Last week, the creator of Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street came out and said what we already all knew – Bert and Ernie are a lovable gay couple. But Emily Writes – who watches a lot of Sesame Street – says people denying that Bert and Ernie are gay are making her lose her mind.
For reasons that will never be known to us, Sesame Street has always denied the fact that Bert and Ernie are gay. But on Sunday, Mark Saltzman – who won seven Daytime Emmys for his work as a writer on Sesame Street – said in an interview in Queerty that our favourite puppet gay icons are in fact, gay. He talked about how Bert and Ernie are modelled on himself and his longtime late partner, Arnold Glassman. The Sesame Workshop put out a shitty statement that erased queers Bert and Ernie, wrongly stating that muppets “do not have a sexual orientation”.
The internet exploded. Many people felt the need to argue that the man who made Bert and Ernie was wrong. But he’s not wrong. Here’s a take-down of all the dumb arguments.
But none of the puppet characters in the show are in relationships!
WRONG JEFF. Almost all the adult Jim Henson puppets – which for the sake of my argument will include Muppets – are in relationships. On Sesame Street: The Count has a wife, Oscar has a girlfriend (her name is Grundgetta). On The Muppets: Kermit/Piggy Floyd/Janis Gonzo/Camilla, Rizzo/Yolanda and even Waldorf and Statler’s wives are on the show. All of the adult non-puppet humans have partners. Mr Robinson, the property magnate who owns most of Sesame Street (and who sometimes I imagine is on acid and has just dreamed up the entire area complete with terrible puppets), is married. I can’t actually think of any adult characters who aren’t coupled up.
In all the Muppet movies there are couples, including cross-species couples like Fozzie and Becky, and Beaker and his many girlfriends. Who could forget Mary and Gary? Walter even had a date to prom – a human woman who clearly brought down her standards for the night.
I mean, Mr Noodle is an adult man who lives in a child’s closet and he still has a Miss Noodle and Ms Noodle. They’re siblings, but they could also be a polyamorous triad. So instead of arguing on the internet about whether Bert and Ernie are gay, why don’t you consider why a single and a grown man needs to be taught how to throw a ball and is always alone with a non-related three-year-old red thing?
What about Elmo? He doesn’t have a partner. Abby? Big Bird?
Elmo doesn’t have a partner for two reasons: 1) He’s three-years-old. 2) He’s an insufferable dick who’s going to die alone in his apartment surrounded by Sesame Street memorabilia desperately trying to get back to the glory days now that he’s no longer cute and is just a red furry creep who nobody wants around.
Abby and Big Bird are children. What is wrong with you? Also, they’re cross-species. You can’t fuck a bird if you’re a whatever the fuck Abby is (other than irritating).
Only children aren’t coupled up on Sesame Street and The Muppets. In contrast, Bert and Ernie aren’t children. They’re adults, albeit not particularly high-functioning ones.
But puppets don’t have a sexuality!
BULL FUCKING SHIT.
Piggy and Kermit are a love story for the ages and you didn’t have a problem with that did you, Karen? You closet homophobe. You can’t not have a sexuality and be in a relationship. Even the LETTERS on the show have sexualities. The Letter A and the Letter Z are always horning all over each other.
Aside from that, no other show has taught us how important representation is than Sesame Street. Only showing kids straight couples means they think there are only straight couples in the world. We’re coding everything as straight which isn’t just unhealthy – it’s wrong.
The point of Bert and Ernie is to teach kids about friendship, not to display sexuality
Hold up mate, nobody suggests Miss Piggy and Kermit are displaying sexuality by being straight (passing) all over Muppet Land. Nobody suggests Luis and Maria are forcing their sexuality onto anyone.
But you can’t change history! Canonically they’re straight.
THEY ARE GAY AS THE DAY IS LONG. You know it. I know it. This has only confirmed it. I mean, Bert watches Ernie have baths. They’ve lived together in a cabinet since 1969. They literally live in a closet. They’ve never had girlfriends. Ernie sits on Bert’s lap all the time and they love each other. They give each other gifts all the time. In the mornings, Bert tries to read his paper and Ernie tries to talk to him. This is a married couple.
What about that song Bert sang to that girl puppet?
Bisexuals exist, Jeff.
But Sesame Workshop said…
They deleted their tweet because they knew it was a bad tweet.
But but but…
Is this really a high you want to die on Broseph? Sesame Street has always been the place that shattered shitty stereotypes. It was the street that was safe, even from when we were kids. Remember Linda the librarian? That’s how you learned how to sign ‘good morning’. Rosita La Monstrua de las Cuevas taught you how to say ‘hello’ in Spanish. Tarah was the first child in a wheelchair many children ever saw – many disabled characters were on TV at a time when mainstreaming for school wasn’t even happening for high health needs and additional needs children.
All this wasn’t just a window into another world for children – it was important for representation. Children could finally see themselves on TV when the only other high-rating show was a bunch of irritating men singing annoying songs.
Julia, the first character with autism, is one of my son’s favourite characters, and it helps him to understand and support his friends who are ASD. They’ve had an HIV+ muppet, Takalani Sesame. Jason Kingsley starred in 55 episodes of Sesame Street in the 70s and he has Down Syndrome. Since then, many kids with disabilities have been on the show. A puppet called Alex had a dad who was in jail. My son knows all of the parts to a wheelchair because of the show’s ‘Wheels on the Chair’ song. In one of my favourite old episodes, First Nations actress Buffy Sainte-Marie tells Big Bird while breastfeeding her son onscreen that “lots of mothers feed their babies this way. Not all mothers, but lots of mothers do.” They have a bunch of adopted children and single parents on the show too.
So why wouldn’t Bert and Ernie be gay? And really, the better question is: why shouldn’t they?
Since 1969 The Street has been the place for children. So really it should be those children who get to decide who is who on the show. And they’ll be wanting to see their two dads, their two mums, their uncles, and aunties – all of the couples in their lives that they know and love who are LGBT.
Around the world, Sesame Street is shown. The main characters are different everywhere – a giant French-speaking polar bear named Basil, a pink turtle named Pong Pagong, Kippi Kippod the hedgehog, No’Man the Kuwaiti camel. Everywhere children need to see themselves, there’s Sesame Street.
So do we need Bert and Ernie to be gay? Well, it doesn’t matter they’re gay – but in short, yes. Children should be able to see that love is love is love and Bert and Ernie are as happy together as Mr and Mrs Robinson, as Floyd and Janis, as Gonzo and Camilla, as those two rats who are always singing love songs to each other, as Mary and Gary, as their mum and dad. If they’re gay, they need to know that happiness isn’t unobtainable. Despite what other media says. Despite what their church says. Despite what their horrible uncle says.
What if late at night, when all those horrible thoughts are running through their head, they think of Bert and Ernie. Just a sweet old couple, living happily at 123 Sesame Street, in love since 1969.
What a difference it might’ve made for me to see some happy gay muppets on TV to balance out the church’s teachings that I was going to Hell. I might not have begun to hate myself so early for being just as hot for Buffy as I was for Angel.
Ultimately, does it matter what we think? Probably not. But it should.
Wherever possible we should fight for representation for children because it really matters. When Julia, an autistic character, joined The Street, Twitter user @shiphitsthefan wrote about the following interaction with their child:
The suicide rate and attempted suicide rate of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children and youth is devastatingly high. Much higher than the general population. The difference representation makes matters so much. If only more internet debates were focused on that issue. If only more people were furious about that toll.
Imagine what we could achieve if hundreds of thousands of adults were focused on that?
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