This week’s New Yorker cover is re-raising the Bert-and-Ernie-are-gay-lovers theory. As a Sesame Street fan, let me state unequivocally that Bert and Ernie are not gay lovers.
Sesame Workshop itself confirms this, stating that they are best friends who live together and nothing more. But the word of the characters’ creators is apparently not good enough for many people who want to see the Muppets as models of homosexual relationships.
How do I know Bert and Ernie are not gay lovers? If they were gay, Sesame Street would feature them making romantic passes at other male Muppets. If they were lovers, the show would have them make romantic passes at each other.
The producers of Sesame Street are smart. If they wanted Bert and Ernie to be models of gay relationships, they could play up that angle in a way that would be age-appropriate. But they aren’t models of sexuality—they are models of how to be friends with someone different from you.
That said, it doesn’t really bother me that much that Bert and Ernie are misidentified as gay lovers. As supposed homosexual icons, the gay rights community could do much worse.
If Bert and Ernie were gay, they would certainly be different from the homosexuals described by the religious right, which portrays gays as miserable, immoral, evil people. Gays hate America and Christianity, they say. They choose to be gay specifically to wage war against straight people and God. They prey on children, have unprotected sex with many partners, and enjoy giving each other AIDS.
But Bert and Ernie are model human beings. They like each other, despite their differences. They live well together. They get along. They help each other out. They share an unconditional friendship. They have an ideal relationship, regardless of whether it is platonic or romantic.
To say Bert and Ernie are gay is inaccurate, but given other inaccuracies about homosexuality out there, it’s an inaccuracy worth embracing.