Tongue in Cheeks

Views from the Outside

Emily Bi/Staff

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If I were a smarter woman, I’d finish the run of this column in a way that neatly addresses the apparent identity crisis I’ve been exploring for the last, like, 11 pieces. If I were a smarter woman, I’d know exactly what a column like that should look like.

And I am a smart woman, but I’m not that smart. So I’m not going to do any of that.

I’m going to talk about the fact that Sandy Cheeks — prolific Texas-born squirrel, Bikini Bottom transplant — is a lesbian.

I grew up watching “SpongeBob SquarePants,” as many did. And while I loved the colorful cast of seafolk, I always had a small infatuation with the genius, karate-loving squirrel. There she was, at the bottom of the ocean in a space suit, and never once did I question it. That’s Sandy! Brilliant anthropologist, purveyor of intimate, sea-based knowledge — collecting data through daily interactions with the absurd occupants of Bikini Bottom and leveraging that into getting to stay there longer.

I mean, a female academic? In a children’s show? It’s more likely than you’d think. There was no grand battle for her affections, no SpongeBob/Patrick face-off to win her love. Instead, in the tide-changing episode aptly named “Survival of the Idiots,” we see the two bumbling fools invading her privacy as a means to better understand her.

And what do they come to understand? That in her natural state, she’s a hairy, burly, butch woman! Could it be? A lesbian revealed at last?

This is not a revelation that I had the first time I encountered this episode. I watched Pinhead Larry and Dirty Dan square off with the monster of the week just like everyone else. I watched them waste away in the cold, barren landscape that surrounded Sandy in that lonesome winter and cheered for them when they stripped her bare of her protection against the elements.

But then, at the ripe old age of 22, I awoke in a cold sweat, a dream shifting my world view. In the dream, a brand new SpongeBob episode played itself out for me: A new girl comes to Bikini Bottom, capturing the infatuation of all of its inhabitants. But who should win her affections? None other than Sandy Cheeks.

It was as if my subconscious had finally put together a puzzle I didn’t even know I had the pieces to: Butch Sandy, the barren wasteland of the cold surrounding her true identity, the isolation, the fact that none of her male counterparts pined for her? I was coming to realize in my analysis that not only was Sandy a lesbian, but after this episode, she was out to her closest friends — at one point going so far as to literally use both of them as beards! And I am not the only one who thinks so. Thank god for SpongeBob and Patrick, toiling through that cold winter, invading the armed and guarded treedome all to come out on the other side as her truest allies.

I sat with this information, unsure of what to do with it. As I’m sure is evident by now, I am usually very attuned to the queer coding of characters in media. This revelation into Sandy’s apparent queerness didn’t profoundly impact my life. I was still 22. Long gone were the days of sitting in front of the TV, soaking up the antics of Bikini Bottom dwellers such as the sponge that starred in the show. And yet I felt it flip my world like a pancake. A gay, gay pancake.

All of this made me realize something that I both already knew and still grapple with. It is just one more entry into my arsenal of answers to the big “why?”

Why talk about representation? Why is it so important? Why dissect my traumas and pain in a very public way just to explore it further?

Because Michael Jackson was a hero, and Ursula was a villain. Because my songs weren’t gay enough, and music — the exploration of racism, insecurity and homophobia — was healing. Because none of the things I watched growing up were gay, Black or inclusive enough. Because one of my most poignant acts of relating to a character was to a hairy, green monster! And most of all, because I am 22 and still find myself shocked to see any trace of myself in the media.

None of this will ever stop mattering to me. Not when I bury my final Oxford comma in this column for my editor to take out, and not when I shut my laptop on this saga of exploring representation. When I have to stop using characters such as Sandy Cheeks as a conduit for being visible, my work will be done. But until then, I’ll just keep screaming about representation.

And, you may ask, was this SpongeBob metaphor all just a means to validate the whole of this column? Yeah, but I like to think that at least it was pretty tongue in cheek.

Areyon Jolivette writes the Thursday arts & entertainment column on finding and celebrating identity through art. Contact her at [email protected].