The sex lives of puppets

'What sex is your children's teddy bear?' and other burning questions

The new cover of The New Yorker, showing Bert and Ernie snuggling together, clearly supports the favourable Supreme Court rulings on two landmark gay rights cases this week. It’s a hit on Twitter. So much so, that it didn’t take long for users to discover that the illustration was originally conceived a year ago for Barack Obama’s re-election victory.


But regardless of its origins, it has reopened the classic debate: are Bert and Ernie gay?

For decades, conservatives have claimed that having two male puppets living together in a fictitious home on Sesame Street is proof that they are not just gay, but spreading a pro-same sex message to impressionable children. In 1994 Rev. Joseph Chambers of North Carolina attempted to get them banned, claiming that, “Bert and Ernie are two grown men sharing a house and a bedroom. They share clothes, eat and cook together and have blatantly effeminate characteristics.”

And for as many years, the show’s producer, the Children’s Television Workshop, has politely refuted the criticisms: “Bert and Ernie are best friends. They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves. Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets™ do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.” The adorable duo aren’t even anatomically correct. But that hasn’t stopped the gay rumours from being resurrected so often that debunked them. It isn’t just conservatives who have taken a rather disturbing interest in the sex lives of puppets. Pro-same sex marriage organizations have launched petitions demanding that the Children’s Television Network change the sexual orientation from puppet to gay.

So as Sesame Street‘s creators again explain that puppets are just that—puppets—perhaps it would be informative to read the delightfully acerbic questions that the New York Times Magazine posed on Feb. 6, 1994 to “those who ask about Bert’s and Ernie’s sexual orientation.”

1. What sex is your children’s teddy bear?

2. What is the sexual orientation of the teddy bear?

3. Do you let your child take teddy bears of the same sex to bed with him or her?

4. More important, given the role models that puppets and stuffed animals are for youngsters, do teddy bears of the same sex sleep together, by themselves, in the dark of the toy box?

5. How long have you been preoccupied with the sex lives of puppets?

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