Steven) growing up, raised by three magical women (fairy godmothers?) and his dad. Steven is lovely – rather like Bart Simpson without the cynicism.
It’s quite queer. It’s about a bunch of people in ambiguous friendly and romantic relationships creating a family. I’m livid that the Cartoon Network UK has chosen to edit out some of the queerness.
One episode in particular affected me. (It’s called ‘Fusion Cuisine’ – spoilers follow, but I’ll try to keep them to a minimum.) Steven is invited to meet his friend’s parents. But his friend’s family are very conservative – his friend asks Steven to pretend he has one Mum and one Dad.
Steven can’t choose between the three women parenting him. They find a magical solution – they merge into a single person. But this person isn’t very maternal. She’s a twenty foot mantis-woman with six arms, permanently arguing with herself. Steven’s dad gamely sits next to this creature telling cute ‘how we met’ stories. It’s a very daft episode and (of course) the act falls to pieces.
But halfway through the meal, there’s a moment when Steven’s friend takes him aside and demands: why couldn’t you just have brought one of the women?
Steven says: because that would be a lie.
I welled up at that line. It wasn’t about a giant blue-haired Mum, it was about kids who are proud of their families not having to misrepresent them.
I very much hope CN UK don’t continue to try to edit the series. I’m not even sure how they could, as it has queer values woven into it in warm ways. It’s not (just) about who kisses who – it’s present in the characters’ love, loyalty, jealousy, and parenting.
There’s always a tension in queer stuff – do you want to show happy queer characters getting on with their adventures, or do you want to rage against injustice? Steven Universe balances both. My favourite character, at one of my favourite moments, says something pertinent. The character Garnet has a couple of distinct sides to her personality. In an end-of-season song, she explains that she’s not just hot-headed, or hyper-reasonable. Rather, she is the productive tension between those extremes. I am their fury, I am their patience; I am a conversation.
Steven Universe is mostly queer patience: the thoughtful work of depicting complex, loving families. Rarely, it’s queer fury: showing how being different nudges up against the world’s hostility. But always, it is the conversation between both. That will be impossible to edit out.