From Gonzo to Inspector Gadget, these pop culture touchstones offered nonbinary artists and creators a sense of hope and possibility.

By Jason Lamphier and Jolie Lash
June 09, 2021 at 11:00 AM EDT
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People in marginalized communities often have a difficult time accessing images or stories that truly reflect their lives and identities. But in this week's edition of EW's new Pride podcast, Untold Stories: Beyond the Binary, host Tre'vell Anderson asks guests to share pop culture touchstones from their past that offered them moments of visibility and hope, or at least a feeling of recognition - like they weren't alone in the world.

Joining Anderson for Part 1 of this week's podcast - the second in a series of four episodes airing every Wednesday in June - are Bob the Drag Queen, Lachlan Watson from Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, artist and musician Shamir, Good Trouble's Rhea Butcher, and the creator of Cartoon Network's Steven Universe, Rebecca Sugar. Highlighting the fictional characters who inspired them to think differently about their gender, they cite everything from The Powerpuff Girls and the 2001 Disney Channel movie Motocrossed to Inspector Gadget and Gonzo.

"Every character on Inspector Gadget is nonbinary," Butcher says. "Penny, Brain, Inspector Gadget, Dr. Claw, the cat... You know what I mean? But I think that really speaks to the experience of 'it's inside the house.' So then that story is coming into my house, so I see it that way."

Gonzo, in particular, has had a profound effect on Butcher. "Little blue alien, right?… Gonzo exists outside even the binary of human or animal, the Muppets or whatever," they say. "For me, there's something of being a weirdo, and that's not a judgment. It's just like my experience of, 'Oh, this is weird. I like this… It's strange and different.' Nobody knows what Gonzo is, but they also don't care. It's like, as a child, you see Gonzo and you're just like, 'Yep, absolutely makes sense to me. I don't need any more explanation. Shoot them out of a cannon. I'm into it.' That experience of just accepting what is, and then getting on board for what's behind that is really what the experience of being nonbinary is for me."

Later, Noelle Stevenson, the creator, showrunner, and executive producer of the animated television series She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, recounts a charming story from their own childhood.

"Sometimes I think that me as a kid had it more figured out than I do now," Stevenson tells Anderson. "I remember very specifically telling people that I was half-girl and half-boy when I was very young. I had a stuffed animal. My favorite stuffed animal was a little Simba. And I remember, at one point, I decided that Simba was now going to be Nala. And so I cut Simba's hair, dressed Nala in a little doll outfit. And I took her around and I was like, 'Everybody, this is Nala now.'"

They continue, "You know kids, it's like you have... I don't know, gender is so abstract anyway, you really don't know what the difference is between being a girl, being a boy, or being something else. It's all just hypothetical. I was very interested in it."

After that, artist and writer ALOK discusses how cartoon villains like Cruella de Vil represented queerness for them while they were growing up. "I think so much of my nonbinary icons were these diva villains," they say. "If you have a relationship with your femininity and it's not actually about trying to please men, of course people are going to demonize you. I didn't have the language to understand that, but I felt this deep resonance… When I think about my girl Cruella, it's like the looks that she was serving, you knew she'd been through some tragedy. You knew that the only way that she could deliver the consistency of those looks [was because] she'd been struggling like me."

New episodes of Untold Stories: Beyond the Binary drop every Wednesday throughout Pride month. Each episode will be accompanied by a short-form video companion (shown above) that will be available on EW.com and on EW's YouTube page

Listen to the second episode of Untold Stories: Beyond the Binary below, and be sure to subscribe to hear our upcoming episodes on Apple Podcasts every Wednesday.

Check out more features from Entertainment Weekly's celebration of LGBTQ pop culture.

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