A Trans Showrunner on How to Bring LGBTQ+ Truth to Kids' TV (Guest Column)

Danger and Eggs - Shadi Petosky - Split- Getty - H 2017
Courtesy of Amazon Studios; Todd Williamson/Getty Images

In honor of National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11, Danger & Eggs co-creator Shadi Petosky — the only openly trans showrunner in animation — writes for THR about the importance of including LGBTQ+ characters in children's programming.

I was distrustful of the overly sparkly eyes on the kids’ show story editor. He told me he couldn’t wait to get into the writers room and talk about our childhoods. “The best is when we get really into the stories of our past, it feels like therapy. Fun!” I wasn’t sure. I was sure I’d be the transgender fun killer in his writers room vision. He’d beam about the time he found 50 frogs in his window well and named them all! Jawbreakers! Bicycles! I’d tell the adorable story of being captured in the woods by my seventh grade classmates, holding saw blades over my arms. “Hold perfectly still or we cut you — ”

Nostalgia isn’t always easy for me or many of my LGBTQ+ peers. It’s not great to pine about bullying, brutality, family rejection and all of the missed rites of passage.

With the success of Yo Gabba Gabba!, where I was animation supervisor for eight years, I was introduced to opportunities in kids’ animation, a world that thrives on nostalgia.

A homogenized group makes all of American kids’ animation. According to a 2015 study by the organization Women in Animation, men made up 80 percent of the creative animation workforce. When the same type of people dominate the top levels, the storylines follow the trend, producing nostalgic cycles and habits that are perhaps unintentionally exclusionary. The Oscars and Emmys get beef for not being diverse, but have you been to the Annie Awards? A white man thanks his nameless “beautiful wife” — over and over for 15 hours.

When my show Danger & Eggs got the series order from Amazon, I couldn’t go down the road of delightful nostalgia. I asked our writers to treat the writing more like speculative fiction. Speculative social fiction. What does diversity look like in the modern small-city-in-America park? What is the new shape of the intersections of race, class, ability and gender. I didn’t realize writing LGBTQ+ kids — our show includes trans youth along with gay dads and other queer characters (many voice by LGBTQ+ actors) — and their freedoms of tomorrow would begin to heal my own more traumatic childhood. A healing joy second only to my jealousy of them, which I save for therapy.

We even did a Pride episode, including rainbow flags (kids are way into rainbows BTW) and the whole thing. Amazon didn’t blink an eye at doing a story about this real thing that real people really do. They helped steer me away from a campy take to the concept of chosen families, a hallmark of queer lives: “You just have a really close friend who loves and supports you as much as family would,” trans teen Zadie explains in the episode. “Sometimes more than some families would.” (Thank you, Amazon.)

I’ve seen so many incredible responses and one theme stands out. “I wish I had something like this when I was a kid, my life would be — ” Different. Better in some way. Cycles broken. It turns out that what I and many of my LGBTQ+ peers want isn’t so odd — just some sparkly-eyed nostalgia of our own.

A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.