Ernie and I have a long history together. My mother watched early episodes of Children’s Television Workshop series and similar programming when I was still in utero, and I spent many hours of my childhood immersed in the worlds of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, The Electric Company, Zoom, and, of course, Sesame Street.
I loved Ernie and Bert, who were among the first muppets to appear on the series when it launched in 1969. I had my own puppets of both characters (as well as Cookie Monster), and later got legs sewn onto my Bert puppet because I so loved his “Doin’ the Pigeon” dance.
Watching Sesame Street as a young child, I had no thoughts about Bert and Ernie being a couple; I just enjoyed their antics. As I grew up, it seemed clear to me that Bert was a mature (if quirky) adult, and Ernie was a child. I likened the relationship to one of uncle and nephew. I didn’t have any particular headcanon about what happened to Ernie’s parents to cause him to move in with uncle Bert, it just made sense to me. The fact that they shared a bedroom did not strike me as unusual or suggestive, as families with limited incomes sometimes live this way out of necessity, and the show portrays a working-class neighborhood.
Fast-forward to adulthood, and I started reading rumors about Ernie and Bert being a gay couple. Many seemed to think that this relationship was entirely obvious. The Sesame Street spokespeople continually shut these rumors down, especially after these muppets were featured on the New Yorker cover that celebrated the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage. Sesame Workshop insisted that Bert and Ernie were just puppets, and as such, didn’t have a sexual orientation. But that didn’t stop people from insisting that these particular puppets were gay.
As I’d been openly queer since the early 90s, and following my gender transition in 2013 was in a same-sex marriage myself, you’d think I’d be supportive of the idea of Ernie and Bert being a couple…