Submission Date


Document Type



Media & Communication Studies


Louise Woodstock

Committee Member

Abigail Kluchin

Committee Member

Alice Leppert

Department Chair

Louise Woodstock

Project Description

An analysis of the children’s animated series Steven Universe, this research takes a semiotic approach to explore anti-essentialist messages of gender identity. Atypical within the mainstream media, the cartoon expresses dynamic messages about gender by representing nonbinary characters and gender fluid themes. By contextualizing the American history of cartoon production, queer representation, and audience reception, this analysis provides insight into the importance of inclusive depictions of transgender identity in children’s media. Through close textual analysis and focus group findings with straight cisgender and queer informants, the research examines how the show portrays liminal identities. By combining textual analysis and focus group findings, this study demonstrates that audiences interpret the programming as constructively depicting queer identities in a media landscape that otherwise often distances children and queerness. Through queer narratives, symbolic visuals of queerness, and inclusive messages, the show productively incorporates queer themes.