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Photo: Nickelodeon
Photo: Nickelodeon

Nickelodeon's 21-year old character, Spongebob Squarepants, came out as gay — or so many fans speculate

The lack of LGTBQ+ representation in the media makes the community yearn for fictional characters to come out.

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On June 13, Nickelodeon tweeted “Celebrating #Pride with the LGBTQ+ community and their allies this month and every month,” accompanying it with pictures of three of its LGBTQ+ characters — including Spongebob who they had not previously identified on the spectrum — sporting an array of colors. 

Spongebob’s creator, Stephen Hillenburg — who died in 2018 — stated how Spongebob wasn’t gay, but rather asexual in an interview with People in 2005 after the character’s sexual orientation was questioned. 

In spite of this, many continued to reject his answer and began to reopen the character’s case for being gay because of the disconnect between the creator’s intention and viewers’ interpretations. 

Some even took it as far as to question Spongebob’s gender claiming he may actually be female.

The following evidence is considered to be substantial of queer mannerisms and some of the most popular among fans on Twitter:

Spongebob’s perceived ‘gay’ gesture

Spongebob possibly alluding to classifying as ‘gay’ on the LGBTQ+ spectrum

However, the oppositional fan base denied the claim, and the evidence not enough because it is merely ‘comedic behavior.’ 

Homosexuality’s ‘Comedy Gig’ in Early Media

This ‘funny’ behavior has been used as comic relief since the beginning of motion pictures when “gay people were presented in a way that’s often referred to as ‘the celluloid closet,’” wrote ScreenRobot in 2014. 

“They were not open, but rather coded in such a way that was a wink to gay audiences,” the article elaborated.

“From the very beginning, movies could rely on homosexuality as a surefire source of humor,” the article continued with an excerpt from the movie The Celluloid Closet. 

As evident, being gay was and still is considered ‘funny’ possibly due to the fact that homosexuality is still taboo and has yet to become the norm or widely accepted. 

Therefore, it provokes questions of whether this ‘gay’ behavior alludes to Spongebob being ‘gay’ or is simply comedy and why it matters.

Hyper-Focused on Sexual Orientation?

There is a hyper-focusing of late on the sexual orientations of celebrities and fictional characters from fans and media consumers. 

Any inkling of queerness suspected in public figures and fictional characters is quick to be pointed out by viewers and fans. 

This was definitely the case for Canadian singer, Shawn Mendes, who reiterated his sexual orientation and defended his “feminine” side in 2018 after he was accused of being gay in a Rolling Stone interview according to Pride

“I thought, ‘You fucking guys are so lucky I’m not actually gay and terrified of coming out...Maybe I am a little more feminine — but that’s the way it is. That’s why I am me,” he said.

Considering that those who self-identify as LGBTQ only make up 4.5% of the population in the U.S as of 2017, it confirms how identifying or showcasing LGBTQ+ ‘tendencies’ is still not in the bounds of ‘normalcy’ in America as evident in the questioning of Mendes’ and Spongebob’s sexual orientation. 

Because being heterosexual is not only accepted, it is — to an extent — still expected as it translates when fans and media consumers do not point out ‘straightness’ or ‘straight tendencies.’

In contrast, Spongebob’s boss, Mr. Krabs’ sexual orientation is not questioned nor hyper-scrutinized because he displays the typical ‘masculine’ and ‘straight’ mannerisms and interests — one of them being Spongebob’s Driving School Teacher, Mrs. Puff- which is all the proof needed for viewers to overlook his behavior. 

Mr. Krabs expresses his interest in Mrs. Puff
With the evidence presented, this hyper-focusing on sexual orientation — particularly that of homosexuality — indirectly shows how there is a lack of LGBTQ+ representation — and accurate at that — in the media.
Lack of Representation
Although representation of LGBTQ+ in the media is steadily increasing, there still lacks a balance between heterosexual characters and out LGBTQ+ characters:
 
“Of the 879 regular characters expected to appear on broadcast scripted primetime programming this season, 90 (10.2%) were identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer.” according to GLAAD, which is the highest percentage they have found in the last 15 years. 
 
Despite the increase of representation for the community, there are often times where LGBTQ+ characters are ‘extras’ for the development of a plot and easily killed off or removed. In addition, the media may inaccurately and negatively portray them with outdated humor and stereotypes accompanying their failures and hardships.
 
These portrayals or lack thereof can be tiring and discouraging to the community which leads them to seek LGBTQ+ figures in many fictional characters across the industry. 
Searching for Them in Everyone
Due to the lack of representation, the community is forced to search and find these figures in those that may not have openly disclosed they are LGBTQ+, or who are not at all but display certain gestures or interests that are ‘questionable’ similar to the attachment theory. 
 
The attachment theory is where children relate to their parents or a primary caregiver and provide a sense of security that is needed. When a parent(s) is absent, children are more prone to seeking that security and role model in someone else who demonstrates characteristics that are “parental.”
 
Using this same psychological theory, members of the LGBTQ+ community seek an LGTBQ+ figure and deem a character as LGBTQ+ when certain characteristics are shown or not shown resemble that of their community.
 
This causes pressure to announce their sexuality of said characters so that they too could have an accurately captured hero in the media to look up to and admire. 
 
Elsa from the beloved Disney film, Frozen — who has never directly revealed her sexuality — has many fans rooting for her to come out and be given a girlfriend
 
Considering that Frozen is different from many princess movies Disney has created in terms of their falling for princes, Elsa has never shown any interest or pursued another character in a romantic manner.
 
Because of her lack of love interest unlike most Disney princesses, fans interpreted it as her being gay and demanded that Disney give her a girlfriend so that another beloved figure can be a part of their community. 
 
Many fans and members of this community place this narrative on many ‘questionable’ characters like Elsa and Spongebob because of their yearning for more and accurate representations and not as ‘comedic reliefs.’
 
Whether Spongebob really is gay or the fans want to so badly believe he is, it is an undeniable truth that there needs to be more representation — and not ‘in the closet’ representation used for gags — to normalize them in media that guides and inspires them the same ways heterosexual characters have for heterosexual viewers. 
 
As Netflix put it best when criticized for their efforts in representing the LGTBQ+ community as much as possible: “sorry you have yet to realize that every gay person is very necessary.”


 
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