Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. TV & Radio
20 September 2018updated 03 Aug 2021 5:55am

Some puppets are gay, get over it Sesame Street

It would be nice if the show’s makers could embrace Bert and Ernie’s relationship, rather than feel compelled to deny it.

By Eleanor Margolis

“You’ll meet someone new, don’t worry,” an elderly Portuguese neighbour tells my girlfriend, Leo.   

The Neighbour, a cheerful woman in a muumuu, is asking after Leo’s ex-boyfriend – a guy Leo broke up with nearly three years ago.

“Oh, I have met someone else,” says Leo, gesturing towards me – the woman she has literally just introduced as her partner.

The Neighbour, bent over in her front garden, pauses to uproot a weed.

“Don’t worry,” The Neighbour repeats, “You’ll find someone.”

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Leo blinks slowly.

“Okay then,” she says, “See you later”.

Content from our partners
Transport is the core of levelling up
The forgotten crisis: How businesses can boost biodiversity
Small businesses can be the backbone of our national recovery

In silence, we leave her to her weeding.

“Next time, can you just tell her I’m your wife?” I say to Leo halfway down the road and out of earshot of The Neighbour. I wonder why I have a headache then realise my face is contorted in a frown.

“Is this you proposing to me?” says Leo.

Since the beginning of our relationship, over two years ago, we’ve been trying to get it into The Neighbour’s head that I’m more than just a very supportive friend who visits Leo several times a week to comfort her over an extremely stale breakup.

But we’re not the only same-sex couple experiencing this problem. Cohabiting humanoid puppets Bert and Ernie have just been demoted to “best pals” by the organisation behind Sesame Street. In response to one of the show’s writers, Mark Saltzman, announcing that (no shit) the two characters who have now shared a bedroom (albeit in separate beds) for nearly fifty years are indeed a couple, Sesame Workshop released a statement rebutting this. According to this edict, Bert and Ernie “do not have a sexual orientation”. Now, aside from the asexual erasure that comes with the assumption that asexuals are automatically aromantic (asexual couples exist), please – for the love of god – isn’t it time the gay couples as “bestest buds” euphemism died on its hoary ass?

If there’s one thing people in same-sex relationships know all too well, it’s the heart-sinking feeling of your partner being cast – usually by uncomfortable family members – as literally anything but. From “court favourites” of James I to the “live-in gal pal” of Kristen Stewart – countless couples have been given the Bert and Ernie treatment. Leo and I were once asked by a nosy mechanic if we were sisters. This is in spite of us looking absolutely nothing alike. Leo is tall and slim; I’m short, much darker and much less slim. Side by side, I always assume we look like Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni. And I somehow doubt they’ve ever been asked if they’re brother and sister.

The truly sad thing about the unwillingness of Sesame Workshop to accept Bert and Ernie as a couple is the implication that a same-sex relationship would somehow corrupt the innocence of the show. The thought process seems to be that confirming Bert and Ernie are a couple is also confirming that they met while out cottaging in Central Park. Meanwhile, straight couples get to have all the casual hook-ups and anal sex they like without their “lifestyle” forcing producers to denounce Kermit and Miss Piggy as a couple. This societal obsession with gay people’s sex lives is as damaging as it is tedious.  

As a matter of urgency, children need to see that same-sex relationships exist, are normal and sometimes even quite boring (Bert and Ernie must be pretty long-suffering of each other at this point). Thankfully, official statement aside, everyone – including Piers Morgan unfortunately – seems to think the puppets are an item anyway. It would just be nice if the makers of Sesame Street could embrace this, rather than doing the “done thing” of making gay references taboo. Of course Sesame Workshop wouldn’t want to promote the homosexual lifestyle, although it’s absolutely fine for Cookie Monster to promote the diabetic one.

It’s altogether quite surprising though that a famously woke show like Sesame Street, which introduced an autistic character to the cast last year, would turn down an opportunity to teach kids about acceptance of differences. Isn’t that like… their whole thing?

Either way: some puppets are gay, get over it.