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The Hollywood Insider Bob’s Burgers Queerness

Photo: ‘Bob’s Burgers’

After 12 seasons, two Emmys, and hundreds of songs, everyone’s favorite burger-flipping family will be on the big screen in their first feature film, aptly named, ‘The Bob’s Burgers Movie’, set to be released May 27th, 2022. That’s right. The Belcher family has hit the big time!

The official trailer was released early this January and it did not disappoint: We see Linda in a bikini burger suit, Mr. Fishoeder twisting a statue’s nipples, the kids in their pajamas exploring something they definitely shouldn’t, dancing, horses, a talking Kuchi Kobe, Beefsquatch, and aliens?! It really can’t get more ‘Bob’s Burgers’ than that.

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The show’s 18 awards, 85 nominations, and 12 seasons are all exciting achievements, and they owe a lot of it to the show’s abundance of queerness. In celebration of the show’s newest season, currently streaming on Hulu and Fox.com, and of the upcoming film, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and explore the queer nature of ‘Bob’s Burgers’.

Gene Belcher. Periodt.

Gene Belcher loves farts. Like, a lot. But more than farts, Gene loves music. And dancing. And fashion. And himself! The 11-year-old middle child expresses himself whatever way he sees fit, whether it be through a song about farts, an imaginary 80s themed middle school, or dressing up as Queen Latifah  – Gene Belcher is a queer inspiration for kids everywhere. 

His musical inclinations are often matched by his love of female empowerment. In season 3’s episode “The Kids Run the Restaurant”, Gene puts together a girl group to sing for their underground gambling club. Once the ladies bail on him, he puts on the dress and wig himself, singing for the crowd. When his father questions why his son is in a dress, Gene shouts, “I’m just a girl with a dream who got tired of hearing the word ‘no’!” No one in the Belcher family questions or judges the response. 

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Gene loves classic movies. He loves them so much that he wrote a musical rendition of the 1988 action film ‘Die Hard’. “Ever since I saw ‘Die Hard’ I said, ‘Why is no one singing? Why is no one dancing?’” he shouts, “What’s wrong with Hollywood?!” And when he enters the school’s latest outdoor competition gaga ball, his little sister Louise points out that he doesn’t know anything about it. He again pulls out his love of film, replying with, “Well, Whoopi Goldberg wasn’t a nun before,” he says, “but she had to go into witness protection and she turned that choir around!”

When Gene isn’t making art he is still just as flamboyant. Whether Gene is straight or not, the only boy of the Belcher children has an innately feminine nature, so much so that he and his family often refer to him as another sister/daughter. When Tina, the oldest, starts to misbehave, Louise tells their mother to focus on her “other daughter, Gene.” to which Gene says, “I’m pretty!”

Gene makes plenty of references to queer/female culture. He’s shouted at random “take back the night! My body, my rules!”, identified as “a top”, and has asked the owner of the oversized shoe store for drag queens, Toe-Tanic, how old he has to be to work there. 

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Gene also loves his body and compares it to women’s beauty standards regularly. In an episode where he joins a synchronized swimming team, he’s seen wearing the girls’ swimsuit, complimenting how it makes him look. “I like it!” he declares, “It holds things in, in all the right places.” And, during a dire situation when the Belchers are hiding from a road rager, Gene takes this opportunity to confess, “I think I have the best legs in the family. And the smoothest bottom.”

Gene’s love for himself, of the spotlight, of music, and his natural femininity, all make him a positive example for little boys everywhere. And his family’s acceptance of his fabulous antics promotes the importance of letting kids be themselves. “Changing the subject,” says Gene, “Do I look like a Jessica?”

The Smart, Strong, Sensual Tina Belcher

Tina Belcher is the zombie-loving, erotic fiction writing, butt-crazy eldest child of the Belchers. Tina never shows an attraction for women – not yet, anyway- but what makes this 13-year-old queer is her comfort in her own skin. 

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Tina’s intense interest in boys and bodies could be seen as just hormonal silliness, but Tina is remarkably proud of her body and her developing sexuality, unlike a lot of teenage girls. “Her sexuality is seen by many as being a little… over the top,” one ‘Bob’s Burgers’ enthusiast wrote, “Similar to many within the LGBT community, her sexual identity isn’t considered exactly normal by most people… [Tina] doesn’t hide who she is…  Tina is a hero to everyone who might be considered out of the norm, including LGBTQI people.”

Well, according to Tina, “I’m no hero. I put my bra on one boob at a time like everyone else.”

‘Bob’s Burgers’

Many fans have speculated that Tina is polyamorous. She often fantasizes about having many partners at one time. “Is it possible to be in love with twenty-five people at once?” she asks. In the episode “The Frond Files”, Tina imagines being courted by over a dozen zombie boys that treat her like a princess. And when she’s torn between two beautiful dancers, Josh and Jimmy Jr, she decides she wants them both. “We can make this work,” she says, “We can work out a dating wheel, just like a chore wheel. Let’s put the try in triangle.” 

I’m not sure if I believe Tina is poly. She often gets jealous at the mere mention of another girl thinking about Jimmy Jr. But that doesn’t mean she won’t grow up to be. More importantly, Tina wants everyone to find love and hates the idea of coming in between romances. 

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She also believes in sex-positivity. When her classmate Tammy threatens to read Tina’s erotic friend fiction to the entire school, Tina decides to read it to everyone herself. And when Mr. Frond casts her as a girl who dies from contracting mono, Tina stops the musical production to teach everyone that kissing isn’t evil and is a perfectly normal way to express one’s love.

In an essay that praises Tina Belcher, Katie Schenkel writes, “I can’t think of a show (especially a comedy) that has so expertly handled a teenage girl’s desires in all their awkward glory…  If it’s [often] being mocked as something trivial and stupid or, even worse, shown behind the lens of what boys and men want from young women.” Funny enough, Tina is voiced by a male actor, Dan Mintz. Similar to ‘Tootsie’, Tina has managed to become a female role model despite being played by a man, “I don’t need a boy to pay attention to me,” Tina says, “I’ll pay attention to myself.”

Like her brother, Tina’s love of herself is a wonderful demonstration for kids everywhere: Puberty is awkward. But don’t look down on yourself because of it. Embrace the weird changes and feelings. Don’t be embarrassed about what you’re attracted to. Most importantly, be yourself.

She’s Not a Boy or a Girl, She’s Louise

Louise is tougher and more masculine than her siblings. As the youngest of the family, she is surprisingly intelligent, manipulative, and mischievous. But she’s also protective of her family, an excellent problem solver, and a force to be reckoned with.

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And despite Louise wearing a dress and bunny ears, two things associated with femininity, she often holds herself to male standards: butching things out, never expressing fear, cussing, being a leader, and resorting to violence. When she gets annoyed with her arch-nemesis Logan, she says, “I swear to God if you keep talking I’m gonna gut punch you!” And Logan believes her.

It’s normal to see the baby of the family be the troublemaker, i.e. ‘Family Guy’ baby Stewie Griffin. But a female troublemaker being so notably anti-feminine makes her stand out amongst her television counterparts. I’m not arguing that Louise is a gay character, but I am arguing that she is a unique outsider, often going against the girlish grain.

While Tina takes on the role of waitress and Gene organizes the music, Louise is the pit manager of their underground casino. She makes her classmates Andy and Ollie count money in the freezer, threatens a kid who’s cheating, and goes head to head with their landlord. This kind of character is usually a masculine one. Think Robert De Niro. You wouldn’t wanna mess with him.

When her mother is having a crisis, Louise yells, “You have to pull yourself together! You have two children and a Louise to take care of!” She views herself as more than a girl. Louise often refers to herself as one of the boys and dominates the space she’s in. So, like her brother, Louise does not conform to gender norms. The freedom all three of these kids have is representative of open, loving, and accepting parents.

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Bisexual Bobby

Probably the show’s most notable moment of queerness was when the titular character, Bob Belcher, accepts the flirtation of the Butcher at the meat counter. In season 4’s Thanksgiving episode, “Turkey in a Can”, Bob keeps returning to the grocery store to purchase turkeys, since the ones he cooks keep ending up in the toilet. Upon his second return, the man behind the counter believes this turkey purchasing is an excuse to see him. “I’m flattered, but I’m in a relationship.” The Butcher says. Bob denies this but the Butcher insists, “You know, I got a friend, he’s into sloppy bears.” Bob innocently asks what that means and the Butcher explains. Bob does not deny this claim.

Upon his third and final visit, Bob tries to assert that he’s just there for the meat. The Butcher, exasperated, yells that his current relationship isn’t working out and he wants to settle with Bob. The cook shakes his head and tries to convince the Butcher to go back to his boyfriend, but he keeps insisting. When he asks Bob to run away with him, Bob says, “No! Maybe – wait, I’m straight. I mean, I’m mostly straight.” The Butcher still expresses excitement for the relationship’s potential. Bob grabs the turkey and begins to leave, turning to say, “I gotta go cook this. Also, I’m married, but if I wasn’t… Who am I kidding? You’re out of my league! It would never work… I’ll call you!” 

In his interactions with the Butcher, Bob is never offended. He even accepts the title of a sloppy bear. And as much as he tries to deescalate the situation, it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with homophobia. He’s trying to deescalate it because he’s a cook who’s just trying to stop having his turkeys put in the toilet! And, again, he is a married man.

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Bob’s relationship with the queer community was revealed way before the 4th season. In the show’s 6th episode, “Sheesh! Cab, Bob?”, Bob needs extra money for Tina’s birthday party, so he starts to drive a cab at night. He picks up an array of characters, including a group of transgender sex workers.

“Thanks for stopping,” Marble says, “Most cabbies are too prudish to pick us up.”

“Huh,” says Bob, “And that’s because you are…?” Bob sees their stubble, Adams apples, and hairy arms.

“Fabulous!” Cha-Cha says.

Bob laughs, “Well, you’re clearly fabulous, yeah.”

“Eyes on the road, mister.” Glitter says.

“Yeah, stop staring at us. This ain’t no library.”

“Don’t fall in love, Mr. Cab Driver. You can’t afford us.”

Bob smiles, “Hey, who’s picking up who here? Hey, don’t worry, ladies. I’m a married man.”

“So am I.” Everyone laughs

He invites the ladies to his daughter’s birthday party. They bring along friends and customers and pack the place full of queerness. One of the guests is Marshmellow, a tall, Black, transgender woman who makes regular appearances on the show. Every time Bob sees her, he responds with a calm excitement, “Oh, hey, Marshmellow.” At one point when he’s asked about her, Bob says, “All I know about Marshmellow is that she comes and goes as she pleases. She answers to no one and she’s truly free.”

In season 9’s Halloween episode, Bob meets “the smell-nice handyman”, Glenn. Bob’s friend Teddy, who is Glenn’s rival, makes a plan to get back at Glenn. “We’re gonna show up that handsome [man]!” Teddy shouts. Bob is surprised Teddy thinks Glenn is handsome. When asked to explain himself, Bob says, “I mean, he’s not my type. He’s got a good body, though… but without the body, you wouldn’t say he’s handsome.” Bob says all of this in earnest. It’s unlikely that a heterosexual man would ever declare a type when it came to other men.

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There’s a genius behind never declaring Bob as bi. Like Gene, the family and town never question his allyship or when he finds men attractive. “There’s an authenticity to the creators not screaming from Wonder Wharf that Bob is bi,” writer Emma Flint wrote in Digital Spy, “He’s comfortable in his skin and knows who he is. The need to hastily make it a prominent part of the show would arguably shift the dynamics, making the move seem less genuine and heartfelt.”

I can understand why some people think Bob’s bisexuality is not canon, but the nuances of his character, how he treats the LGBTQ members of his town, and his regular comments on men’s looks are all queer characteristics. Bob represents a family man who is comfortable in his sexuality, and also probably sits in the middle of the Kinsey scale. A television show with an accepting, heteroflexible lead is the kind of show we all needed.

Linda Loves her Family 

Linda Belcher is the upbeat, family-oriented, never-not singing matriarch of the Belcher family. She decorates for Christmas the day after Halloween, smothers her unaffectionate daughter Louise in love, and manages to befriend almost everyone she meets. When Bob brings his transgender friends around, Linda embraces them with open arms and the same enthusiasm she has for anyone else. 

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The only “enemies” Linda makes are other straight women that look down on her family, including Colleen Caviello, the arrogant PTA treasurer, and Cynthia Bush, who regularly speaks poorly about the Belchers. The only time Linda passes judgment is when her family is at play. She loves the art people of the Wharf Arts Center, anyone who loves music, and anyone who loves wine.

Sometimes people don’t like Linda because she loves too hard. When she tried to open a bed and breakfast, she pushes for everything to be perfect and drives her guests away. And when she feels like her daughter Louise doesn’t love her, she forces Louise to take a mother-daughter bonding class that only divides them further. But she always comes back around, apologizing for her occasionally overbearing love.

With all of this love, Linda can’t help but be inclusive. In “The Bleakening” when she throws her Christmas party, she invites the entire neighborhood, including LGBTQ members of the community. She believes everyone deserves the Christmas spirit and will leave man, woman, or nonbinary person un-cheered!

She also loves her bi-curious husband Bob. Although Linda was not there when Bob complimented the smell-nice handyman or when he considered running away with the Butcher, it’s fair to imagine she knows about his queerness. One time when Linda referred to Marshmellow as “handsome”, Bob corrected her, calling Marshmellow “beautiful”. Linda does not dispute this.

Linda also never fights against Gene’s buoyancy. The two are thick as thieves with their shared love of everything music and dancing, and he’s the only one out of her three children that looks forward to her endless hugs and kisses. For Linda, Gene’s interest in femininity is a plus.

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John Roberts was cast as Linda after the show’s creator, Loren Bouchard, saw his comedy sketches online, many of which were impressions of his mother. This impression developed into this beloved TV mama. When asked about being a gay man playing a woman, Roberts said, “I do get questions about the equality of playing a woman and, you know, [how] maybe that would take away from a female actress in animation. A lot of female actresses can be guy rolls as well, like Pam Aldon on ‘King of the Hill’.”

In some animated shows, men often voice female characters for comical reasons. And ‘Bob’s Burgers’ does the same, but in a way that celebrates the mixing of the actor and character: Since Linda is an homage to his mother, Roberts approaches Linda’s character from a place of love and familiarity, not from a place of mockery. And, as a gay man, Roberts already has a love of queerness that is easy to translate into Linda’s character. “[Linda’s] loveable, she’s crazy, she likes wine,” Roberts says on the ‘Bob’s Burgers’ Youtube, “She sings a lot. Linda loves being a mom. I think that’s her biggest achievement in life is the children.”

A Queer Love in A Straight Marriage

The Belcher family’s brilliance doesn’t come out of familial dysfunction but from silly family antics. Despite Bob calling his children “terrible” and the kids and Linda constantly running off and leaving him alone in the restaurant, the family works well together. Most of this success, however, must be credited to the functionality of the parents.

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“Sitcom parents generally aren’t the most romantic couples on television,” Emily Heller writes on Polygon, “But Bob’s Burgers does something radical… Rather than falling into the lazy trope of incompetent-but-fun dad and his patient killjoy of a wife, Bob and Linda are equal partners in business, parenting, and marriage.”

And although Bob and Linda do fit into the opposites attract trope, their opposites balance each other rather than pull each other down. Bob is a bit of a pessimistic person, mostly a tired realist who worries about rent and can get easily frustrated. Linda, however, is an optimistic ball of happy-go-lucky joy who can charm bankers into helping her organize their finances: They bring different skills to the table but have the same goals.

Bob and Linda are the epitomai of working-class entrepreneurs: With three children and an apartment above their restaurant, the two fight to keep their family and their business, and they’re always fighting together. “Bob and Linda have a relationship that refuses to conform to the standards of romance that we might expect from mainstream entertainment,” filmdaze’s Joshua Sorenson wrote, “Instead, it adopts the standards of reality… it’s a relationship built on a foundation of genuine love and support. They’re always going to be on the same team and have each other’s backs… you know that they’ll work through it.”

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In the episode “The Kids Run Away”, Bob and Linda are finally alone in the apartment. When they realize this, they “woohoo” at the realization that they can finally have some adult time. “Let’s do this!!” Bob shouts. Even their copulating has a goofy quality.

When dealing with their kids, they don’t pass the buck to the other. They tackle each issue as a team, “Bob and Linda present a united front,” Heller continues, “Bob doesn’t leave Linda to do the disciplining while he takes on the fun activities.” Linda herself has said, “you kids are a two-parent two-bottles-of-wine-a-night job!” She doesn’t feel like the responsibility of the kids weighing on her shoulders. She knows she can rely on her husband. And wine.

Despite being in a heterosexual relationship, Bob and Linda’s marriage is a queer one. They don’t conform to the regularly scheduled straight couples shown on other shows. They’re quirky and dorky and hardworking. Bob is often more subdued, but he has moments of flare that can take over a room. Him grabbing a turkey and screaming, “You are the one!” and then talking to his vegetables like they’re people is his equivalent to Linda kissing her porcelain babies and always making up songs. They demonstrate how to survive, but also how to have fun along the way.

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Puns Are Gay!

It’s like, an undeniable fact that puns are a major part of gay culture. Drag names like Daya Betty, Avery Goodname, Sigourney Beaver, and Polly Wanda Cracker, have been embraced in the campy side of queer culture.

‘Bob’s Burgers’ is saturated in buns. I mean, puns. Bob’s burgers of the day are always a play on words. His family even waits on the edge of their seats to find out what it’s going to be. “New Bacon-ings” comes with Bacon, “don’t you four cheddar bout me” comes with four kinds of cheddar, and “she’s a super leek” comes with braised leeks, to name a few.

And the writers don’t just include puns in the show. They also include new puns in the 20-second opening credits of every episode. The storefront on the right of the restaurant changes all the time and always has a creative name: “You Can’t Handle to Tooth” is a dentist extraction office, “Pro-Pain Accessories” is for Dominatrix supplies, “Drastic Measures” is an extra-long tape measure store, and “Manger Danger” helps with babyproofing.

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There’s always a pest control van that pulls up in front of their restaurant in the opening credits as well. “Of Mice and Men Who Kill Mice,” “Silence of the Ants,” “Weapons of Mouse Destruction,” are just three examples of the show’s on-point pun game. Hundreds of puns have come out of over 200 episodes, and they show no signs of stopping.

Wonderful World of the Wonder Wharf

Outside of the family, there are queer characters all over their town. ‘Bob’s Burgers’ regular Mr. Frond knits therapy dolls for his students (i.e. Portion Control Joe, Miss Understood, Repressed Memory Emily), cares about cats, and performs “Groove is in the Heart” on a public street. And the Fischoeder brothers, Calvin and Felix, are also not the everyday depiction of “manly men”. Although they are seen dating women, the two lead eccentric, billionaire lifestyles that are both fabulous and “extra AF.” These cis-gender men express themselves without the confines of gender.

There are more out and proud LGBTQ + people who appear on a few episodes. Nat Kinkle, a limo driver, is a sober reptile enthusiast who helps the Belchers out when they’re in a pinch and fascinates Louise with the tales of her life. There’s Dalton Crespin (aka Dame Judy Brunch), an effeminate food blogger who bonds with Linda and organizes a fabulous, illegal underground rave with the help of Marshmellow and Marbles.

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Even the raccoons in the alley by their home are gay! Well, maybe they’re not, but Linda took it upon herself to name one of the raccoons “Little King Trashmouth” and declared he has a husband. She keeps her friends regularly updated on their relationship, sharing that she thinks they have also renewed their vows.

And there are some characters we see once and never again: Cruise-line Chef Duval asks Bob twice to kiss him, Art the Artist is an open member of the gay community, and drag performer Miss Triple X-Mas was the headliner for the illegal rave.

I can understand if people are disappointed that the openly gay characters don’t play more prominent parts. However, the choice for them to not be the story’s focal point shows that queer people as a part of heterosexuals’ everyday life. Ian Goodwillie of CBR writes, “[The queer characters] often don’t play key roles, which is arguably more important than if they were one of the showrunners, as it helps normalize the reality that members of the LGBTQ community are parts of daily life – both in the world of ‘Bob’s Burgers’ and in the real world.”

You Feta Get Those Tickets! (Comes with feta cheese)

When I was growing up, animated queerness was hard to find. Famously among my generation, the ‘Fairly Odd Parents’ father posed the important question, “Where is it written in this one-sided society that a man can’t be beautiful?” We also had Spongebob, a male character who wore dresses, identified as a mom, and was unapologetically flamboyant. 

But after ‘Steven Universe’ came out in 2013, queerness became overt in many kids programs: ‘She-Ra and the Princess of Power’, ‘The Bravest Knight’, ‘Twelve Forever’, and more came out of writers rooms left and right. Queerness in kids’ shows became increasingly popular and promoted the message of love.

The normalization of people who don’t fit into gender norms needs to be promoted among adults as much as it needs to be promoted to kids. ‘Bob’s Burgers’ creates a safe, loving environment where almost every character is, in some way, outside the realm of heteronormativity. And if you want to see this revolutionary family and town on the big screen, be sure to get your tickets for ‘The Bob’s Burgers Movie’ coming out this May 27th in theatres!

Cast: H. Jon Benjamin, John Roberts, Dan Mintz, Kristen Schaal, Eugene Mirman 

Created by: Loren Bouchard 

Producers: Loren Bouchard, Dan Fybel, Rich Rinaldi

By Z Murphy

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Author

  • Z Murphy (she/they) has a passion for storytelling. As a queer person of color, Z always aims to challenge their readers to look at art in a new light by putting racial and sexual identities in conversation with pop culture. With this dedication to inspiring respectful and insightful dialogue, Z is thrilled to be a part of the Hollywood Insider cohort, a media network that supports content focused on perceptive exploration rather than gossip.

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