SpongeBob Squarepants' queer identity is more complicated than you think

David Opie
·5 min read
Photo credit: Nickelodeon
Photo credit: Nickelodeon

From Digital Spy

SpongeBob Squarepants is many things to many people. Absorbent and yellow and porous is he, but did you know Bikini Bottom's favourite resident is also queer?

To celebrate Pride, Nickelodeon posted a tweet with a caption which read: "Celebrating Pride with the LGBTQ+ community and their allies this month and every month". Along with established queer characters like Schwoz Schwartz from Henry Danger and Korra from Legends of Korra, the post also included an adorable picture of SpongeBob wearing a rainbow tie.

While it's possible that Nickelodeon might be referring to SpongeBob Squarepants as a straight ally, it seems far more likely that he's actually queer too, supporting an idea that's been floated around by fans for over two decades.

Ever since SpongeBob SquarePants first soaked up our attention back in 1999, viewers have wondered if the loveable sea sponge is (not so secretly) part of the LGBTQ+ community.

Aside from his obvious affinity for rainbows and that time he surfed on David Hasselhoff's bare chest, there are too many examples of SpongeBob's queerness to list in just one place. Even Ukraine's morality watchdog picked up on this and tried to ban the show back in 2012 for its "promotion of homosexuality" (as reported by Huffington Post).

Photo credit: Nickelodeon
Photo credit: Nickelodeon

Now that SpongeBob's finally out and proud, fans are doubling down on the vast expanse of queer Bikini Bottom memes already available online. Unfortunately, in what's probably a surprise to no one, there are also people out there who actively resent Nickelodeon's celebration of SpongeBob's identity.

Since the announcement went live, homophobic trolls have been quick to denounce SpongeBob for being "gay", throwing the usual tantrums over their "ruined" childhoods. While we don't wish to lend these voices a platform by sharing their complaints here, the most amusing thing about all this is that SpongeBob has always been queer — and that was even confirmed by the show's creator himself.

Back in 2002, Stephen Hillenburg denied SpongeBob is gay, explaining instead that, "I always think of [the characters] as being somewhat asexual." (via The Wall Street Journal).

While it's likely that Hillenburg suggested this because sea sponges actually reproduce asexually in real life, he still made a point of trying to understand why SpongeBob resonates with queer people in particular:

"I do think that the attitude of the show is about tolerance. Everybody is different, and the show embraces that. No one is shut out."

If the creator's words are anything to go by, then this means that SpongeBob Squarepants is indeed asexual. Asexual people, otherwise known as "Ace" or 'Aces," have little interest in sex, and this form of sexuality is very much a part of the LGBTQ+ spectrum.

Photo credit: Nickelodeon
Photo credit: Nickelodeon

Other notable asexuals on screen are few and far between, although BoJack Horseman fans will fondly remember Todd, and just recently, Sex Education took a major step forward with asexual representation too.

By simply describing SpongeBob as "gay," this erases one of the few positive forms of asexuality seen on screen, and even some major publications are guilty of using this misnomer.

That's not to say asexual people can't also be gay, straight or bisexual. As The Trevor Project explains here, asexuality exists on a spectrum, and there are many ways for people to identify under this umbrella.

Back when Hillenburg said SpongeBob is asexual and therefore not "gay," he could have been assuming that the two are mutually exclusive. However, our understanding of sexuality has moved on a great deal since 2002, so it would make sense if asexual SpongeBob is also attracted to the same or multiple genders.

After all, the queer gender politics of SpongeBob Squarepants are more complex than most, and that's thanks largely to how each character connects in fluid and often homoerotic ways. SpongeBob and Patrick aren't even from the same species, but that hasn't stopped them from holding hands, dressing up in drag together, and even raising a clam baby as their very own.

While it's not clear which specific form of queerness best describes SpongeBob, it's vital that the conversation surrounding him acknowledges his character's asexuality regardless. SpongeBob Squarepants is many things to many people, and asexual is one of the most important of all.

SpongeBob SquarePants airs on Nickelodeon, with some episodes also available on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

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