Anyone who is close to me knows that “Steven Universe” is a special interest of mine. The vivid colors, diverse representation, messages of love, beautiful music, intriguing plots — I could (and regularly do) talk about the cartoon all day long. Above all, its relatability gives me the comfort that no other television show I’ve seen can. As a transgender man, Season 5 of the series is one that I am especially able to connect to. As fans know, there isn’t a transgender character in “Steven Universe” up until that point. Still, let’s break down Steven’s experiences from Season 5 and why any transgender person will relate to them into three crucial points.
1. Being Deadnamed/Misgendered
Steven isn’t ever deadnamed since he, by definition, cannot be. Merriam-Webster defines a deadname as “the name that a transgender person was given at birth and no longer uses upon transitioning”; it’s a term specific to the transgender experience. Still, Steven is often called Rose Quartz or Pink Diamond instead of his actual name. Rose Quartz/Pink Diamond is the name of Steven’s mother, who gave up her physical form to give birth to him. All they physically share is the same gem, which is how gems maintain a physical form and live. Not only is he often referred to as his mother, but similar to the encounters undergone by many transgender people, he’s ignored when he tries to correct other gems who deadname him.
The most blood-boiling instance of deadnaming in “Steven Universe” is found in the following clip starting at 1:28. Blue Diamond calls Steven by his correct name, getting him all excited that one of the diamonds — the rulers of other gems within the show — finally understands, and then she immediately follows this by making fun of his name and calling him Pink again. Instances like this one happen between Steven and the diamonds constantly, to the point where he frequently questions if he is actually his mom.
Although Steven never experiences transitioning, the occurrence and consequence of being deadnamed or misgendered is remarkably similar. TRT columnist Deja Nicole Greenlaw put it perfectly: “They begin to attain a state of well-being and then, all of a sudden, someone misgenders them. Their well-being suddenly gets chipped away. If the misgendering is frequent, the chipping gets deeper and deeper.” I personally still use Julianna — my birth name — as my name, so I can’t speak on how it feels to be deadnamed, but Greenlaw’s explanation is exactly what being constantly misgendered feels like.
What people who misgender me fail to understand is how much effort I put into passing. I started medically transitioning with HRT almost two months ago, I constantly wear a bracelet with my pronouns on it, I bind my chest, 75% of my wardrobe changed when I started publicly transitioning — the list of things I have to be conscious of never ends. Even when unintentional, being misgendered is a reminder that most people don’t perceive me as male even with the constant effort I put into presenting as such, and that always hurts.
As Greenlaw described so eloquently, “Misgendering essentially attacks at the root of the trans person’s gender dysphoria, the heart and core of what the trans person is trying to correct in order to live their life. To misgender them is to hit them at the most vulnerable point of their dysphoria.” It’s a different situation for Steven, but I know what it’s like to constantly be seen as someone I’m not. I feel for him.
2. Confusion With Identity
Not only is being misgendered or deadnamed really triggering, but it also makes you question who you are and who you should be. There are a lot of points where Steven is told that his appearance is not acceptable. Yellow Diamond looks at him and exclaims, “Is this Rose Quartz? Look at the hideous form she’s taken! Forget the trial. We should shatter (kill) her just for looking like that.” There’s another instance where Blue Diamond questions, “Why the strange disguise? Why are you doing a voice?”
Throughout the entirety of “Steven Universe,” Steven has vivid nightmares where he is seeing from Pink Diamond’s point of view, and he struggles with living up to the expectations of being his mom. The teen even sings a song with the heartbreaking lyrics, “Where everybody wants me to be Mom, and everything I do I do it wrong.” His self-perception is cloudy from how others see him.
What does this have to do with the transgender community? Everyone’s been compared to someone deemed “better” than themselves and has felt the pain of it. What’s different in this case is that Steven isn’t just being compared to his mom — his entire identity is taken away and a lot of gems think he is literally a different person. That is the transgender experience.
In my life, I was often told who I should be instead of being celebrated as who I am, and it completely fogged my perception of myself. I didn’t know who “Julianna” was or who he should be. Even to this day, when others see me as a woman and treat me as such, it leads me to question the validity of my identity as if I haven’t earned the right to be a man, especially when people continue to perceive me as a woman after I’ve corrected them. It’s honestly really triggering, and it leads me to sometimes have vivid nightmares just like Steven often has.
3. Expectations From Loved Ones
I’ve discussed being misgendered and questioning my identity based on how others perceive me, but what complicates being transgender the most are the expectations from loved ones to be the person they think I am. It’s the hardest to transition around those who’ve known and loved me as a woman for years.
In Steven’s case, the diamonds have known him as Pink Diamond for 6,000+ years. When transgender people come out, it’s common for loved ones to get angry, thinking what they’re doing is a selfish and/or unacceptable act. The diamonds are often so enraged with Steven that he often can’t even get the words out to speak up for himself. In my case, some loved ones in my life thought I was “wrong” about my identity since it contradicted their mind’s image of who Julianna is, and therefore encouraged me to reconsider or shut down my identity completely.
Although “Steven Universe” only has a handful of transgender characters and Steven himself isn’t trans, looking deep into the teen’s experience shows us the emotional side of what transgender people experience on a regular basis. Whether it’s constantly being seen as your mom or being defined by what’s in your pants, choosing to ignore the identity of someone because you “have the right” to do so is traumatizing on so many levels. Everyone makes mistakes, but continuously referring to someone incorrectly is unacceptable. After all, a cisgender person remembering someone’s pronouns is an insignificant burden compared to the self-advocacy trans people have to do to exist as themselves every day.