Nonbinary characters in kids’ Transformers show raise concern, backlash

transformers "Transformers: Earthspark" Red Carpet Premiere & Reception at Paramount Studios, Sherry Lansing Theatre on Nov. 5, 2022 in Los Angeles. | Credit: Photo by Anna Webber/Getty Images for Paramount+

A new Transformers show, which is rated for children ages 7 or older, has faced some backlash and concerns for pushing gender ideology on children through the introduction of nonbinary characters who identify as neither male nor female.

“Transformers: EarthSpark,” which is an animated series that debuted on Paramount+ and Nickelodeon last November, introduced a new nonbinary Transformer named Nightshade, who uses they/them pronouns, and a human character named Sam, who uses she/they pronouns, according to clips from the show.

“I know I’m safe when I’m with my friends or other nonbinary people,” Sam says in one of the clips, after which Nightshade questions the meaning of the term nonbinary. “People who aren’t female or male,” Sam responds. 

Nightshade further promotes the concept of a nonbinary identity: “I always knew my pronouns felt right, but what a wonderful word for a wonderful experience.”

When Nightshade meets new characters throughout the show, the transformer often includes the preferred pronouns in introductions. At one point, when the long-running character Optimus Prime pauses before referring to Nightshade using a pronoun, another character steps in to tell him, “Nightshade’s pronouns are they/them,” to which Nightshade replies: “He or she just doesn’t fit who I am.”

Transformers are machines that do not have any biological anatomy but have always been gendered as either male or female throughout the franchise’s nearly 40-year-long history. 

Mary Rice Hasson, the director of the Person and Identity Project at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told CNA that parents need to shield their children from this type of material.

“Parents need to face the sad truth that there are no safe, secular cartoons for kids anymore,” Hasson said. “Hollywood has a radical, damaging agenda, and parents need to shield their children from it.”

Hasson added that these themes deceive children about the reality of gender. 

“Instead of entertaining children, these cartoons have a very adult and deeply deceptive message: The cartoon presents a ‘nonbinary’ character, who explains this identity as ‘people who aren’t male or female’ — a nonsensical, flat-earth type of idea,” Hasson said. “Every person is either male or female. To suggest otherwise is to lie to children about a fundamental truth.”

The inclusion of nonbinary characters was also criticized by Oli London, a man who previously identified as nonbinary and a gender-fluid trans woman. He has since detransitioned and has become a strong critic of gender ideology.

London told CNA that “this is pure indoctrination of gender ideology” and morally wrong to push on children. 

“Children are like sponges; they tend to absorb everything that’s around them, so if they see an animation or their favorite show that is pushing these ideas, suddenly they are going to absorb these ideas,” London said. “They will be led to believe that being nonbinary is normal for a child, or cool. The creators of this animation know what they’re doing.”

London urged parents to keep an eye on what their children are watching and what they’re being taught in the classroom, but said it’s often difficult to catch everything. 

“Woke companies try to … subtly put these pronouns and ideas of transgenderism in cartoons in children’s programs so the parent often doesn’t have a clue unless they watch the show with the child,” London said. “So these companies try to subtly target children without their parents knowing, so I would just say to parents that they need to pay closer attention to what their kids are watching on TV.” 

This is part of a growing trend in which transgender or nonbinary characters are being added to television shows aimed at young children. 

In 2021, Blues Clues, which is made for children ages 3 to 5, created a video with a drag queen singing about a gay pride parade. In the same year, the Muppets, which is also made for young children, depicted cross-dressing by having the Muppet named Gonzo wear a princess gown to a ball. 

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