Garfield’s Gender Has Become Such A Heated Debate, Even Congress Is Involved

Was the famous feline gender-fluid?

He’s orange, he’s slothful, and he’s the hero of one of the worst-reviewed film series of the aughts. But what do we really know about Garfield, everyone’s favorite gluttonous feline?

What, for example, is Garfield’s gender? It’s somewhat of a trick question; according to Select/All, the topic has turned into a debate on the Garfield Wikipedia page, where updater Virgil Texas recently added that the cat is gender-fluid, citing a statement his creator, Jim Davis, made about the cat’s genderless-ness in 2014.

“He’s not really male or female or any particular race or nationality, young or old,” Davis told Mental Floss, although Garfield is referred to as “he” and “him” throughout the comic. (The same article notes that Garfield is named after Davis’ grandfather, and in some countries he’s referred to as more gendered names, such as “Gustav,” in Sweden.)

The update to the cartoon’s Wikipedia page ignited debate, eventually leading someone with a U.S. congressional IP address to weigh in, removing Garfield from the category of male comics characters on Wikipedia.

According to the Twitter bot @congressedits, which keeps track of such updates, Congressperson Wikipedia additions tend to be more overtly political, including revisions to the page for the Nebraska Republican Party and the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus.

Of course, outside of Congress, debates over fictional characters’ and historical figures’ gender, sexual orientation and race are common and often fraught. In these cases, referring to the author’s established canon usually puts bigoted inquiries to rest. Last year, after a black actress was cast to play Hermione in the theatrical version of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” J.K. Rowling responded to complaints by saying in an interview, “idiots were going to idiot.

Likewise, as the conversation around Garfield’s gender ballooned, the cartoon’s creator finally weighed in, in a quote provided to The Washington Post. “Garfield is male,” Davis told the outlet. Confirming not only the cat’s gender, but his sexual orientation, he added, “he has a girlfriend, Arlene.”

The revelation was a letdown for Texas, who conceded yesterday on Twitter, “Even when we do not like it we must defer to Jim Davis’ statements, which, along with the comic strips, constitute JD-CANON, and are gospel.”

It’s easy enough to dismiss such a debate as silly ― Garfield is an inherently apolitical comic, after all ― but in a time when representation for LGBTQ and gender-fluid characters is lacking, the news that the hero of such a long-running, popular comic is non-gender-conforming would have been a kind of victory.

Perhaps if comics and storytelling at large better reflected the identities of readers, the gender of a gluten-loving cat wouldn’t need to be such a hot topic.

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