Bert and Ernie: Gay partners all along?
Are Bert and Ernie two pals living together on Sesame Street or secret gay lovers? asked Stephen Kent in WashingtonExaminer.com. There have been winking rumors about the roommates during the show’s 50-year run, but the debate over their sexuality took a surprisingly serious turn last week after veteran Sesame Street writer Mark Saltzman said he’d modeled Bert and Ernie’s relationship on his own with a longtime male partner. Legendary puppeteer Frank Oz, who actually created Bert, “gently reminded” frenzied liberals through Twitter that while Saltzman was free to use personal experience in his writing, “that does not make Bert and Ernie gay.” Do any 4-year-olds care? asked The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. It speaks “to the madness of this political moment” that adults will inject identity politics into even the most absurd contexts. “For crying out loud, it’s a puppet show.”
Tell that to a child who’s gay, said Nora Reed in WashingtonPost.com. “Most of the exposure that kids get to queerness comes in the form of slurs they’re called on the playground.” When you’re desperate to identify with someone in your formative years, “it can be a huge boost to see people like you living happy lives.” Don’t forget that plenty of Muppets have active love lives, said Elizabeth Simins in TheVerge.com. Oscar the Grouch has a girlfriend, the Count has “numerous female paramours,” and Kermit and Miss Piggy have some sort of “dysfunctional relationship.” Objections to Bert and Ernie being gay are based on the backward idea that straight couples are “natural and harmless,” whereas queerness is “vulgar,” “sexual,” and therefore unfit for “stories told to children.”
We’ve had this debate about fictional characters before, said John Scalzi in LATimes.com. Gay fans of Batman have long fantasized that Robin is more than a crime-fighting sidekick. A decade ago, J.K. Rowling declared that Albus Dumbledore, “the wizard headmaster of the Harry Potter books, was gay.” As the sole author behind Potter, Rowling should know. Sesame Street is more complicated. “I entirely believe that Frank Oz did not create Bert to be gay.” I also believe Saltzman wrote the characters as a loving gay couple. “All of these can be true simultaneously,” and that’s the beauty of art. As a viewer of any age or sexuality, “you get to decide which you want to believe.” ■