In 2020, a time when we were stuck inside and just beginning to feel the weight of living through a pandemic, The Baby-Sitters Club was rebooted as a Netflix series. For me and many other fans, it was the perfect nostalgic escape into a world a little more wholesome, a little friendlier, and a whole lot more optimistic than the one we’re currently living in. But The Baby-Sitters Club did more than just tap into our nostalgia — it smartly updated the material to reflect contemporary issues, made the cast more diverse, and included plenty of LGBTQ+ storylines that fit seamlessly into the world that author Ann M. Martin had already created.
Of course, there’s always room for every story to be a little queerer, right? But the reason queerness fit so well in 2020’s The Baby-Sitters Club is perhaps because The Baby-sitters Club was pretty LGBTQ+ friendly already. So with that in mind, here’s a look at the queer history of The Baby-Sitters Club.
The Baby-Sitters Club: 1985 – 2000
The Baby-Sitters Club is a middle grade series of novels written by Ann M. Martin (and later some ghost writers) and published by Scholastic. If somehow you’re here and you don’t know, The Baby-Sitters Club follows a group of middle school best friends: Kristy, Mary Anne, Stacey, Claudia, and Dawn. Later, other members are added to that club, but that’s our core group. Martin started the series in 1985 with the novel Kristy’s Great Idea, in which everyone’s favorite tomboy, Kristy Thomas, comes up with the idea to start a babysitting club with her friends. Needless to say, it was, in fact, a great idea, and the rest is history.
The series has sold over 176 million copies worldwide. And from the jump, queer girls everywhere identified with the story of a group of girls who prioritized their relationships with one another over boys. Unfortunately, in the ’80s and ’90s, conversations around queerness — especially in children’s and young adult literature — were just different. It was difficult for a mainstream middle grade series to come outright and say a character was gay. But the hints were there throughout the series, and plenty of young queer readers took the hint.
Babysitters-Club fan Carmen Phillips over at Autostraddle wrote that the Baby-Sitters Club series is “beloved by lesbian, bisexual, and queer women who grew up seeing themselves in these scrappy young girls who never took ‘No’ for an answer.” Even if none of the girls ever came out as queer in the books, their independence and strong personalities spoke to young kids who longed to live beyond gender stereotypes.
And then there was the spin-off series, California Diaries, which followed Dawn Schaffer after she moved back to California. The series featured a character named Ducky McCrae, a high school sophomore who just didn’t fit in with the other boys at school and preferred to hang with the girls. In Ducky: Diary Three, Ducky writes, “I’m not very good at guy things. And I just don’t get it. It’s like all the other guys have this book of rules that someone forgot to give me. Or maybe I got the book, but some of the pages were left out. Or maybe I got a different book?” Again, while the book is reluctant to directly say Ducky is queer, queer readers still know what Ducky is talking about.
We also can’t talk about the queer history of the BSC without talking about the author herself. Ann M. Martin came out as queer in an interview with Vulture in 2016. Although Martin is generally private about her personal life, she did divulge that she used to be in a relationship with children’s author Laura Godwin. Sixteen years after the series ended, fans were excited to discover that the queerness they saw in their favorite children’s series was not all in their imaginations.
The Baby-Sitters Club Adaptations: 1990 – 2021
Although a new Baby-Sitters club novel hasn’t hit shelves in over 20 years, the love for the series and its characters has thrived through its many adaptations. In 1990, HBO and Nickelodeon created a 16-episode Baby-Sitters Club television series. Then a film version of the series was released in 1995. Starting in 2006, The Baby-Sitters Club was adapted into a series of graphic novels from Graphix, a division of Scholastic.
But where the adaptations got extra queer was in the 2020 Netflix adaptation, which ran for two seasons. Gender and sexual identity are major issues that are explored throughout the new series, which was so exciting to see for many fans (myself included). Just a few of the many examples of queer representation in the show: Mary Anne babysits a transgender girl named Bailey, a character named Alex reveals to Stacey that he has a crush on a boy, Dawn’s dad is gay, Claudia’s sister Jeanine has a girlfriend, and Dawn says that she doesn’t believe in labels and sees herself open to falling in love with anyone on the gender spectrum.
Frankly, we love to see it, and I am still bitter that Netflix took this gem of a show away from us so soon.
Fan Responses to The Baby-Sitters Club
Think I’m the only one on the internet celebrating the queerness of The Baby-Sitters Club? That’s just not so! For instance, I absolutely loved this post from The Niche in which all 131 Baby-Sitters Club books are ranked by gayness. Would I have ranked Mallory Hates Boys (and Gym) and Kristy + Bart = ? a touch higher on the queerness scale? Sure. But it’s still a good list!
Prior to the release of 2020’s Baby-Sitters club reboot, a BSC fan on Autostraddle got real about “who all’s gay.” She speculates that Kristy is probably gay, and of course, lots of other fans agree. Just check the comments on this post if you don’t believe me.
“Well, obviously, Kristy’s a lesbian,” another BSC fan wrote on The Hairpin in an article speculating where the club members would be now. “She and her partner, Tori, started up a gay softball league when they moved to Baltimore in 1999, which Kristy coaches. Reminds her of her old days with The Krushers! I guess now we know how she really felt about Bart.” We all knew how Kristy really felt about Bart.
Sadly, although many fans have speculated that the BSC’s leader Kristy Thomas is queer, not even the latest Netflix series has responded to the fan demand for Kristy to be canonically gay. But, as Heather Hogan writes on Autostraddle, “[Kristy’s] definitely the only member of the BSC who isn’t into boys, would rather have head lice (again!) than go to a school dance, thinks all women are just setting themselves up for disappointment with men, and has a lock on androgynous normcore.”
So maybe the next Baby-Sitters Club reboot will finally give fans what they want and make Kristy gay? Here’s hoping!
If you’re like me and you’re completely obsessed with The Baby-Sitters Club (yes, even as a fully grown adult), here’s some more stuff you might want to check out: Here’s a definitive guide to the Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels. You should also read this list of one Book Rioter’s Top 21 Baby-Sitters Club books. And find out why we think the new Netflix show might be better than the books.