“They’re After Your Kids”: Kids Show Sparks Debate on Gender Expression

Popular children’s toy franchise Transformers is facing conservative backlash after the latest iteration of the cartoon introduced two non-binary characters who explicitly discuss their gender and pronouns on screen.

Conservative Group Raises Eyebrows

In a viral post on X (formerly known as Twitter), conservative account LibsofTikTok, created and run by Chaya Raichik, posted a clip of the scene with the caption, “Recent episode from the kid’s show Transformers: EarthSpark. They’re after your kids.”

The Controversial Scene

In the clip, the Transformer character Nightshade tells Sam, a human, that their pronouns are they/them. Sam replies that they use she/they pronouns.

Sam explains that the world is dangerous, and trust is difficult, but they feel safe when with other non-binary people. Nightshade asks what non-binary means.

“People who aren’t male or female,” Sam replies before starting to apologize for making the assumption that Nightshade is also non-binary. 

Nightshade replies, “I always knew my pronouns felt right but… what a wonderful world for a wonderful experience.”

Another Conservative Group Claims The Show Is Unsafe For Children

Mary Rice Hasson, the director of the Person and Identity Project at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank that describes itself as “dedicated to applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy,” was interviewed by Catholic News Agency for an article about Transformers: EarthSpark. In the article, Hasson claimed that secular entertainment is no longer safe for children.

“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.”

Gender Recognition in Other Cultures

The claim that there are only two genders is a largely Western concept, as multiple non-Western cultures recognize genders outside man and woman, according to Britannica.com, the website for the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Britannica covers various gender expressions. Two Spirit is a term used by Indigenous North Americans for those with both male and female spirits. The Mexican Muxe refers to individuals with male attributes adopting a feminine identity, and Hindu Hijra are primarily assigned male at birth but live as spiritual advisors, performing rituals like weddings and births.

Same-Sex Transformer Couples

This isn’t the first time that the Transformers franchise has courted controversy with LGBTQ storylines.

As detailed in an article on Seibertron.com, a fansite for the franchise, there have been multiple same-sex couples throughout the franchise.

As Transformers were originally conceived as all-male, romantic relationships between male characters have been featured several times, particularly between the characters Chromedome and Rewind, who are described by article author Tigerhawk7109 as “the single-most developed relationship in all of Transformers history.” 

Tigerhawk7109 adds, “They don’t just top a list of same-sex couples- these two would top a list of all couples [in Transformers.] From the very first issue, we see them fight and make up, like a real couple. The two are very obviously lovey-dovey with each other.”

READ NEXT: Pornographic” Literature Found in Middle School Library Made 11-Year-Old “Uncomfortable”

Just For Boys?

There has also been criticism of the franchise regarding the lack of female representation among the Transformers. Writing for Collider, Lisa Laman said that the “Transformers media franchise as a whole has a complicated history with the idea of women Transformers.”

“The default and misguided thought of family-friendly sci-fi entertainment being “for boys” meant that the original Transformers cartoon from the 1980s (known as the G1 continuity) ensured that all on-screen robots were male without question,” Laman said. 

Lacking Female Representation

While female characters were introduced in season two, and later installments made room for female Transformers, Laman said, “The dominant idea in mainstream pop culture, especially pieces of art geared towards Western audiences, that male characters are more “marketable” just seemed to instill an idea that Transformers had to innately be dudes.”

“Troubling ideas about gender writ large were even at play in this perspective, as the Transformers, by default being male, speaks to a larger idea (informed by Adam being the basis for Eve) that men are the “normal” for human existence and women are deviations from that ‘normal,’” Laman said. 

The Show Has Great Reviews Despite The Controversy

Although conservatives have widely criticized the show, EarthSpark has largely been well-received. The show has a rating of 4.4 stars across 418 reviews on Google Reviews

“Watching Earthspark gave me the exact same childhood glee and excitement I had when I was younger and watching Transformers Prime on Nickelodeon. The show is so full of life and love, and I cannot wait until new episodes come out,” said PQ Mortimer, a top reviewer who gave the show 5 stars.

They added, “I love Nightshade. I love how they turn into one of my favorite animals and how younger, closeted me would have been obsessed with them because I’d have someone to contextualize my confusing feelings about my gender.”

This article was produced by TPR Teaching.


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