Spoilers for She-Ra: Princesses of Power and Life is Strange.
Content Warning: Discussion of homophobia
With the fifth and final season of She-Ra: Princesses of Power in the rear-view mirror and several gay little hearts full to bursting, I think it’s time to ask that age-old question: why the hell is virtually every queer relationship in animated fiction two girls? No, seriously, why? It became even more noticeable after the She-Ra finale, what with all the completely canon queer and straight relationships and only one blink-and-you-might-miss-it instance of a queer male relationship being confirmed. Of course there’s Bow’s dads, but a pre-established gay male relationship is pretty commonplace. When was the last time we saw one in animated fiction that was allowed to thrive, grow, and eventually come to fruition in the final season without fan inference? The answer is hardly ever. Steven Universe, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and She-Ra: Princesses of Power all dipped into the queer pot, but none of them came up with anything more substantial than a few lines of dialogue for a gay male relationship that wasn’t already perfectly up and running before the series started.
It’s a combination of things, the biggest one being how lesbian relationships rank on the acceptability scale. Hint: they are ranked a lot higher than any potential gay male romance in animated fiction (or any fiction really, but especially animated fiction). If we see a gay male relationship in fiction, it’s usually pre-established—two gay dads or something like that—and just needs to be there. That doesn’t mean the characters can’t have depth and interesting story lines, but we basically never see a gay male relationship in fiction that starts off the same way Catra and She-Ra did in Princesses of Power. Lesbians are—on average—a lot more “acceptable” than gay male relationships. Unfortunately, this is partly because of how lesbian relationships are viewed by a decent portion of society. They are viewed as “invalid” or “innocent”. So it seems more acceptable to portray these kinds of relationships in fiction, especially fiction aimed at families. But on the other hand, this misconception of lesbian relationships is actually a good reason why fiction needs these kinds of portrayals. We need to see these relationships develop, falter, and change so they become more valid and less sexualized by mainstream audiences. While people definitely still sexualize the absolute hell out of gay men—most mainstream yaoi does this—lesbian relationships often get the double whammy of being needlessly sexualized—mostly by straight men—and not taken seriously. A nuanced and non-sexualized portrayal of a lesbian relationship that does not lean on tropes helps combat these misconceptions.
There’s also the fact that most of these shows are being made by women—or in the case of Rebecca Sugar, a non-binary woman—and that effects the kinds of queer relationships we’re going to see. Creators put a lot of themselves into their work. Rebecca Sugar has stated in interviews that the show is very personal to her because the Gems are non-binary women—the Gems have no real gender or sex, but they refer to themselves by she/her pronouns and present themselves in a feminine way—and she relates to all of them. While Steven very easily could have been gay, that would have defeated the whole purpose of his character. Steven is meant to be an example of how a boy can embrace his femininity and how doing that doesn’t make him gay. But even in shows created by men—like Adventure Time—there are barely any gay male couples to be seen. So this excuse only holds up for a few examples.
But this problem is only unique to animated fiction. Video games actually have the opposite bias when it comes to queerness. Everyone talks about Chloe and Max in Life is Strange. But Chloe and Max are kind of outliers in the video game world when it comes to queer relationships. There’s a pretty decent balance sometimes, but very often the curve slants more in favor of gay male relationships. Angus and Gregg from Night in the Woods, the entire Dream Daddy dating sim, etc. This could possibly be reflective of the fact that the gaming community is still mostly male and therefore of course gay male relationships are going to be more common. Whatever the reason, the video game industry fills the gap. It’s not too difficult to find a game with a canon gay male relationship, regardless of your genre preferences. But even then, there is another massive difference between the queer relationship in Night in the Woods and the one in the Life is Strange. The games—put side by side—fall into the same familiar queer trope. Angus and Gregg are already fully established as a couple before the game starts. Life is Strange follows Max and Chloe’s adventures and the natural development of their relationship, culminating in either a passionate friendship or a romantic relationship based on the player’s decisions. They are fundamentally different games, but it’s worth looking at them as examples of how queer relationships are often handled in fiction.