Photo courtesy of Big Mouth
Maybe their mouths were getting a little too big.
Some might be familiar with the show “Big Mouth,” a disturbingly hilarious Netflix original series that showcases preteens’ awkward exploration of puberty and sexuality as they navigate modern-day society. When I first came across the animated series, the overall weirdness of the show made it so I could barely reach the end of the first episode. Pushing past feelings of discomfort and second-hand embarrassment was tough, but soon I was binge-watching both seasons in under a week’s time, ready for the third to air. But after the recent events, I don’t think I’ll finish it.
Aside from its comedic aspects, the show’s willingness to discuss taboo topics is part of why the show was awarded so much praise. The third season is no different as it attempts to delve into queer-related topics. ‘Attempt’ being the operative word.
It was a different kind of discomfort to witness the newly introduced character explain her pansexuality to the class in a way that is transphobic, biphobic and overall invalidating towards folks who identify within each community. To quote, “pansexual means I’m into boys, girls and everyone in between,” to which she continued with, “bisexuality is so binary. Being pansexual means my sexual preference isn’t limited by gender identity… If you’re bisexual you like tacos and burritos. But I’m saying I like tacos, burritos and I could be into a taco that was born a burrito… or a burrito that was transitioning into a taco.”
For those who don’t understand the severity of this scene, it’s biphobic to make the assumption that bisexuality only includes cisgender people. In a similar sense, it’s transphobic to imply that pansexuality exists as a separate category to include trans and nonbinary people — as if gay people, lesbians and bisexuals aren’t capable of dating, loving or being attracted to non-cisgender people. This notion only reinforces the idea that trans women are not real women and trans men are not real men.
It’s safe to say that the LGBTQIA+ community was justly outraged by the misrepresentation and discourse arose between pansexual and bisexual communities who felt wronged by this “Big Mouth” episode.
Many immediately wrote off the concerns of angry viewers, claiming that people need to “chill out” and realize that “Big Mouth” is an adult comedy not meant to be taken seriously — the usual “this generation is becoming too sensitive” trope. But what’s not being understood is that when popular shows broadcast inaccurate and harmful information to a wide audience, real humans are affected. Especially when the targeted community already exists as a marginalized group. Queer youth start to question themselves, people are mislabeled, lives are invalidated. So no, the queer community is justified in their offense.
One thing to note is that the co-creator of “Big Mouth” Andrew Goldberg issued an apology over Twitter in response to the backlash from fans and critics. Many fans accepted the apology as a show of accountability, while others displayed skepticism over the genuineness of his statements. Genuine or not, he did more than other people in the same position would have by addressing his wrongdoings. The only question is whether or not Goldberg and the rest of Big Mouth’s writing team can back up their apology with action.
Whether or not the show should be “cancelled” is up for debate. People awarded “Big Mouth” for at least attempting to shed light on the topic of sexuality. But if you’re going to take that step, don’t fumble on it in such a way that leaves your community of interest feeling misspoken for. Instead of sharing another person’s narrative, give queer people the opportunity to use their voice to share their experiences.
Of course this occurrence won’t stop people from streaming this season or the next. Some have forgiven, some have forgotten and others simply don’t care. Will the cast and writers of “Big Mouth” take this critique as a learning experience for later seasons? I can only hope. I can only ask that moving forward, viewers show caution before blindly watching shows that harm marginalized folks. Support real people before supporting animated characters.
Monique D’Afrique is a third-year Psychological Sciences major at UCI. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.