Has An Animated Series Helped Progress The LGBTQ Community More Than Live Action Successors?
Color me immature, but every night I have to fall asleep watching cartoons. I constantly bounce back and forth between favorites like Bob’s Burgers, American Dad!, and my absolute favorite animated series, South Park. Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s smashing creation about four eight-year-old boys (turning themselves into two of the main characters, Stan Marsh and Kyle Broflovski) has premiered a record breaking three-hundred episodes over the series run since 1997. Originally using paper cutouts in their animation, South Park now presents itself as one of the fastest cartoons to animate – they make their episodes within a week and typically revolve their storylines around hot topics including politics, moronic actions of humans, and any current or past pop culture phenomenon.
Back in the ‘90s when I was a wee gay boy, my mom refused to allow me to watch South Park. I would have to sneak watching it when she was asleep as reruns were all the rage back when cable television didn’t have a DVR. I still am surprised she gave me one of my favorite Christmas presents ever: The South Park movie on DVD. I watched until the back of the disc was too scratched for wear. South Park has forever been the mashed potatoes of my comfort shows, but the more I rewatch older episodes as an adult… I didn’t recognize how superbly progressive the series has been for the LGBTQ community. Let’s take a look at the five best, most progressive South Park episodes that are just… totally gay.
#1. Big Gay Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride / Season 1, Episode 4 / For The Gays
Immediately, I recall my first time realizing South Park was pro-gay. It was when I was a friggin’ six-year-old kid! Heck, this is the first time that I witnessed a television series promoting homosexuality in a positive light – that nothing was wrong with it. The only time I’d seen gay people being talked highly of was just a few months before when Kathy Griffin had her standup special. Let me remind you, this was the fourth episode of South Park’s first season in the late ‘90s. Talking about homosexuality in a way not to bury the community, when you’re slowly trying to gain an audience, is – as the series creators would joke – stunning and brave (but actually).
Big Gay Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride follows main character Stan realizing that his dog, Spartk, is gay. He is told by adults that being gay is “evil” so vows to turn Sparky (voiced by mega-hottie George Clooney) straight. It’s through Stan’s version of conversion therapy that we are introduced to one of the series most popular side characters, Big Gay Al, the most stereotypical gay character imaginable, who literally showboats him through LGBTQ history. In the end, the townspeople are no longer convinced that gay people are harmful or “evil”. This episode would go on to be the first Emmy nominated for the series and also received a nomination from GLAAD in 1998.
#2. D-Yikes! / Season 11, Episode 6 / For The Lesbians
Herbert (or Mrs. Janet) Garrison, the main character’s fourth grade teacher, is quite the controversial South Park character. First, he is a deeply closeted homosexual with a hand puppet, then he comes out as a gay man who has a wild sex life (accompanied by his sex slave, Mr. Slave), then becomes a transsexual woman, then reverts back to being a gay man – and eventually a parody of reigning President Donald Trump. Garrison has been through a rollercoaster of a story arc that continues into the current season. But her (for the sake of the character’s gender identity in the episode) best episode comes with the parody of the film 300 in season eleven’s D-Yikes!
In this episode, Mrs. Garrison is angry at men and pursues a lesbian she meets at the gym. She becomes sociable at a lesbian bar, Les Bos, and eventually finds out that another owner is purchasing the establishment and it will no longer be a lesbian bar, but open to all. Now as enraged as she was with men, Mrs. Garrison makes a promise to stand up for the lesbians and refuses to let new ownership take over the bar. Like Stonewall, the lesbians riot at the new ownership and eventually battle their way to keeping the bar.
If you’re a bar fly like some of our community, you’ll know all too often that LGBTQ bars are constantly being shut down for one reason or another. The fact that the series creators showcased this small tidbit of our community makes me know that they are listening to us and hear even our outrages that could be considered minuscule in mainstream. Additionally, Mrs. Garrison “comes out” again, as many LGBTQ people are constantly opening up more doors in their lives. This time, Garrison comes out as “gay” which confuses the children, but she explains that now she’s a lesbian and not a gay man or transgender. It’s the small gender identity moments that had the series a step ahead of it’s time in 2007. Our community is constantly evolving – and South Park is up to date on us.
#3. Two Guys Naked In A Hot Tub / Season 3, Episode 8 / For The Sexually Experimental
My ignorance in pop culture may be showing, but I can’t recall an animated series, especially in the ‘90s, that focused an episode on two straight men experimenting with one another and the aftermath of their actions. Season three’s episode, Two Guys Naked In A Hot Tub, is a sequel in a trilogy of episodes which take place on the same night during a meteor shower. The show has been known to have a mini-series of related events within one of their seasons (the Imagination Land and Black Friday trilogies come to mind) and this is their first experiment with this particular form of episodic writing.
During the meteor shower, Stan and Kyle’s fathers (Randy Marsh and Gerald Broflovski) relax naked in a hot tub and eventually talk about same-sex fantasies and masturbate in front of one another. Randy spends the rest of the episode questioning his sexuality while Gerald doesn’t believe they did anything inappropriate. Randy gets uncomfortable and angry, thinking he may be gay, and needs to prove his heterosexuality by sleeping with his wife, who rejects his advances in favor of partying. Randy eventually outs himself from paranoia when he believes the party “knows”. They were clueless, but they also don’t care as most of the adults admit they’ve had a same-sex experience and everyone is “a little gay”.
Talk about being progressive! I feel like I’ve been in this situation many times before with the amount of closeted guys I now regret hooking up with. There’s a time and a place for everything… it’s called college, perhaps not a meteor shower party, but the creators inserting this episode of human sexuality and making it not a big deal to even have gay fantasies cross your mind is beyond amazing. Randy diving into deep paranoia about being gay, only to realize that his thoughts are normal, are humanizing to anyone debating their sexuality.
#4. South Park Is Gay! / Season 7, Episode 8 / For The Average Joes
Parodying the original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy cast was all the rage in the early 2000’s when being the stereotypical gay friend was on the rise with hit series such as Will and Grace and Queer as Folk. In South Park Is Gay! the Queer eye cast (originals like Carson Kressley and Jai Rodriguez) take over the town of South Park and turn all of their masculine, redneck men into effeminate metrosexuals. Finally, it’s suddenly cool to be a fairy. Main character Kyle, who doesn’t want to participate in the gay “fad”, is even beaten up for being too masculine and his friends abandon him. Mr. Garrison and his boyfriend, Mr. Slave (John Hansen), at first are excited with the new way of femininity until they realize that the men aren’t actually gay… just pretending to be as a new wave of mainstream approval. Kyle joins the gay couple to meet the Queer Eye guys and tell them they are selling out gay culture for ratings and betraying their own community by getting society to mold to them. It’s revealed the Queer cast are actually Crab People (literally) who are trying to take over Earth by weakening the men. The Crab People are defeated by women of South Park who want their men to return to their normal selves. Afterwards, the citizens of the town revert back to their old lives.
This episode remains one of the creators least favorite episodes with their climax of the Queer cast being “crab people” and state it as the worst idea they’ve ever had, but they had nothing else to offer. Yes, the crabs come out of left field completely for the normally more intelligent writers, but it still feels like it packs a punch after the cultural phenomenon the series had (it did spur the recent reboot starring Jonathan Van Ness) on mainstream television. The laughs come easy this episode for the tongue-in-cheek metaphors of being beaten up for being too heterosexual. It makes you take a step back and truly realize how ridiculous hate crimes against anyone truly is – because what if it was you on the other end of that beating? As a gay person who tries not to identity too much into mainstream gayness, this episode perfectly represents how I often feel as drag queens and tongue pop culture are on the rise in our community. It may be the creators least favorite episodes, but I hold it pretty close to my heart of the best.
#5. Follow That Egg! / Season 9, Episode 10 / For The Haters
Mrs. Garrison is back on her BS after becoming furious that her ex-boyfriend, Mr. Slave, is about to marry Big Gay Al. The two had a breakup because Mr. Slave wants to be with a man and not a woman. Mrs. Garrison, wanting to prevent same-sex marriage in South Park, has an idea to showcase how gay couples shouldn’t be able to get married – since they will eventually raise children – and plots her own experiment with her students. She pairs off the kids and makes them take care of an egg, representing a child, and pairs Stan and Kyle together as a same-sex couple. She goes so far as to hire a hitman to destroy Stan and Kyle’s “baby” and show that same-sex parents are negligent and gay marriage shouldn’t be legal. Through hilarity, Stan and Kyle miraculously save their egg and same-sex marriage becomes a law of the land.
Simply put, this episode shuts up any hater to same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting. Even with the cruel Mrs. Garrison trying to fumble her ex-boyfriend’s wedding by screwing over a huge community, she still manages to fail as the boys prove they can be great parents through outrageous odds. There are barely any subtle gestures throughout this episode… it’s point blank in anyone’s face. A same-sex couple deserves the same rights that any heterosexual couple does. To say this boldly in the faces of an audience not targeted towards gay people, in 2005, is worthy of a round of applause. South Park and it’s creative team have been leaps ahead of many live action series and continues to be one of the most progressive series for the LGBTQ community.
What are your favorite gay episodes of South Park?
South Park’s legendary twenty-third season is currently airing new episodes on Comedy Central on Wednesdays and all seasons are streaming on Hulu.
Writer’s Note: This is the opinion of one Instinct Magazine contributor and does not reflect the views of Instinct Magazine itself or fellow contributors.