You’ve Heard of Cat Twitter, But Have You Heard of Nonbinary Popeye Twitter?

“I ain’t use pronouns on account o’ all me nouns are amateurs!” — the Popeye Official Twitter account

It was an innocent weekday when I chased the Google trends results for “nonbinary” to various alt-right websites, desperately traveling further and further down this wormhole in search of the original source of their ire. The reason? They had some news I was suddenly, deeply interested in: as it turns out, I’m late to the nonbinary Popeye party!

On July 14, 2021, Popeye’s official Twitter account tweeted out a comic panel and a message celebrating Nonbinary Day.

But Popeye doesn’t call themself (does Popeye actually use any pronouns? See tweet above) nonbinary, no. Popeye uses the term AMPHIBIOUS! Amphibious! It’s perfect and sourced, in actuality, from older comic panels. It’s also, exactly something Popeye would say.

In July of this year, cartoonist Randy Milholland told D.D. Leng of The Daily Cartoonist “If you go by today’s definition, Popeye was gender fluid.”From the article:

“During the strip’s early days, for example, Popeye once met an orphaned girl who lamented that she didn’t have a mother.

So Popeye dresses up as a woman and says, ‘I’m your mom now,’”

While Milholland says, “I don’t live in that purely straight white world, and I don’t think a lot of other people do either,” various alt-right publications then began to lament:

“Beloved comic gets ‘woke’ facelift” — bizcapreview dot com [lol I am not linking to it]

“‘Popeye’ Comic Strip Getting Woke Makeover with ‘More Characters Who Aren’t Heterosexual’” — Breitbart [also not linking to Breitbart]

Or, as this Redditor put it [the below is a joke]:

two redditors discuss: one: "I bet you Ben Schapiro is cranking out a video right now: THE LEFT TAKES CLASSIC CARTOON CHARACTER" and Redditor B says "RADICAL ANARCHO BIDENISTS USE TIME MACHINE TO PLANT EVIDENCE FOR A CHARACTER BEING A TRANSGENDER GOING AS FAR BACK AS ITS CREATION."

Listen, when they’re mad, we’re usually glad. Here’s the thing: the cartoonist is expanding the world of Popeye to better align with the world we actually live in. That’s admirable, but, I for one would like to argue that Popeye really has always been gender fluid. THIS gender fluid person’s love of Popeye from a young age, in addition to the evidence in the comics themselves, is proof positive that there always was something to Popeye’s gender queerness.

I used to pull the dial out of our wood-paneled television set (RIP to the remote I threw, demonically, into the bathtub when I was three years old which we never replaced) and tune into the old Paramount cartoons. Popeye is, objectively, a small skinny person with tattooed arms who somehow gains strength by ingesting something, not just by having a body that was inherently strong. I loved it. Often, the plot hinges around Olive Oyl and Popeye’s ward, Swee’pea, getting into all kinds of trouble, with the baby often literally crawling into animals mouths or onto ledges — you get it. Classic stuff. Usually, Olive Oyl was kidnapped by Bluto, but on the rare occasion she fought back. I watched with rapture when Olive Oyl ate the spinach and became just as strong as Popeye, just as muscly.

In the cartoons, masculinity and strength and the ability to be a protector and beat up a total cishet Chad-type like Bluto depended not on any assigned sex at birth, but on a vegetable, in a can that anyone — Swee’pea included — could take. Popeye wasn’t just a salty sailor punching people. Strength was fluid, gender was fluid and the spinach flowed freely.

You can now find people celebrating Popeye as a nonbinary icon across Twitter and Reddit. What brings the most light to my day, honestly, is that this isn’t a retcon. No, this theory is seaworthy, based in some of the oldest of these comics. I can’t wait to see what the current creators of Popeye have to say next Nonbinary Day.

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Nico

Nico Hall is Autostraddle's and For Them's Membership Editorial and Ops Dude, and has been working in membership and the arts for over a decade. They write nonfiction both creative and the more straightforward variety, too, as well as fiction. They are currently at work on a secret project. Nico is also haunted. You can find them on Twitter and Instagram. Here's their website, too.

Nico has written 227 articles for us.

12 Comments

  1. Anyone else have the Popeye shaving kit toy as a child in the 80’s? It was my favorite bath time toy until my mom took it away because I was using all her shaving cream to shave my face like Popeye.

  2. This is the kind of journalism that makes me even prouder to support Autostraddle.
    And yet! With the sentence “Popeye is, objectively, a small skinny person with tattooed arms who somehow gains strength by ingesting something, not just by having a body that was inherently strong.” I hoped the article would be longer and delve into crazy (lovely) theories that Popeye and Olive Oyl are t4t sweeties. But alas, I guess serious journalism sticks to facts.

  3. We’re not upset because we think Popeye is actually nonbinary. We’re upset because, ‘Ugh, THIS again…’

    This old, stale, Tumblr routine of fandoms claiming a character for their own, based on microscopic crumbs. It’s uncreative. It’s annoying in the exact same way all the insane Onceler selfcest was. Because you can’t just have it, you have to proclaim it obnoxiously as possible.

    I’ve seen furries draw bizarrely warped kink versions of every character you can imagine. ALMOST NEVER do they claim the character canonically IS that. That’s the difference. A furry artist 1) actually creates something even if it’s just fanart, and 2) is humble enough to acknowledge it AS fanart. I never see furries saying, ‘Nintendo needs to recognize that Fox and Falco really ARE homosexual partners who like to grow to giant size and stomp on skyscrapers! The evidence is everywhere!’

    The one exception is an artist I know of who absolutely insists that Bunnie Rabbot is canonically trans, based on a handful of old model sheets. And their wordy, preachy art is immediately more insufferable than all other artists who draw Rule 63 of Sonic characters. And my god that’s saying something.

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