When I came out at fifteen, my parents did not react well. We have a wonderful relationship now, but as a teenager, I couldn't envision a future in which my family would accept me. I know I'm not the only LGBTQ person to have this experience, or to survive through those difficult relationships with given families by crafting a chosen family of friends, partners, and community members. I think it's part of why shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. which focus on groups of friends forming into mini-families, have such big LGBTQ followings. Whether it’s because we aren’t accepted by our given family or because our partnerships and paths to parenthood still fall outside the accepted norm, we understand the power of narratives about alternative families. They show that regardless of whether you have close ties to biological family or not, you can have a life full of loving, meaningful relationships. And lately, no piece of media has been sending this message as strongly and as beautifully as Steven Universe.
The show is about a boy whois being co-parented by his father and his mother's dearest friends, two of whom are explicitly presented as queer, which is already awesome in my book. But as the show progresses, it continues to highlight so many different forms of alternative families. In series creator Rebecca Sugar's recent coming out (woo!), she said, "I want to feel like I exist and I want everyone else who wants to feel that way to feel that way too." For folks with alternative forms of family, you can definitely see yourself existing in Steven Universe. Maybe like Steven, Greg, and the Crystal Gems, an important part of your family has passed on. Maybe like Pearl, Garnet, Peridot, and Lapis, you're physically far away from your first home, forced to build a new family in a new place. Maybe like Ruby and Sapphire, your first family did not understand or accept the way you love. Maybe like Amethyst, your roots weren't safe and you were adopted. Maybe you're like Connie and your bio family is important to you, but you find specific forms of validation and joy in your chosen family. Maybe like Peridot you're slowly learning that you don't share your given family's values and you're learning the importance of friendship. Maybe like Sour Cream, you have a difficult relationship with a biological parent, but have a supportive and loving step-parent.
Not only does Steven Universe show a diversity of relationships, but it continually demonstrates how interpersonal (or inter-gem) relationships can be messy and imperfect, but move towards a positive place. Whether it's platonic, familial, or romantic love, individuals will get hurt and mistakes will be made, but a commitment to empathy and willingness to grow allows relationships to continue to change and bloom. It's a radical kind of love that feels queer as hell, and the recent episode, "Mr. Greg" perfectly demonstrated it as Pearl and Greg began to heal the tension that has existed between them due to loving the same person. The show treats relationships with a complexity one typically expects from media aimed at adults, and it does it with colorful musical numbers.
LGBTQ folks are less likely to wind up forming families that fit a traditional mode, and there are a lot of different reasons why our chosen family may be equally or more significant than our given family. Steven Universe shows a ton of them and it constantly confirms that chosen family can be every bit as fulfilling and meaningful as the family you were born and/or raised in. So many of the characters have at some point felt alone, alienated, and unaccepted, but they find a home, and they find family. It doesn't fully heal their pain because their hurt comes from a valid place, but it makes things bearable for them, and once they've learned to survive, they get to live, joyfully even. You will find family, even if not in the people you first knew by that name. There is a place for you. Be it in a barn with a former enemy, in bustling Empire City, or even in Jersey.