There are installments of Femslash Friday where I can convince myself that in some way I’m striking a blow for lesbian and bisexual visibility in the culture at large, and then there are installments where I just have to admit that I would like to see two good-looking cartoon characters make out. I think this week I’m going to be able to make a case for both, though.
One of the more frustrating things about girl-on-girl (or woman-on-woman, or wimmin-on-wimmin, ad infinitum) content is that it’s so often classified as adult, regardless of how sexually explicit or vague it may be. Anyone who ever tried to find the gay and lesbian section of Borders as a prepubescent knows what I’m talking about: second floor, near the bathroom, the tiny corner sandwiched in between straight erotica and sociology. And you just wanted to read Annie On My Mind! All they do is hold hands and go to museums! It’s about as sexually explicit as From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler!
But that’s the perennial problem: if gay people are doing it, it’s automatically Adult, even if there’s no sexual content. Which makes lesbian and bisexual storylines on kids’ shows particularly fraught. Remember that massive kerfuffle when the show Postcards from Buster tried to show a visit to a maple farm in Vermont that featured two lesbians? They were just running a maple farm! Presumably while being lesbians, but that really can’t be helped, it’s very much a full-time thing, lesbianing.
So this is how a show like Adventure Time (which is perfect and wonderful and only for kids in the way that Pete & Pete used to be for kids, which is to say not at all) can have the main character Finn falling in love with princesses left and right, or a talking dog named Jake who impregnates his Korean-speaking rainbow unicorn girlfriend Lady Rainicorn (it makes sense if you watch the show), but a serious freakout when an official behind-the-scenes video suggested that “[Marceline] might like Princess Bubblegum a little more than she’d like to admit.”
For those of you who don’t watch the show, Marceline is a thousand-year old half-demon vampire queen who lives in a cave, plays the bass and has a wicked sense of humor (She also owns a teddy bear named Hambo and has a lousy ex-boyfriend named Ash). Princess Bubblegum is the leader of the Candy Kingdom; she has the appearance of an eighteen-year-old but is, according to flashbacks, at least “like a bazillion years old.” So they’re on equal footing, creepy agelessness-wise, which is nice.
And the two of them…get each other. Their fraught, intense, quarrelsome relationship has inspired one of the greatest Tumblrs of all time and some truly magnificent fanart. For a woman made of bubblegum and a hell-beast capable of transforming into some pretty horrifying bat-creatures, they have amazing chemistry. From their first in-show encounters, it’s pretty clear they’ve known one another a long time, and they don’t always get along. It’s…feisty. (The word feisty is horrible for both aesthetic and sexist reasons, but it totally applies here, so I’m sorry, but it stands.) Marceline is all smirk and ripped jeans and unwashed hair, and Princess Bubblegum is just begging to get her lab coat a little mussed up. (She’s a good girl and she knows it, but she acts different around vampire queens.) Marceline is, so far, the only character to call Princess Bubblegum “Bonny” (short for Bonnibel, her given name).
The episode that sent every lesbian’s radar off for miles, though, was this one:
Marceline appears to view Princess Bubblegum as boring and a snob, while Princess Bubblegum, generally a woman of grace and poise, views her as unrefined and rude. In “What Was Missing,” when Princess Bubblegum miscalculates the music needed to open the door, Marceline says, “Looks like you aren’t as perfect as you thought! Guess you can’t judge me anymore.” Princess Bubblegum angrily replies, “I never said you had to be perfect!” hinting that whatever previous relationship the two had had ended on bad terms. However, in the same episode it is revealed that the item stolen from Princess Bubblegum was a t-shirt Marceline had given her, which she confesses she values deeply and wears it as pajamas.
It is during this adventure, by the way, that Marcy sings the words “I want to suck the red from your pretty pink face.” Oh, my. *shivers exquisitely* Pardon me while I get the LESBIAN VAPORS, you scandalous thing, you.
This episode was, shall we say, divisive. A producer for an associated company, Frederator Studios, was fired for speculating about their relationship online. One of the higher-ups at Frederator explained the move: “In trying to get the show’s audience involved we got wrapped up by both fan conjecture and spicy fanart and went a little too far.” The video’s here, if you want to take a look. And that’s what’s been historically so frustrating about trying to get invested in maybe-they-are-maybe-they-aren’t lesbian relationships on TV: the idea of two women being together is “a little too far,” a little “spicy,” just because it’s two women.
Ah, but my friends: the story, blessedly, does not end there. Ten years ago, it would have. But after a little time for everyone to calm down about their girl-on-girl freakout, the plot advanced. I give you: The T-Shirt.
This is Princess Bubblegum’s bedroom. That shirt is Princess Bubblegum’s favorite thing to wear to bed. The picture in her closet is of her and Marceline in happier times. Pause for contented sighing.
The season 5 episode “Sky Witch” gave us everything we had been panting for and then some. A little Hepburn-and-Tracy-style bickering, secret sacrifices, untold oceans of longing, piggyback rides…it’s perfect. It starts with Marceline climbing through Bubblegum’s window and asking her to help her go on an adventure — she needs her help in finding Maja the Sky Witch. So the two of them set off, remarkably not fighting as often as usual, until Bubblegum finds out the entire journey is just so Marceline can get back her old toy, Hambo.
However, after realizing how much Hambo truly means to Marceline, Bubblegum agrees to continue helping her search for it, despite the danger of Maja. Eventually, Princess Bubblegum barters for Hambo by offering Maja the T-shirt that Marceline gave her, an object that Maja notes has “sentimental freshness” and “psychic resonance” greater than Hambo’s. It is not clear what balance of importance Maja places on overall sentimental value versus the recency (“freshness”) of the feelings, but the latter seems important. Bubblegum chooses not to tell Marceline how she got Hambo back, stating only “I took care of it,” and climbs onto Marceline’s back so they can fly out of Maja’s home.
I…the quality’s not great, but it’s worth watching the last few minutes of the episode. Oof.
OOF. Inching Towards Canon: The Bubbline Story. And it’s perfectly age-appropriate and not at all spicy. It’s meaningful and fraught and lovely. I can’t tell you how much I love seeing this prickly friendship develop — whether they’re exes starting to reconnect or whether they’re building towards a first-time relationship — with the pet names and the resentments and the impatient affection they have for each other. It’s the most loaded relationship on the show. The two of them have more backstory in every “Bonny–” and “Don’t” and T-shirt sniffing than Jake and Lady Rainicorn have in the entire series.
They fight, and I love it. They fight witches together, and I love it. They combine science with some righteous guitar solos, which I love with a deep and abiding love. Marceline is the swipe of grease on Bubblegum’s furrowed brow. Bubblegum is the angel of Marceline’s better nature, and Marceline climbs in her window in the first hours of the morning and gives her T-shirts to sleep in. Marceline can fly, sure, but Bubblegum’s the one who knows where they should go. But what I love more than anything about the two of them, more than the slight and delicious air of butch-ish and femme-ish that permeates their relationships, more than the long hair and the flannel shirts and the angsty guitar playing, is that they’ve both had in-canon relationships with or noted romantic interest in male characters. Bisexual women are delightsome and enchanting and a hell of a lot of fun. Two (cartoon, candy-and vampire-flavored) bisexual women falling in love, wearing each other’s T-shirts, and fighting witches together: who could ask for anything more?
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.