Here’s the thing: in 2018, LGBTQ representation in pop culture should be a given. It should be common to see queer characters in queer romances in comics, books, TV shows, movies and more — but somehow, it’s not. And even when it is common, the representation isn’t always very good. So when LGBTQ creators like Noelle Stevenson — the executive producer and showrunner for DreamWorks/Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power — step into positions of power in this medium, we put a lot of pressure on them to deliver the kind of content we want.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power has received a lot of great feedback from critics, including my review right here at The Beat. The animated series dropped Nov. 13 on Netflix after fan response to the series prompted the streaming giant to release it three days earlier than planned. Before Adora, Glimmer, Bow, Catra, and the members of the Princess Alliance even hit the screen, a fandom was already developing around the show.

On my Twitter feed, most of the hype was built around the relationship between Adora and Catra (ship name: Catradora, who were #1 on tumblr via Fandometrics at time of writing): childhood friends, raised in the Horde, who give off such strong ex-girlfriend vibes in the show that it’s almost unbelievable. Throughout the first season of She-Ra, the dynamic between these two characters slowly crescendoes and then shatters in a desperate moment of genuine heartbreak. Watching the development of their relationship once was painful; watching it a second time, when I was more attached to the characters, their relationship, and their world, was even harder.

She-Ra bites off a lot of angst for its audience to chew, while also leaning hard into queer subtext. In particular, the episode “Princess Prom” gave queer audiences a lot to process: from Adora and Catra ballroom dancing in a fury-filled argument over Catra’s intentions at the ball to Scorpia blatantly crushing on Catra. Entertainment Weekly‘s Darren Franich even called out this tension in his review of the show.

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Photo: catlevania/tumblr.

But it’s not just subtext — at least, not wholly. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, much like Adventure Time and Steven Universe before it, doesn’t shy away from introducing romance, however innocent, into the lives of its teenage characters. Glimmer undergoes a crisis when Bow goes to the ball with new friend Perfuma; Mermista has a bizarre love-hate relationship with Captain Seahawk. And then there are Netossa and Spinnarella, whose relationship is defined by constant touching and one carefully placed usage of the pet-name “Darling.” However, as pointed out by Hypable writer Donya Abramo, these two were the butt of the joke in their most involved episode, which not only altered how she viewed the character Bow (who cracks wise about their princess powers), but also how she interacted with the overall queer-positive aspects of the show.

In an email exchange with Abramo, she expanded on her comments from her review: “While I was watching, I knew that for a general, cishet audience, [Netossa and Spinnarella’s] relationship wouldn’t be explicit enough for everyone to simply get it,” Abramo said. “That’s not a unique phenomenon. We’ve seen it across several animated shows, most recently with Marceline and Princess Bubblegum in Adventure Time [who had years of build-up before they finally kissed in the series finale]…. It took an explicit Bubbleline kiss for everyone to accept it as being more than a close friendship.”

Abramo added that for her, as a queer woman, this kind of queer-coding is “enough for [her] and will be enough — to an extent — for fandom spaces. But outside of that, there’s enough wiggle-room for an audience to assume friendship, above anything else. And that sucks. Changing that default [heteronormative assumption of straightness] is never going to be an easy thing. Not until LGBTQIA+ individuals are represented equally across the entire spectrum.”

Because She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is a children’s show, there are some — like commenters on Franich’s EW review of the show — who think that discussing sexuality in the series at all is harmful. But here’s the thing: it’s only when we’re talking about queer sexuality that these kinds of defenses fall into place. Infant onesies say phrases like “heartbreaker” and little girls are taught that if boys pull their hair or tease them, it’s because they have a crush — which not only reinforces heterosexuality, but normalizes sexual harassment and physical abuse.

To normalize queerness across the spectrum, for all ages, it has to be present. It has to be talked about in the same way that heterosexuality is present and talked about. Queer-coding may be enough for Abramo and for some parts of the She-Ra fandom, but frankly, it isn’t enough. Explicit confirmation of queerness is utterly necessary. In She-Ra, queerness is absolutely present, though admittedly Abramo has a point: because the first season of the show relies mostly on subtext and doesn’t, for example, show two princesses kissing, there are plenty of viewers who will assume that queer audiences are making things up or twisting them to fit our own narrative. That includes the relationship between Catra and Adora.

“There will be people in the audience who will likely view Catra and Adora as more sibling-like, due to how they were raised together, but for me, there was so much hurt in Adora’s defection to the Princesses, and Catra’s refusal to follow her, that it edged into romantically coded territory,” Abramo said in an email. “It was so raw, and so fresh, and they both felt so strongly that they were in the right, that it put me in mind of several of my early relationships that ended badly, and you never quite heal and fit back together in the same way.”

It would be easy to throw a blanket over the entire cast of characters in She-Ra and yell, “THEY’RE GAY!” In the finale, they each glow with a different color of the rainbow, their combined forces knocking back the Horde in an incredibly dramatic fashion. However, it’s clear that Stevenson and her writers are aiming to introduce various types of representation in this series, which is commendable. As Abramo pointed out in her Hypable review and our emails, the “Princess of the Week” format employed for the first half of season one of the show could have allowed for a lot more expansion into how these characters are as people, not just princesses with powers. Ideally, in season two, we’ll get to see their relationships develop further and learn more about them as individuals, too.

I’m especially hoping that we’ll actually get confirmation of a “spoiler” that series star Aimee Carrero (who voices Adora/She-Ra) gave away at New York Comic Con: Bow supposedly has two dads, though we didn’t meet them in season one — why? We see much of Bow and Glimmer’s life at the palace, including significant scenes shared between Glimmer and her mom. The fact that we miss out on the same from Bow and his dads is frustrating, especially because that reveal at NYCC evoked such a massive response.

Plus, there are hints that Bow may be transgender. I’m a cisgender woman, but when I watched the show (for the second time) with my non-binary partner, who was watching it for the first time, they commented a few times on Bow’s possible transness — especially in the episode “In the Shadows of Mystacor,” when Bow, Glimmer and Adora all go to the hot springs together. Although it would presumably be acceptable for a cisgender teen boy to go shirtless in the springs, Bow wears a top just like Glimmer and Adora. Specifically, the top looks like it could be a binder or something to mask top surgery scars.

Photo: Netflix.

As the world of Etheria expands, will we meet other transgender and/or queer characters? Will we get to see these teens deal with their hormones? There are so many possibilities at hand; my only wish is to see this series embrace queerness in a way that is ultimately affirming to its audience, especially kids who may feel like they’re broken or weird.

32 COMMENTS

  1. “It should be common to see queer characters in queer romances in comics, books”
    AHAHAHAHA.
    What… you’re joking right? Its actually waaaaay over represented right now. Its in almost EVERY show or movie or comic universe. This is just delusional at this point.

  2. I’m surprised how much I’m enjoying the new SHE-RA; it’s a lot of fun. The mixture of humor and emotion is deftly balanced, it’s not at all sappy, and (particularly over the first 3 episodes) they take their time and don’t rush the character development. And even an exuberantly goofy episode (“The Sea Gate”, which is a hoot) manage to add some great Adora/Catra drama to the overall story.

    I have no affection for (or much recollection of) the old She-Ra or He-Man shows; I took a look at the reboot because of the the people involved. The animation looks very good; the character designs remind me of several artists I like (in particular, Brittney Williams and Jenn St-Onge.)

    Anyway, hope Netflix decides to keep this series going for a good long time.

  3. This whole article is just grasping at straws here. Automatically, I got the “subtle” hint that Netossa & Spinderella were a couple. You didn’t even need to spell it out. Stop creating an issue with a series, when there is none. This is how good series end.

  4. I would appreciate more explicit gay stuff in the show (ie, smooches, declarations of romance in unmistakable language) as well as gender stuff, be it trans on nb characters.
    I will defend this show though, for I know the crew had to fight and fight hard to make it as queer as they did. I also appreciated there wasn’t really any explicit straight content either outside of Glimmer having a dead dad.
    Here’s hoping for an even gayer season 2!

  5. This show sucks, sorry but its writing is horrid. And more LGBTQ rep on screen? Thats all there is right now. We are only 7 percent of the population. Even Im sick of seeing gays on tv!

  6. I’m glad I’m not the only one who read Bow as possible trans or non-binary. There’s just so much in how he’s presented that made me wonder if we’re supposed to catch some sort of subtext. :)

  7. I definitely agree. I came into She-ra having seen reviews call it a queer show along the lines of Steven Universe. And while it is queer in the sense that it focuses almost entirely on the relationships between women, in terms of actual queer romance it never moves past subtext. That being said, Steven Universe didn’t move much past subtext in its first (half) season either. There’s a strong foundation here with plenty of queer potential, so I’ll hold off on my judgements until I see more.

  8. I just finished the first season. For a first season the show laid down a lot of foundation, which is what a first season needs to do. This is a luxury that a show that knows it’s going to have a second season can do. The relationships aren’t forced, or at least anymore than any other kids show. After all the switch of Adora, Glimmer and Bow from adversaries to captors to friends isn’t any different from many a kids show I’ve seen before, or any adventure show. A lot has to be packed into these episodes.

    I don’t know about ‘coding’ and that sort of thing. Seeing hidden codes and meanings in fiction goes back to Shakespeare’s plays, but in modern times this sort of thing has become a tool of the right or the left to amplify their shouts of injustice/justification. To me it doesn’t matter as long as the story is interesting. This one is. The realationship between Adora and Catra is a romantic one, but a very young romantic one. Physical contact wouldn’t be considered by either of them, not in a sexual way, but we do see Catra sleeping curled up at Adora’s feet and there are references about how Adora has been sheltering her. I think a romance could have developed between them over time and still might. The big mystery for me is Catra, her motivations and her parentage. She might be mad at Adora for leaving the Horde, but we also see her gleeful anticipation of blowing things up (the only time I saw her purr in the entire season), and she obviously enjoys trying to be the dominate one in the relationship she has with Adora. At the same time while Adora feels doubts about her abilities Catra thinks she knows it all. As a teenager I thought the exact same thing and I didn’t have the martial training that Adora and Catra had. So seeing how they develop that will be interesting.

    Bottom line is that I liked the show and if they want to introduce more trans-whatever (because we have to remember that while both Adora and Catra are female they are also different species) romantic plots then as long as it advances the plot and the characters I won’t mind a bit. This isn’t fanfic of the romantic pairings of Captain Caveman and the Teenangels, this is going to be hopefully far beyond that. I look forward to seeing what they do.

  9. I’ve been watching animated stuff on Netflix with my almost-5 daughter for a few months now (Mommy took away her iPad due to inability to self-moderate. My li’l girl is a born binge-watcher!).
    Last year we discovered that My Little Pony is really pretty good. Then we saw the movie and it’s full-ugly opening events killed our Pony-thusiasism.
    After that it was Teen Titans Go, then TMNT was big in our house for a bit, then Barbie stuff (didn’t work for me at all), then Captain Underpants (niiiicccccce), then Johnny Test (verrrry nnnniiiiiiiiiccccce), then she saw a glimpse of She-Ra.
    We watched the thirteen episodes in two sittings and last night she watched the first 5 again before we went to sleep.
    She loves everything about it! I like it too, but not like she does (and I miss Johnny Test!). She is ABSORBED! We are both looking forward to more episodes (particularly more about Cattra and Shadowweaver’s histories and plans).

    Despite being a “cishet” male with proven-faulty gaydar, I totally noticed that there are a lot of more-than-just-friend levels of same-sex relationships on screen and that Bow is pretty light on the masculinity. The show doesn’t seem quiet about gayness to me! And, as the father of a little girl who is anxious to do “the marrying” (at almost-5 she is already on her second love-object!), I don’t need any more explicit displays of romance (gay or het) in my little girl’s entertainment!

  10. Yeah, you can have a strong friendship without it having to be anything other then friendship. My friend who is a woman and I have been together since we were in diapers and now we are both in our thirties. We have had plenty or raw fights with gut wrenching tears, and times where we’ve even snuggled. But it was NEVER sexual, on either of our sides. We are closer than every relationship I’ve ever had (minus my husband). I don’t think She-Ra is gay, I don’t think at this point she’s intended to BE anything. And as far as some people calling her manly on some boards, hey, woman’s bodies have the ability to gain a ton muscle without any help from pharmaceuticals or the like. Listen, I’m ALWAYS for everyone expressing themselves however they like and even having their own opinions, that’s their right…..but for me that also means that people will always see things there or want to see things there because of how THEY translate it. Many times that’s how art works, even if the creator did or did not mean for that to be the case.

  11. I agree with Cat. The subtext is strong enough. Sometimes subtext is nice. I started a LGBQT comic reading group (so my LGBQT friends could see comics are for everyone) and one of the complaints is that in some of the books I chose, the characters were too gay and it took away from living a normal life.

    I’m a cishet man myself, but I get it. Sometimes you want to see characters do something else than be over-the-top.

  12. Much scorn was poured on white adult males not liking the new She-Ra because “It’s a kids’ show, it was never made for you, haw-haw.” Was it originally made for homosexuals?

  13. Honestly, I pretty much completely disagree with this article, although I appreciate the point it’s trying to make. It’s just a little tired to drag a series through the mud over “subtle” queer representation when the creator is literally an engaged lesbian and there are actually trans and gay people writing on this show. Every crowd scene was full of gay couples, gay couples KISSING, one woman even clad in a lesbian-flag dress. And quoting the writer who lauded Voltron’s writing in its seventh season — a season that was universally criticized for perpetuating the “kill your gays” trope when its hyped-up “representation” was SO subtle there was no way any casual viewer could catch it? That’s… not working for me.

    She-Ra is on its first season — 13 episodes. The writers have been adamant about providing representation, and they have confirmed — on multiple occasions! — that Bow’s dads will make an appearance, that Spinnetossa will get more screentime, etc. And implying Bow is homophobic for making the children’s-show-equivalent of a “look at this lovey dovey couple get a room” when Bow canonically has two fathers and is extremely gay and trans coded? Like, what?

    Also, your interpretations of the romance in the show are off-base — which doesn’t really hurt your argument, just is a nitpick. Bow and Glimmer’s relationship has been called that of a brother-sister relationship by the creators, like, multiple times. Frankly, the whole point of their relationship is that they’re subverting the expectation that dudes and chicks who are friends have to be into each other. Also, saying Scorpia has a “crush” on Catra when Catra is a teenager and Scorpia is essentially her babysitter is weird. That’s not the vibe I got from the show, possibly because Scorpia kept! saying! “best friends!” every! other! sentence!

    There are three seasons nearly finished in production at the point. The later seasons are fresher in the creators’ minds, which would explain why they focused on characters like Bow’s dads while promoing the first season (which was an accident anyways). People gave Voltron space to include gay representation for YEARS, literal years. Voltron, in a word, didn’t. But I didn’t see any think-pieces then.

    It’s good to criticize media. Writing an entire article based on what WASN’T in a mere 13 episodes of a female-and-queer-written show? Less exciting.

  14. Most progress is undermined by the fact She-Ra can only be a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, cis female with a tall and slender body type. Why would the sword not pick anyone of any ethnicity or body type?

  15. Why the sword chose Adora is I believe going to be part of the future plot line. It has to be really since both Adora and Catra’s parentage are big question marks.

  16. But, the stained glass from thousands of years ago in the crystal cove place showed all blonde-haired, blue-eyed white women as past she-ras, didn’t it?

  17. I would have liked to have seen past She-Ras of different ethnic looks, such as a flashback episode showing slayers though the ages on Buffy. Not all blonde or even white.

  18. True, but it might be a family legacy, like the Phantom, passed down from daughter to daughter. At this point we don’t know.

  19. GreenBean59, I don’t see any queer characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe or whatever the DC/Warner Brother superhero universe is being called these days.

    (in the extended MCU on TV, on the Netflix and ABC shows, there’s been A LITTLE representation, but not much)

    “almost EVERY show or movie or comic universe” is hyperbole on your part.

  20. Netflix wants to sell the shows it funds worldwide as LGBTQ is still illegal in many nations of the world it’s not going to do anything to overt because that will result in the show being banned.

    How hard is that to understand? that corporation sponsored content is created for a world wide audience not just the USA far left.

  21. Even if She-Ra is a family legacy, it seems strange that the line should be all thin, blonde, blue-eyed and no other ethnicities or body types in the family tree. Blonde hair and blue eyes are recessive traits and that indicates a colorist and body look breeding preference for thousands of years in such a diverse setting. That tells every girl who doesn’t look like that, no matter how much diversity there is in the show, that her hair color, hair texture, eyes shape, height, and body type are not good enough to be a She-Ra. The creators made a mistake by making all past She-ras look alike!

    Also, why is the only character with a natural Black hairstyle on the evil side (the multi-ethnic looking woman with the dreadlocks)? Not cool.

  22. Geez. Everybody on here is acting ridiculous. There is no pleasing anybody these days.

    I think the show is ok so far (on episode 6). When I watch it I keep forgetting the show isn’t avatar the last airbender. The characters personalities, the world and threat all feel very similar.

  23. One minor observation, I watched Disenchanted and I realized that of the two shows both have princesses that are not of the traditional body type for princesses. I don’t mind that.

  24. Catra read as nonbinary to me, I don’t ever remember hearing she pronouns for that character (but all the Princesses had them)

  25. Content creators aren’t required to make queer characters, and if they do it doesn’t have to be blatant. It can be subtle or not be shown at all, the only thing that matters is if people enjoy the show and the people creating it enjoy creating it.

  26. Why do all of the female characters look like they’ve had double mastectomies? Are the character designers and animators afraid of breasts or something?

  27. I can think of one example. Has nobody brought up the fact that Sweet Bee and Peek-A-Blue, while not featured characters (yet), were unambiguously, explicitly stated to be dating?

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