When asked during an interview with Queerty, an LGBT news organization, if the characters Bert and Ernie were a gay couple, former Sesame Street writer Mark Saltzman responded that “they were.” While many celebrated the confirmation of a long-questioned LGBT theory, a couple of Sesame Street affiliates felt that Saltzman’s statement didn’t properly reflect the mismatched roommates’ character.
Sesame Workshop, the non-profit organization that produces Sesame Street, released two statements on Twitter claiming that Bert and Ernie are friends. Frank Oz, a frequent Sesame Street puppeteer and the creator of Bert, corroborated these claims and spent a good chunk of his day working out the frustrations of people who questioned his assertion.
If the owner and creator of a character come out and say that said character is not gay, it seems like good practice to just take their word and move on. In this case it should have been easy, as each statement approached the controversy with open-mindedness and only refuted Saltzman’s interview in order to stay true to the original intentions of the characters’ designs. Oz especially specified that he applauds the genuine depiction of gay individuals, using the phrase “honest representation” when asked if he cared about the existence of LGBT characters on television.
Writing genuine LGBT characters helps to normalize the community by positively portraying them as what they are – people. There is a huge difference between a character being written with the intention of them being gay and changing non-gay characters to be gay in order to please a group of people.
“Steven Universe’s” Ruby and Sapphire are an example of the former. The two are shown getting married after thoroughly establishing their personalities, relationship, and having a clear and necessary factor in the show’s story. “Adventure Times”’ Princess Bubblegum and Marceline are another (spoiler alert) fantastic example of this, working out their romantic feelings for each other over the show’s length and finally getting together in the series finale. It’s a moment that feels deserved because it’s been hinted at and intended for quite some time rather than being lazily added in an attempt to please fans.
Again, it’s totally fine to fit characters into a personal depiction in order to feel more connected to or sympathetic with them. Headcanons are a healthy way of exploring your imagination, and as someone who watches a lot of anime and talks to people with similar interests, I can vouch that discussing these fantasies can sometimes be more entertaining than watching the original content.
However, it’s necessary to remember these are just fantasies. I prefer to believe that Batman really did die saving Gotham at the end of the “The Dark Knight Rises,” but I’m not going to militarize my Twitter account to convert people to my fascination
That being said, Saltzman assuming their sexuality for himself is perfectly fine, too. His statement was based on his own beliefs about the characters, which he says he used to mirror his own relationship with his partner, allowing him to relate to the characters and draw material from their relationship and insert it into the show.
Throwing all of the previous discussions out the window, the simplest and possibly most effective argument against this whole debacle is to ask who cares? Hopefully there aren’t people who will take too much offense tofrom this situation, because there’s no use in losing sleep over the sexuality of two puppets that appear on a show I’m sure most of those arguing about online last watched before smartphones were invented.
So Bert and Ernie aren’t gay. There are tons of other gay couples in pop culture that you can appreciate for actually representing LGBTQ+ people.
But if you really need #Bernie to be a thing, do what Saltzman did and tell people you think they are. What’s the worst that can happen?
Isaac Espinosa is a fourth-year electrical engineering major. He can be reached at email@example.com.