By Sidney Drmay
Let’s get one thing clear from the start: Growing up in the late ‘90s/early 2000s was weird because they made cartoon characters hot. I don’t know why they started doing that but they did, and now all us millennials have to live with the reality that a lot of our first crushes were cartoon characters. So thanks for that, animation industry. As a direct result, my best friend Kayla and I have a list of all the characters from childhood media that made us gay. Well, maybe not ‘made’ us gay necessarily, but certainly helped with that sexual awakening people have and gave us some kind of representation. It’s almost three pages long.
One of my first crushes growing up was Raven from Teen Titans. I would wake up every Saturday and station myself in front of the TV, waiting for the show to start. If I was extra lucky it would be a marathon day. I had never read any of her comics and didn’t even fully realize that the character was actually created in the ‘80s. All I knew was that her snarky attitude and purple hair was super cool. Raven sparked an unending trend of immediately being obsessed with the spunky, goth girl character in shows as soon as she was introduced. You know the ones: Sky High’s Magenta, Nikki from 6teen, Shego from Kim Possible, Ellie from Degrassi. They were cool, tough, stylish, a little bit scary and defied expected notions of femininity. It wasn’t until I was part-way through puberty that I realized I didn’t just think these fictional girls were cool, but that I legitimately had crushes on them. They were everything I wanted to be while also being everything I wanted to kiss.
Growing up, I attended a French Catholic school in a small town in Southern Ontario, where there were plenty of people who showed me why that would quite literally ruin my life. The girls who wouldn’t invite me to their sleepovers, the friend who immediately told everyone after I confessed to thinking a female classmate was cute; the Grade Six teacher who sat me down and told me that the things I felt were a problem; the Grade Seven teacher who told me gay marriage was a sin. It was a constant battlefield of avoidance, shutting down and brushing off what people say to me. I didn’t have the liberty to be a curious kid, I was more focused on surviving in a hostile environment. I lived in fear of developing a crush on a classmate.
This meant that the characters in TV shows and movies were perfect for me, I could pin all my growing hormones on someone non-existent that wouldn’t tell all our classmates about how I was sinning. I could talk about how cool I thought they were and my friends assumed it was purely admiration for a character, not an intense crush. All the discomfort and confusion of being a young queer kid in Catholic school was alienating, it made it impossible for me to feel like I could believe in a God who hated me. So instead of devoting myself to God and a community that didn’t want me, I devoted myself to the goth girls of my dreams. I dyed my hair dark blue when I was twelve, wrote shitty fanfiction and I worshiped their shows, watching everything I could as often as I could.
I learned how to stream on the family PC and started downloading as soon as I got my first laptop for my fourteenth birthday. If my school days were bad at least I had some good shows and movies to watch at home to help me feel better. They still do too—they’ve become my comfort media. Whenever I’m feeling sad or sick, I turn to them, feeling the nostalgia of youthful crushes and happiness. I rewatch Degrassi, Teen Titans and 6teen at least once a year. They remind me that though this world can be a cruel and uncaring place for young queer kids, we still find ourselves wherever we can. Kids media has been getting better; there’s overtly queer characters in major showrunners on major networks. It’s amazing to see and I still make time to watch the episodes that have queer characters, but the shows I was obsessed with as a kid still mean the most to me. They helped me feel comfortable in my identity, calmed my fears of loneliness and eventually helped me find other queer kids to bond with.
Even though I’m pretty sure being queer is just a thing you’re born with, I feel pretty confident in saying that TV made me gay. Without those goth girls I might have always felt a little bit broken. Which means, despite the weirdness of growing up with hot cartoon characters, I really do have to thank the animation industry for making that a thing. So, again, thanks for that, animation industry.