Gender and Sexual Identity in the Avatar Series

Gender and Sexual Identity in the Avatar Series

The Avatar series has always been one to do its best to shine a positive spotlight on different kinds of people, and individuals who don?t align with the mostly heteronormative setting are no exception. While the vast majority of characters in Aang?s adventure are cisgender and heterosexual, there are still a few (but perhaps not enough) examples.

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Only one character in the series appears to diverge from the over all trend of being cis gendered. Smellerbee, a freedom fighter from Aang?s era, was very unique in terms of her appearance, and was often mistaken for a boy. One interaction in which Zuko?s kind-hearted uncle Iroh mistakes her for a boy illustrates her frustrations with being misidentified. Her mute friend Longshot is quick to console her, wordlessly prompting her to remember that as long as she is confident with who she is, it doesn?t matter what people think of her. My criticism of the examination of this character is that it doesn?t go much deeper than that. We aren?t told whether Smellerbee?s sex is male and she genuinely identifies with a female gender, or if she her sex is truly female and she just prefers to dress as a boy. This ambiguity seems to be a missed opportunity to create a dialogue about gender identity within the audience of the show, and it could have meant a lot to kids who struggle with the disparity between how other people see them and how they see themselves. The overall lessons that we shouldn?t make assumptions about people because of appearances, and that calling people by what they wish to be called is important is still strong, however I feel the popularity of the show could have been used to provide some representation for people who identify with different genders.

Virtually all of the main characters are heterosexual, and a huge part of Korra?s adventure is meeting the children of the original gang. In this way, the series can be a bit heteronormative in that they glorify the importance of raising biological children, however they take other steps to include other sexual identities. Korra herself is revealed in the end to have developed feelings for Asami, the other female member of her unit. She previously had feelings for Mako in her first season however, so her true sexual identity could be argued to be bisexual instead of homosexual, however I think that there isn?t much point in debating that issue as sexual identity doesn?t have to be set in stone. Although having a gay protagonist is a huge step forward in terms of the representation of the LGBT community, there is still a bit of room for improvement. For example there are no memorable examples of gay villains or neutral characters in the series, and transgender characters are equally sparse. The creators have commented that these characters do exist, however they havn?t outwardly named any, which in a way reinforces heternormativty by way of omission.

All that being said, I want to end this on a positive note in that the avatar series has made intentional strides to represent the LGBT community in a way that most other kid shows are afraid to. There may be room for improvement, but this is how the ball starts to get rolling. There are many factors that dictate what goes into a show and what gets left out, and I?m sure that if the creators had their way there would be a much more outward and proud representation of all kinds of identities. Many networks are hesitant to broadcast shows with this kind of content for fear of backlash, so all we can do is keep supporting shows like this to prove that we can handle the truth.

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