In the middle of isolation during the pandemic, I spent days binge-watching a show I’d never seen called Steven Universe. I couldn’t figure out why I started crying partway through the first season, and then it hit me: I was finally seeing the queer representation I never got as a child.
Steven Universe is crucial queer representation for everyone but, specifically, for children.
The show ran on Cartoon Network and follows Steven, a half-human, half-Gem whose mother, Rose, was a Crystal Gem who gave up her physical form for Steven to live. He’s left in the care of his human father, Greg, and Rose’s Crystal Gem warrior companions, Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl.
Those watching Steven Universe will learn that there’s a lot of queerness in the show. First, there’s Pearl, who is a woman in love with Steven’s mom. Next, there’s a nonbinary character named Stevonnie, which is a fusion person between Steven and his best friend, Connie, who uses they/them pronouns. But most prominently is Garnet, one of the main characters and is the fusion of a lesbian relationship between Ruby and Sapphire. The couple even gets married in the show.
This is important because of cultivation theory: the theoretical framework that long-term exposure to media shapes how the consumers of media perceive the world and conduct themselves, according to a report from Simply Psychology. The longer people watch television, the more they’re likely to develop the industry’s skewed perception of reality. It stands to reason that cultivation not only applies to a perception of the world as a whole but a perception of different groups in the world. The reality of the way queer people are portrayed or are left out altogether in the fictional works that people watch can deeply impact those watching. If our minds are cultivated through what we’re watching, then we’ll take the lessons and behaviors of the characters we love and apply those to real life.
This means those watching who are not queer will be exposed to queer relationships, personalities and just how normal queerness is. Starting this exposure at a young age can impact how people form their opinions of the queer community, understand queerness and treat queer people.
On the flip side, those watching who are queer will get the greatest gift of all: validation in their identities and the opportunity to feel seen. Kids will be able to look at the characters they love and find commonalities to give them confidence in their own queerness. I never got the representation I needed when I was a kid. It made it harder for me to understand and feel confident in my own identity. If I would’ve had Steven Universe as a child, I might’ve progressed with being open in my queerness much earlier. That’s why I will recommend it to every parent, every peer and every child. This representation is crucial and could ultimately instill love and emotional stability that is much harder to possess at older ages.

Photo by Emilie Chinn. ​​​​​​​
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