In a vibrant celebration of Pride month, children’s TV network Nickelodeon shared a tweet on the morning of June 13th, 2020. The tweet features 3 figures in rainbow attire—actor Michael Cohen (Henry Danger), Avatar Korra (The Legend of Korra) and the titular Spongebob Squarepants. The former two are confirmed members of the LGBTQ+ community. Cohen announced he is transgender in 2019 and Korra is canonically bisexual as of the series’ finale.
— Nickelodeon (@Nickelodeon) June 13, 2020
Fans of Nickelodeon took no issue with the gender or sexuality of the aforementioned pair. Confusion, however, sparked over the appearance of the third: is Spongebob gay? Outrage and celebration appeared in subsequent tweets following the announcement. News sources were quick to label Spongebob as gay, given his rainbow-colored appearance in the post. Some fans of the show complained, questioning why a children’s show character needed to have a sexuality. Others demanded to know if show creator Stephen Hillenburg ever mentioned anything about Spongebob’s sexuality before his late passing in 2018. Many critics of the post ultimately viewed it as tarnishing Hillenburg’s legacy. Was this what he wanted for his beloved sponge? To be gay, as Nickelodeon is implying?
But that’s missing the point.
Spongebob’s Sexuality, According to the Creator
This isn’t the first time Spongebob’s sexuality is being called into question. In 2005, Hillenburg gave an official ruling on the sexuality of the lovable sponge. At the time, Spongebob and his best friend, Patrick Star, had been occasionally used to “promote the acceptance of homosexuality” Hillenburg, however, countered that, noting that the show is something to be taken lightly for “fun and entertainment.” Hillenburg’s official statement on the sponge and sea star’s sexuality, however, is that Hillenburg considers “them to be almost asexual.”
So if our favorite pineapple-dwelling sponge is asexual, why did Nickelodeon represent him on their Pride tweet?
Asexuality is on the LGBTQ+ Spectrum
Spongebob isn’t just joining the LGBTQ+ community. Asexuality is a valid sexuality, existing on a spectrum just like bi-, pan-, and polysexuality do (among many, many others!). Asexuality is often an umbrella term for individuals who don’t experience sexual or romantic attraction, or experience limited sexual and romantic attraction.
Aces are often misunderstood as being in a “phase” of sexuality, which is blatantly false. In the LGBTQ+ community, there’s historically been a struggle for inclusion of Aces. The reason for this, as Ace blogger Julie Decker explains for the HuffPost, there’s a misconception that “asexual people do not experience oppression and that any prejudice, discrimination or discomfort we experience is not ‘as bad’ as [other LGBTQ+ peoples’], which I think is odd because queerness is not — or should not be — defined by negative experiences.” However, in recent times, asexuality is gaining more recognition and acceptance in the community. Asexuality is more readily recognized as LGBTQ+ because it’s a non-hetero-normative orientation.
So, the bottom line is that, regardless of how it manifests itself, asexuality is on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Therefore, if Spongebob is asexual, as confirmed by his creator, he’s LGBTQ+.
A Short Lesson on the Reproductive Biology of Sponges
If Hillenburg’s comment wasn’t enough to convince you that Spongebob is a part of the community, maybe science will. Hillenburg, who studied marine biology and art at Humboldt State University, championed marine diversity and accuracy. His comment about Spongebob’s sexuality was likely influenced by the fact that sponges reproduce asexually. In their life cycle, sponges never mate with a partner directly. Regeneration, budding, and fission are three of the most common methods of asexual reproduction in sponges. While it’s possible for a sponge to produce sexually, broadcast spawning, or the mass release of egg and sperm into the water, is the way it’s done. Sponges never directly mate with a partner the way mammals do. Sponges, and Spongebob, are completely asexual.
Featured Image via Nickelodeon