The newest queer icon: Frogs
demonized by Alex Jones, LGBTQ+ meme makers have embraced amphibians as a mascot
By Liz Sommer
Judy Garland. Dianna Ross. Cher. Lady Gaga. To this day, the concept of a “gay icon” is still largely represented by (often heterosexual) celebrity women who embody elements of sexuality and selfhood that resonate with at least some LGBTQ+ people. While the phrase “gay icon” may connote a diva worshipped by cis gay men, a wide range of celebrities have become objects of affection by LGBTQ+ people.
As the internet opens up space for queer people to fawn over, stan, and shape their own narratives about their icons, the parameters of what constitutes one are expanding. In addition to the inclusion of a more diverse set of people, many of whom are themselves members of the LGBTQ+ community, the cannon of queer iconography on the internet has an even wider scope. It now includes the green and brown M&Ms, Miss Piggy, iced coffee, the plant section at Lowe’s, and frogs.
Plenty of TikTok videos list “things that aren’t gay/queer/LGBTQ+ but have gay/queer/LGBTQ+ energy.” They’re typically presented without explanation, just the statement that inanimate objects, straight celebrities, stores, animals, movie villains, political ideologies, etc., have queer vibes. Frogs are a recurring item on these lists.
Over the past year or so, I’ve noticed a steady and growing stream of queer-related frog content on the corners of the internet I inhabit. Examples include tweets about bisexuals loving frogs, frog pride merch sold on Etsy, lesbian frog memes, and a build-a-LGBTQ-frog Tumblr thread. At first, I didn’t think much of this because it just made sense to me — the modern internet is personalized to each user. As a queer person who vaguely loves frogs, I wasn’t particularly surprised to learn that there were other queer people out there who also love frogs. In early quarantine, when I got deep into the frog-centric part of TikTok known, predictably, as #FrogTok, however, I realized that the narrative of frog-loving queer people was not just a vague feeling, but an actual sort of LGBTQ+ internet fandom for the amphibian.
It’s worth noting that frogs are big on the internet in general. In addition to Pepe (the Matt Furie-created frog co-opted by the alt-right who is absent from most of the LGBTQ+ frog memes I’ve encountered), frogs can be found wearing cowboy hats in TikToks, literally just vibing, and in a wide range of jokes, image macros, and trends without specific connections to LGBTQ+ culture.
As to possible origins of the rise of frogs as a queer mascot, there are three major recurring themes.
1. “Turn The Frickin’ Frogs Gay”
In one of his better-known unhinged rants: the 2015 “gay bomb” speech, Alex Jones famously told the InfoWars audience about chemicals added to water “turning the frickin’ frogs gay.” In the original clip, which, along with the rest of the InfoWars library has been banned from YouTube, Jones mentions the gay frogs as evidence that the United States government has been adding the herbicide Atrazine to tap water as part of a plot to spread homosexuality, emasculating men and reducing population growth.
The actual mention of gay frogs is brief, but his delivery is memorable. After saying “what do you think tap water is? It’s a gay bomb, baby,” Jones attempts to explain that he isn’t shocked by gay sex before sharply shifting to yelling “I DON’T LIKE ‘EM PUTTING CHEMICALS IN THE WATER THAT TURN THE FRICKIN’ FROGS GAY. DO YOU UNDERSTAND THAT?” He then slaps the papers on his desk with another stack of papers, grunting and adding “I’m sick of this crap, I’m sick of being social engineered. It’s not funny!” After that, he cools down, notes that he needs the papers that he’s just knocked off his desk, and apologizes to his “family audience” and to Jesus before changing the subject.
I’m not a regular InfoWars viewer so I’m not sure how exceptional this clip is, but watching an infamous peddler of dangerous conspiracy theories absolutely lose it over the possibility of chemically-induced gay frog behavior is fun. I imagine that for those who have had a cup or two of the Alex Jones Kool-Aid, this would be a serious PSA, but for anyone else, it’s a solid reminder that his theories are completely absurd, to say the least.
This soundbite has been remixed into catchy clubby mixes that can be found on 1-hour loops on YouTube and on TikTok as video soundtracks. They primarily feature the words “gay” and “frogs” repeated throughout, and honestly are something I’d dance to in the gay club if/when they ever open again.
While an embrace of frogs as gay icons could be a way to reclaim them from Alex Jones’ homophobic conspiracy theory, I think its staying power comes from the innate silliness of someone being so upset by the concept of gay frogs, as well as the catchiness of the remixes that Jones inspired. Gay frogs would be pretty cool, actually, and their existence would be further reason for LGBTQ+ people to claim them as icons.
2. Frog & Toad
Frog and Toad of Arnold Lobel’s book series are gay partners. This is well documented and though Lobel never officially confirmed this as canon, he did come out to his family as gay a few years after the first Frog and Toad book was published. Celebrations of Frog and Toad’s relationship romanticize their idyllic country lifestyle, ample amount of leisure time, and fashion sense that’s replicated by many present-day queer humans. There is also, of course, some Rule 34 (the internet rule that any object, character, or media franchise imaginable has porn associated with it) fan art out there depicting the couple’s sexual relationship.
The Frog and Toad lifestyle epitomizes “cottagecore,” an internet-born subculture embraced as an escapist fantasy for many queer people, especially lesbians and queer women. Cottagecore gained significant traction during the COVID-19 pandemic as people who were quarantining and isolating, often in small apartments, took to baking bread, growing food from kitchen scraps, making their own clothes, and generally embracing domesticity. While some participants in cottagecore and adjacent lifestyles are known as tradwifes for their adherence to conservative ideals and “return to the good ole days” attitude, many LGBTQ+ people and leftists see cottagecore as a landscape to imagine a world centered around love, care, nature, and community.
Beyond just Frog and Toad specifically, the aesthetic of frogs in general fits well with fantasies of living in a beautiful cottage with your queer partner and/or chosen family, surrounded by frogs, mushrooms, and friendly anthropomorphized woodland creatures.
Frog Fun Fact Side note: Kermit isn’t gay, but he did marry Miss Piggy so arguably has
bi wife energy
a semi-ironic term coined by TikTok user @cringelizard to characterize straight men who are often mistaken as gay or bisexual, but who actually just love their bisexual wife). Can’t you just imagine Kermit singing “Well, to be honest I’m a hetero guy, but I really try to be a good ally and it ain’t no secret and I’ll tell you why it’s cause I love my wife and my wife is bi. Bi wife energy, he has bi wife energy!”?
3. Frogs Are Cute
Frogs are small, usually green, and permanently look like they’re giving a toothless smile while staring right at you. Everyone loves cute things and that includes LGBTQ+ people, myself among them. In image macro memes, frogs serve as accessible, versatile, and cute characters and icons to spruce up collages or illustrate scenarios. For queer people who embrace childish fashion and aesthetics, frogs are the perfect symbol to embroider onto clothing or to dress up as. Additionally, obsessions with amphibians highlight overlaps between LGBTQ+ and nerd culture as it turns out plenty of the kids who spent their time catching tadpoles and memorizing frog facts are now queer adults.
As a friend pointed out to me, frogs can be classified as “trash animals” (or at least semi-trashy animals) along with rats, possums, raccoons, and snails. These animals are often characterized by humans as unwanted and gross, even when many of them play essential ecological roles. “Soggycore” and “Swampcore'' are niche Tumblr/internet aesthetics that romanticize trash animals. They also intersect with Frogcore and Cottagecore. The overlap between these niche aesthetic fandoms, many of which obsess over tiny frogs, and LGBTQ+ internet culture can likely be attributed to the trend of queer community building online and the significance of Tumblr as a hub for young LGBTQ+ people to explore their identities.
Frogs, which tend to live in goopy environments and are slimy, don’t fit classic molds of fuzzy and cute small mammals. Garbage/swampy animals seem to have a fun, grimy je ne sais quoi that, according to themes in tweets, Instagram memes, and TikToks, quite a few queer people relate to. Why queer people identify with (and keep as pets) animals that, while cute, are often excluded from mainstream categories of cuteness is an investigation for another day.
There don’t seem to be many biological, ecological, or metaphorical elements of the gay frogs conversation and Alex Jones’ claims that “the majority of frogs in most areas of the United States are now gay,” remain unsubstantiated. There could be some apt allusions to the metamorphosis frogs undergo from egg to tadpole to full-grown frog to the experiences of LGBTQ+ people. Frogs have also been known to change their sex or “adjust their sexual destiny” in the wild. However, most queer frog memes focus more on the look and auras of frogs rather than their natural behavior or mating patterns.
Other than being cute, frogs undeniably have gay vibes. This is a “chicken or the egg” scenario where I don’t know if frogs have gay vibes because people decided as much or if people depict them as gay icons because of their intrinsic queer vibes (or Alex Jones designation). Either way, a common theme I’ve seen in social media posts about frogs is that frogs just have gay energy. This fits with the proliferation of memes that characterize inanimate objects, fictional characters, and straight celebrities as exuding some kind of gay energy for unspecified reasons.
While there might not be much about frogs that’s inherently queer, the proliferation of memes about them being LGBTQ+ icons is what I believe makes them into queer icons. “Frogs are canonically queer” is an idea that helps people express themselves, and is also silly enough that anyone who gets mad at the notion ends up looking foolish and overinvested. Memes have the power to solidify ideas in popular imagination. The way information flows through the internet can turn amusing, arbitrary ideas into consensus.
As we see a rise in quantity and quality of LGBTQ+ representation in media, queer people are still finding their own icons, heroes, and stars in meme and internet culture. Frogs may be a silly choice, but there’s much room for silliness when it comes to queer icons and when it comes to the internet. The prevalence of frog-related queer content and queer-related frog content highlights the power of frogs as symbols and the influence of LGBTQ+ people on the internet to claim a common animal as a modern-day queer icon.
An important Venn diagram from the person who popularized the "I'm baby" meme.
Waiting for the next brassica to drop.
Liz Sommer is a freelance writer who lives in Los Angeles. She loves to write about semi-niche internet subcultures, cringey memes, and how we’re all cyborgs at this point. You can follow her on Twitter or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.