So, this past weekend I watched the Season 1 finale of Steven Universe. Patreon backers can see my reaction now, and it’ll go public in a few weeks, but since those initial thoughts I’ve been watching one sequence a lot: the musical number “Stronger Than You.” I really like it, and I have thoughts about it in the larger context of the show and society.
Spoilers under the cut.
Just prior to the song, we get the big reveal that Garnet is actually a fusion of two Gems, Ruby and Sapphire. They are clearly depicted as lovers–they are deeply concerned for each others’ well-being when separated, and the moment they come together they hug, mashing their faces together, Ruby cries in relief and Sapphire kisses her tears away. It’s a tender moment, and followed by them spinning and laughing, then fusing into Garnet.
I really don’t see any way in which reading them as anything other than lovers is viable, though of course there is some wiggle room involving what being lovers means for an alien species about which we know very little.
Ruby and Sapphire’s intense, almost desperate, desire to be together, coupled with the fact that from the moment they see each other they do not stop touching until they fuse, hints toward why they decided to fuse permanently: their love for each other is so intense that they want to never be apart, and so instead they become a gestalt entity.
And it seems pretty likely that this behavior is not accepted in Gem society. Earlier in the series, when Garnet and Amethyst fused and refused to separate, Pearl (who is the Crystal Gem most concerned with propriety) warned that staying in a fusion too long could be dangerous, and in the finale Jasper is contemptuous of fusions, referring to it as a “cheap tactic to make weak Gems strong.”
It’s not hard to read this as a queer narrative. Ruby and Sapphire both present as female–as do all Gems except Steven and occasionally Amethyst–making theirs a lesbian relationship. The expression of their love–Garnet–is looked down upon by Jasper, who at least so far appears to be representative of the attitudes and mores of the larger Gem culture against which Rose Quartz’ rebellion fought. Their love and choice to fuse permanently is thus, if not outright taboo, at least seen as unusual, dangerous, and contemptible.
Which brings us to Garnet’s song. It establishes Ruby and Sapphire as in rebellion in the first verse–“The two of us ain’t gonna follow your rules”–and then the second verse and chorus effectively confirm the queer reading: “Can’t you see that my relationship is stable?/I can see you hate the way we intermingle/But I think you’re just mad because you’re single.” The use of “single” here refers to the fact that Jasper is not a fusion, but of course saying that a person is single is also a way of saying they’re not in a romantic relationship, confirming that, at least where Garnet and her fight with Jasper are concerned, fusion is to be read as such a relationship. The implication seems to be that Ruby and Sapphire joined the rebellion because their romance and desire to fuse permanently were not accepted in Gem culture. Garnet’s very existence is an act of rebellious defiance: “You’re not gonna stop what we made together/We’re gonna stay this way forever/And if you break us apart we’ll just come back newer.”
Consider, too, that the episode works to parallel Garnet and Steven: like her, he is depicted as a being with two distinct sides that proves to be greater than the sum of his parts, with his Gem half protecting him and empowering him to save the Crystal Gems on Earth in “The Return,” while his human half protects him and empowers him to save them on the Gem spaceship in “Jailbreak.” Steven is also, in a sense, a fusion–half Gem, half human–and specifically his Gem half is Rose Quartz, founder of the rebellion, who dedicated herself to protecting Earth and eventually fell in love with a human. They are both the fusional products of forbidden, or at least very unusual, love, and both demonstrated in this episode to be powerful forces for good.
Returning to the song, Garnet describes what being a fusion is like: “I am a feeling/And I will never end…. I am even more than the two of them/Everything they care about is what I am/I am their fury/I am their patience/I am a conversation.” And, of course, the final chorus, which gives the song its title: “I am made of love/And it’s stronger than you.” She’s giving Jasper a warning here: don’t stand in the way of love. In a battle between people who are genuinely, giddily, beautifully in love and their allies on one side, and an oppressive culture and its defenders on the other, bet on love’s fury and love’s patience to win in the end.
Which, you know, is rather more optimistic than I am capable of feeling, but it’s also something that has to be said, because it’s something that has to be heard. The enemies of love are on the wrong side of history, and bit by bit, slowly, at least for now, they’re losing. I mean, just a few short years ago there was massive outcry because a children’s show–Postcards from Buster, a spinoff of Arthur–acknowledged that same-sex relationships exist. Now in 2015 we started off with Legend of Korra’s finale strongly, albeit deniably, implying the beginning of a same-sex relationship in its final seconds, and now Steven Universe finally has a main character being an incarnation of lesbian love, out in the open, in an ongoing series.
The Jaspers of this world are big and powerful and violent, but at least we have Steven Universe to tell children that love is stronger still. True or not, it seems to me to definitely be something kids should hear.
ETA: Corrected the title of the Arthur spinoff.