Steven Universe is an Emmy nominated cartoon set in a fictional universe predicated on the existence of gems: ageless alien beings whose existence can be located in magical gemstones that take on female humanoid forms. The TV show follows Steven Universe, a gem-human hybrid that lives in the fictional Beach City, with a group of rebel warriors called the Crystal gems. Steven Universe is a cartoon loved by adults and children alike; every season has been critically acclaimed, with fans and critics drawing attention to its themes, music, storytelling and realistic character development.
It’s one of those shows where it is obvious that it’s creator, Rebecca Sugar, had a clear vision of where the show would go, and how it would end, when she just had written its pilot. When watching Steven Universe, you are taken on a journey with Steven, the Crystal Gems, and their companions. It isn’t your usual coming-of-age narrative, but throughout the seasons, one can witness how Steven grows whilst grappling with the trauma and pain left over by his late-mother. As well as this, what makes Steven Universe such an amazing show is the fact that it is underpinned by diversity. It is the first animated series to be created solely by a non-binary person, the majority of the leading characters are non-binary, it normalises queer relationships, and it is even the first kids show to feature a queer wedding. Steven, the main protagonist, never falls into the typical masculinist, superhero tropes. He is guided by the female-presenting characters around him, whilst being encouraged to freely express himself and exhibit raw emotions.
Steven is a character that nearly every young person should tread in the heels of. Whilst watching the show, I witnessed how Steven is regularly forced to deal with grappling, complex issues, yet refuses to let these challenging experiences damage his identity. The very essence of his being, the reason why everyone who meets him loves him, is centred around his unconditional love. Whether that is loving yourself, or those around you, Steven Universe is a character whose identity rests on the concept of loving all, regardless of your difficult past or trauma. Despite him being a teenager, I found the level of control that Steven retained over this identity as a source of inspiration for how I should navigate my early twenties.
The past couple of years have been underpinned by a battle surrounding my identity and self-perception. Society is so plagued with heteronormativity that individuals who stray from the norm are constantly made aware of their difference, to the point where this awareness of difference can become crippling to those who just want to be themselves. From this knowledge, I therefore assumed that those who are perceived to be ‘normal’ carry with them an inherent privilege, a privilege that I believed that I also benefited from. Yet, when I started to discover my bisexuality, I came to the realisation that when you are bisexual, your sexual identity is assumed as straight. It can be easy to feel as if you’re unwillingly placed into a box, like you retain no control over how your identity is perceived. When I realised that I was bisexual, I saw myself as having two sides: the side that is attracted to men, and the side of me that is attracted to other genders. When meeting people, I would subconciously adopt the perceived ‘heterosexual’ side of me, and although there are times when this benefitted me, I constantly felt like I was not being true to myself, that I was ashamed of my intrinsic identity. I suppressed the core of my being in order to fit into society’s narrow definition of what being normal really is.
That is why Steven Universe as a TV show really spoke to me: every character is allowed to just be. They are treated with respect and dignity no matter who they love, how they present themselves, or how they act. Garnet, a fusion of two smaller gems, serves as an expression of feminine love. Amethyst, even though she is physically different from other gems, refuses to let her insecurity get the better of her. We learn about Pearl’s love affair with Steven’s late-mother, Rose, and grow to love her selfless nature in how she deals with her strained relationship with Steven’s father, Greg. These characters made me realise that, for years, I have been subconsciously suppressing parts of who I am, constantly trying to fit into the norm out of shame. Steven Universe has inspired me to be like the main characters, who embody love and empowerment without ridicule.
Because of this show, I’m learning to have pride in my sexuality and identity, despite what the wider world says. It serves as a reminder that there is not one way to be, or one way to love. Steven Universe normalises all of the parts of me that I thought I should hide. Steven Universe taught me to love myself.