Gonzo: A Queer Analysis

by Puppet Nerd

Why Gonzorella makes sense

On July 23rd, 2021, Disney Junior aired the 43rd episode of the new Muppet Babies series titled Gonzorella, and the internet erupted in discourse. I’ve seen angry conservatives and gay teenagers talk about the Gonzorella episode, but what I’ve yet to see, is someone analyze this episode through the lens of simply being a Muppet fan.

The only goal of my analysis is to decide if Gonzo being “Gonzorella” makes sense with his character. Does it have character integrity? Or is it really just woke pandering in an attempt to make a character with no

As I’ll soon prove, this fits Gonzo’s character incredibly well. If any Muppet was going to be confirmed queer, it was always going to be him. And while the Muppets, in general, have become a part of queer culture, Gonzo is especially notorious for being the character queer audiences see themselves represented by. But why is that?

Gonzo as we now know him was first introduced in the first episode of The Muppet Show, which aired in 1976. He would be played by Muppet performer Dave Goelz, who had been working with the Jim Henson Company since 1973. Goelz is an incredible performer and an incredible puppeteer, and he still plays Gonzo to this day. I think he does amazing work and he has a very clear understanding of why these characters are so important to so many people.

Goelz is fully aware that a lot of The Muppet Show relies on themes of being the outsider, but finding a family that accepts you for who you are. Which is a very prevalent theme within the queer experience. But this article isn’t about a queer analysis of the Muppets as a whole. This article is specifically about Gonzo. So let’s talk about what makes him so easy to interpret as queer. 

One of the biggest queer aspects of Gonzo’s character is the fact that no one quite knows how to define him. He floats around in space, his identity is never defined, never stated with certainty. He never fits into any boxes both within, and outside the Muppet universe. And that’s where the basis of a queer reading of his character begins to form. 

From the very beginning, Gonzo’s species has remained a mystery. He’s been called all sorts of things over the years. He’s called a thing, a weirdo, a whatever. He’s said to look “a little like a turkey, but not much.” In the late 90s, when asked what Gonzo was, Goelz responded, “Nobody knows except his parents, and they’re not talking. It was always one of those taboo subjects around the dinner table.” 

In the 1981 film, The Great Muppet Caper, Gonzo was shipped off to England in a crate labeled “whatever,” and the ambiguity of his identity became more formal. Gonzo was whatever. His species and identity would remain undefined because they didn’t need defining. 

Queer audiences latched onto the character without a label. The one who wasn’t bothered by being undefined, and the one who had a support system who loved him no matter what he was or wasn’t. Growing up queer often means growing up without the language to describe how you feel. Many LGBTQ+ people make it to adulthood before ever being exposed to the community, and widespread education on different terms and labels is still fairly new. 

Labels can be a great thing that helps lots of people feel seen and validated, but they can also be incredibly confusing and stressful for people who don’t know how to define themselves or can’t find a label that describes the complexities of their identity and their lived experiences.  

It is also often also implied within the community that everyone’s end goal should be to find a label the describes them, and come out. Finding the perfect label is NOT the end all be all of being queer. Not having an exact label doesn’t make someone any less valid as a member of the community. It’s okay to not know, and it’s okay to not feel the need to have a perfect micro descriptive label.

Queer people are put under immense pressure to be able to describe themselves and their identity when they often don’t have the words, and that lack of words is often used to belittle and invalidate people. Even from members of our own community. 

And then, there’s Gonzo. The character without a label. The one who’s confidently and happily unclassified. Gonzo not only exists in an undefinable space, but he’s proud to be a whatever. He never seems ashamed or embarrassed by the vagueness of his identity. For him, being undefined is enough, Not knowing is enough, Being a whatever is enough. He isn’t weighed down by the burden of trying to figure out every tiny aspect of who he is or isn’t, and his fellow muppets love and support him, even if they don’t fully understand everything about him. This is huge for queer people searching for pieces of themselves in the media they consume. To see a character liberated from the stress of being perfectly defined, and loved even without a concrete definition. 

But of course, isn’t this just a metaphor? It’s understandable that struggling with identity is part of the queer is experience, but species is different than sexuality and gender identity, right? Well, yeah. Except when it comes to Gonzo, the fluidity of his identity has included gender and sexuality from the very beginning. Or at least it is heavily implied that it does. Gonzo has flirted with both men and women on The Muppet Show. One example of this is when Gonzo sings a love song with Gene Kelly, and while Gene briefly acknowledges that he thinks it’s a little weird at first, Gonzo never does. This is normal for Gonzo, and he has no reason to overthink it, and eventually, they sing the rest of the song together, and all is well. 

Of course, there’s always Camillia, the female chicken that Gonzo has been dating since 1979. But it’s important to recognize that just because someone is in a heterosexual relationship, doesn’t mean that they can’t be queer. There are plenty of queer people who still experience attraction to the opposite sex. (For example, a bisexual person isn’t any less bisexual just because they’re in a heterosexual relationship). In that same vein, the fact that Gonzo uses he/him pronouns doesn’t automatically mean that he’s a cisgender man. Pronouns don’t equal gender, and plenty of nonbinary people use he/him pronouns. 

On the topic of pronouns, let’s discuss Gonzo’s gender identity. In 1984, brothers Guy and Brad Gilchrist created the comic strip, “Jim Henson’s Muppets,” which was printed worldwide in over 660 newspapers from 1981 to 1986. One of their comic strips, features Gonzo walking right past the women and men’s restrooms, choosing instead to enter a restroom labeled “whatever.”

This is a piece of officially licensed muppet content that shows that the fluidity in Gonzo’s identity includes gender. The comic shows him confidently rejecting the two binary choices of man and women, and instead, choosing to be a whatever.  

And what about “crossdressing?” People getting upset about Gonzo wearing a dress is what caused me to research this topic in the first place, and as many people have already pointed out, Gonzo has cross-dressed before. Multiple times. And he’s been doing it as early as the first season of The Muppet Show in 1976.

Not only that, but Gonzo also cross-dressed in the original 2D animated Muppet babies series too.

 So not only is a queer reading of Gonzo existed since his character was first introduced, but Gonzorella isn’t woke pandering, because he’s been wearing “women’s” clothing for years. It’s nothing new. This of course isn’t to erase the distinct difference between gender expression and gender identity, but with Gonzo’s identity as a whatever, and his gender non-conforming fashion choices, it’s too easy to read his character through a queer lens. It’s safe to say that he can at least be interpreted as nonbinary (I use nonbinary as an umbrella term because the whole point is that he doesn’t have an exact label). But it’s honestly not that hard to argue that he’s canonically nonbinary, even if it wasn’t intentional. Because no, I don’t think Jim Henson sat down with his team of writers and said “let’s put some nonbinary representation in the muppet show.” I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t even know what nonbinary was or what it meant. But that being said, just because they didn’t have the language to outright say he’s nonbinary, doesn’t mean that that’s not essentially what he is. There’s no gender attached to him, aside from gender people assume that he is. 

After the Gonzorella episode aired, Gonzo, or at least whoever runs Gonzos’s official Twitter page, tweeted some incredibly reassuring messages. 

Even if he wasn’t a heavily queer coded character who’s cross-dressed before, his fashion sense has always been wild, to say the least. So if we ignore all the queer themes, Gonzo’s dress would still fit his character because he’s always been the type to wear more “out there” clothing. 

So in conclusion, no. Gonzorella is not woke pandering. Gonzorella is a faithful extension and exploration of aspects of a character that have been around since the very beginning. Not to mention it’s just a charming episode, showing that just because things have always been done a certain way, doesn’t mean it’s the right way to do things. And embracing our differences makes the world a whole lot better for everyone. From comic strips to crates labeled whatever, to duets with Gene Kelly, Gonzo’s identity has always been fluid, and it’s not the first time he’s rocked a dress. Gonzo was a perfect character to introduce these themes, and it’s my hope that the messages taught in the Gonzorella episode will help queer children feel a little less alone. Gonzo has already become the character we see ourselves in. It makes me so unbelievably happy that the next generation gets to grow up with such intentional stories about the queer community. I hope that characters like Gonzo continue to exist, and I hope that Gonzorella helps someone feel a little less alone. And in the words of the great Gonzo himself, “Trust Me: you are not alone. Each and every one of us is one of a kind. Even if your kind is hard to define. That’s okay!” 

By: Aidan Elizabeth

Youtube: aidan elizabeth

Instagram: @aidan_elizabeth7

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