How Steven Universe's Chosen Family Helped Him Heal His Abusive One

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Taylor Henderson

"If we can fix our family, we can fix everything."

"But in order to fix it, we'd have to admit that it's broken."

Steven Universe has long been an allegory for the plights of LGBTQ people. Gems are an alien species that are technically genderless but all identify using she/her pronouns. In intense moments of love and joy, some of the gems discover that they can fuse with other gems to create new ones, an act deemed illegal by The Diamonds, the gem royalty who created their species.  

The Diamonds are deeply invested in maintaining the utopian world they believe they've created. They demand perfection from every gem, but that pressure is nearly impossible for the baby of the family, Pink Diamond, to handle. Pink often rebelled from her family's firm grip and was routinely punished for her disobedience—until she discovered Earth and free will.

After faking her death and donning a completely new form as Rose Quartz, Pink quite literally starts a war with her family—Blue Diamond, Yellow Diamond, and White Diamond—in a desperate attempt to escape her strict, rule-bound society and live happily on Earth, free to fuse with whoever she pleases. When she falls in love with a human, she does something no gem has done before: she gives birth to a half-gem, half-human being named Steven. 

Blue, Yellow, and White believed Pink to be dead, so when Steven arrives back on their homeworld with Pink's signature gem, they're happy she's returned to them and want everything to go back to the way things used to be and for Steven to fall in line with their rules as Pink did before—or face her same punishments.

But Steven's not his mom, no matter how desperately they want him to be.  

"Change Your Mind," Monday's special 45-minute season finale, begins with Steven locked away in a tower after he illegally fuses with his human friend Connie. When Blue bursts into the tower to scold him for breaking the rules once again, Steven refuses to apologize. "I'm not sorry." He does it on Earth all the time, he says, "It's totally normal and fine."

Blue is so furious she physically attacks Steven for his insubordination. "Your time on earth has warped your sense of right and wrong," she cries. 

But Steven's not backing down. "I know what it's like to have a loving family. We don't do stuff like this to each other."

This is exactly what they did to his mom, Pink. "How many times did you lock her in here?" Steven demands. "How many times did you make her cry?"

It finally clicks in Blue's brain: this is why Pink faked her own death. Their impossible rules and subsequent abuse is what made her unhappy enough to run away. 

"I'm doing it again, aren't I? This is why you left, isn't it? You were right to leave," she reflects. "I always thought you were failing this world, but if you were happier on Earth, maybe this world was failing you."

Many families are failing their LGBTQ children by not allowing them to be whoever they are. Upholding the status quo of heterosexuality often comes at the cost of homophobic abuse, mental health issues, and sometimes even LGBTQ lives. 39 percent of LGBTQ adults say they have been rejected by a family member or close friend because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and 40 percent of homeless youth identify as queer, reports Vice

When facing homophobia and rejection at home, queer people have learned to build their own communities. Bound by similar experiences from a hostile world, LGBTQ people have learned to care for each other out of necessity, to boost and uplift ourselves enough to gather the courage to navigate a world that discarded us.

The concept of found family is popping up all over media and TV. FX's Pose chronicles the 1980's ball culture where marginalized Black and Brown queer POCs came together to celebrate what made them so fabulously different. They formed homes, cared for each other, and even deemed their house leaders, "Mother."

RuPaul's Drag Race also provides a beautiful glimpse of the communities LGBTQ people build for ourselves. When legendary season 5 queen Roxxxy Andrews tearfully shared the story of her own abandonment, RuPaul so famously told her, "We as gay people get to choose our family and the people we're around. I am your family. We are a family here."

Steven is able to recognize the cycle of abuse because of the joy and confidence nurtured from his family, the one Pink chose for him to be raised in. Garnet, Amythest, Pearl, and Greg might not have always understood what exactly Steven was, but they loved him enough to give him the space to figure it out for himself and to be whoever he wanted to be.

Coming back to homeworld, Steven refuses to let himself be mistreated by his relatives because he knows what it means to be loved unconditionally. And because Blue and Yellow care about Pink/Steven's happiness, they're willing to open their hearts, listen, and ultimately change their minds about how their family has been run. But convincing White Diamond, the matriarch of the family, is a more impossible feat. 

White firmly believes that the gems she designed are strictly for specific roles and actions taken outside of that will hurt their perfect society. Free will can't exist in their utopia, only obedience. But Pink completely upends that notion when she gave her life for Steven to exist, creating something new and unpredictable White can't account for. The episode reaches a heart-stopping climax when White forcefully removes the rosy gem from Steven's belly in an effort to reveal the true form of the gem she created, Pink Diamond. 

But Steven is Steven, no more how desperately White wants him to be someone else, and the revelation that a gem she created has evolved into something wildly different than what she imagined her to be shakes White to her core.

Parents have to allow their children the room to explore their identities and be whoever they are, without fear of judgment or persecution. And after a millennium of abuse, Steven showed White Diamond that she couldn't control who Pink turned out to be, but that she could only unconditionally love who he was. 

What a lesson for a kid's cartoon. 

"If every porkchop were perfect, we wouldn't have hot dogs," Steven says so astutely. "It means if you try to make this empire perfect, if you just wipe away everything you see as flawed, you lose all the things that make you happy. Like hot dogs." 

And what would life be without hot dogs?

By the end of the episode, White Diamond finally saw the error of her ways and made strides towards not only fixing her family but improving the quality of life for all her gems. While it shouldn't be the burden of LGBTQ to show their parents the light, maybe Steven Universe will reach someone out there and hopefully change their minds.

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