Arthur’s Beloved Mr. Ratburn Comes Out and Marries His Ardvark Boyfriend

Dearly beloved, we gather here, on Autostraddle dot com, to celebrate the queer union of a rat and an aardvark. Yesterday morning, the long-running PBS Kids show Arthur interrupted the usual slate of morning cartoons with a big ‘ole gay wedding.

We’ve celebrated queer TV weddings here before from Carol and Susan’s infamous punch line of a wedding on F.R.I.E.N.D.S to Callie and Arizona’s doomed nuptials on Grey’s Anatomy and both gay weddings on Glee. Television has come a long way in its queer representation since then. Media has moved beyond the queer wedding and into legitimate representation. There is still a ways to go in bringing queer-led shows and non-binary and trans representation to the small screen, but the gay wedding was the beginning of it all. This week, gay tv weddings reached the final frontier: children’s media. On public broadcast television, no less!

Monday’s episode of Arthur, a beloved PBS show from my own childhood and likely many of yours about an earnest young aardvark named Arthur, brought us the nuptials of Mr. Ratburn, the central gang’s much-admired third-grade teacher, and Patrick, the local chocolatier. “Mr. Ratburn & The Special Someone,” begins when Mr. Ratburn answers his phone during class to talk about floral arrangements (he’s thinking about sunflowers, but agrees white is more elegant) and tells the class he’s getting married! Arthur and his friends speculate on Mr. Ratburn’s life outside of school and his late night plotting to assign them 4,000 word essays on the color gray, when he walks in to their regular lunch spot with a mysterious rat-lady, Patty (voiced by special guest Jane Lynch!). She requests the table with better lighting, orders “Green Tea steeped for precisely three and a half minutes, dry white toast, and some clean silverware.” Their homework assignments will get so much harder if Mr. Ratburn marries this intense lady-rat.

So the kids hatch a plan to sabotage the wedding. First, they whip up an embarrassing video of Mr. Ratburn as a hippie, hoping Patty will call off the wedding when she sees that Mr. Ratburn isn’t who she thought he was. She just guffaws at Mr. Ratburn playing the bongos in tiny Lennon glasses, so the kids move to Plan B; setting him up with the librarian. Arthur and his sister DW head to the local chocolate shop where they meet Patrick, the kind-hearted aardvark chocolatier. They ask him for help making their teacher and the librarian become a couple. He doesn’t think that’s really possible, but he helps them out anyway.

Mr. Ratburn asks the kids to return his copy of Love Poems by Pablo Neruda to the library and they stick an earnestly-written but ineffectual love note in its pages. The librarian gives the kids some solid side-eye, red-pens their misspellings, and hands them a copy of How To Write Poetry for Dummies. Their plans thwarted, they plot to make an objection at the wedding. Patty greets everyone warmly, confusing the kids and revealing that she’s Mr. Ratburn’s older sister!

“Then who is Mr. Ratburn marrying?” That’s when Mr. Ratburn walks arm in arm down the aisle with Patrick, the chocolatier. Cue the waterworks. DW gets it right as the kids stuff their faces with cake; “It’s a brand new world.”

I can count the number of times there has been queer representation in mainstream children’s media on one hand. And I’m talking for real, canon, actually on television queer representation. Rebecca Sugar’s Steven Universe and Shadi Petosky’s Danger & Eggs top the list followed by that one time there was a femme lesbian couple for a half second on The Disney Channel’s Good Luck, Charlie!, that one episode of Doc McStuffins with a queer couple voiced by Wanda Sykes and Portia de Rossi, the coming out scene on Nickelodeon’s Andi Mack. And, of course, the last second hand-holding and kissing on Legend of Korra and Adventure Time. That’s pretty much it. There might be a few others, but for the most part, the trend is a momentary acknowledgement or outing characters at ComicCon panels. Kid shows, with the exceptions of Steven Universe and Danger & Eggs, bring queerness in as an afterthought. But this is a step forward.

Mr. Ratburn has been a central, instructive character in the lives of the kids in Arthur’s class. And he has been that same figure for millions of kids across generations catching up on their morning cartoons before school. Just think of the millions of tiny humans eating their breakfast cereal and watching Mr. Ratburn’s gay wedding on their screens and that just being their run of the mill morning. Who knows if they’ll ever acknowledge Mr. Ratburn’s sexuality again. Who knows if we’ll see Patrick in future episodes. Maybe this is a one-off (I really hope not), but a gay wedding on children’s public broadcast television is no small feat. This is the beginning of a new generation of queers where boy rats and boy aardvarks can marry each other, and it’s no big thing.

Lindsay is a notorious SJW attempting to spread a little queer joy on the interwebz. You can check out her YouTube series Queer Kid Stuff where she teams up with her best stuffed-friend Teddy to bring LGBTQ+ education to kiddos. When she’s not completely overwhelmed by adulthood, she’s probably plotting ways to overthrow the patriarchy with her ukulele. Follow her on the Twitter @thelamerest.

Lindsay has written 2 articles for us.

26 Comments

  1. What a WONDERFUL kind of day. (Are we all aware that Francine is a lesbian and Muffy is bi, because those are the facts as I understand them.)

    “This is the beginning of a new generation of queers where boy rats and boy aardvarks can marry each other, and it’s no big thing.” – Did this briefly make me tear up in the workplace? Who can say.

  2. Calzona’s marriage wasn’t doomed – remember, they’re back together in NYC after season 14! Or at least that’s what I like to think… 😀 Arizona said she was falling for Callie again, and Callie “couldn’t wait to see her!” I’ll take a pseudo, implied reunion any day over that disastrous season 12 fight.

    to stay on topic, yay Arthur!

  3. I’ve got some corrections for this post. Twice DW is mentioned when it’s actually Francine who was in the chocolate shop with Arthur and she who says “It’s a brand new world”. Don’t see how the two could get confused but I’ve never stopped watching Arthur even as I’ve gotten older so.

  4. I didn’t realise this show was still running! I still remember the holiday episode they did with everyone’s different cultural traditions- growing up in a small Australian town it was probably my first exposure to most of them. It’s great to hear the show is still being awesome. 🐀😁

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