Is the most successful Disney film in history the latest entry into Hollywood’s Celluloid Closet? The Frozen fandom on Tumblr has exploded in debate after one fan presented a queer reading of the main character, Elsa. The ensuing flurry of responses has made it clear that people care passionately about having gay characters in their children’s movies—though not in the ways you might think.
Tumblr user fandomsandfeminism caused an avalanche of discussion yesterday after posting an argument that Elsa can be read as a gay character. Not only is she one of the few Disney princesses not to be given a love interest, her narrative is explicitly one of years of repression—”conceal, don’t feel”—followed by a scary reveal in which her worst fears come true: She’s denounced as a freak and ostracized. Finally, she achieves a joyous celebration of self-acceptance in the hit showstopper “Let It Go”:
Elsa’s “Let It Go” is an epic ballad. Transitioning from a lament, to self-acceptance, all the way to self-celebration, Elsa literally strips away her confinements (hair pieces, crowns, gloves, cloaks, sleeves) and transforms into a sparkling, confidant woman. She says “That perfect girl is gone / Here I stand in the light of day /Let the storm rage on /The cold never bothered me anyway” To deny that it sounds like a bit of a coming out ballad for those of us who have gone through the same struggle is putting it mildly.
To read Elsa as a queer heroine, to read her struggle as a queer struggle, and to see the ending where Anna proves that she loves her sister no matter what and she is able to go back home as she truly is, adds such a level of depth to an already lovely film.
Fandomsandfeminism ended on a stern note: While reading Elsa as a metaphor is nice, what queer Disney fans really need is a character who is explicitly, textually gay.
But not everyone was willing even to allow that Elsa was a lesbian. A handful of respondents felt the implication that the (literally) “frigid” female character was a lesbian was homophobic on its own. And multiple people voiced indignation at the idea that queer fans “deserved” to have someone on screen who represented them. “Honestly, you don’t DESERVE shit,” wrote pinkiethi. “Pick your battles. A children’s movie is not a ‘battle’ I would be proud to win over.”
Among the most outspoken opponents of the idea was lizabth, who, in several now-deleted posts, gave numerous reasons for why the idea of a queer Disney protagonist alarmed her:
My comment about Disney being for everyone is that Disney is not something that should be played into politics. It doesn’t matter if you’re anti-LGBTQ or pro LGBTQ, Disney is for you. There are characteristics that everyone can identify with (regardless of sexuality). If an LGBTQ character was introduced their sexuality would be the entire focus and Disney would lose its ability to unify, regardless of beliefs. Plus, children would be exposed to hatred from the anti LGBTQ side (you know it would happen) and I don’t want to have children exposed to such horrible hatred.
Lizabth’s argument that straight and cisgendered individuals wouldn’t identify with a queer or genderqueer character is an example of Hollywood’s “Exclusion Myth”—the belief that a member of a privileged majority won’t consume media about a character outside of their privileged identity group. While it may seem extreme to anyone comfortable with a diverse range of representation, the exclusion myth has real effects, in the steady real-life exclusion of all minorities from successful careers in Hollywood, publishing, and other creative fields, as well as science, technology, and branch-off industries.
Frozenandfandoms minced no words in response:
“Being LGBTQIAP+ is not a political statement. Our existence is not political. We exist. Period... we deserve to see ourselves in media. We deserve visibility. We deserve representation. We deserve to have heroes and princesses and love stories and coming of age narratives.”
But Lizabth wasn’t alone, though not everyone resisted the idea of a queer Elsa out of concern. Iwasawa1992 felt that Elsa’s story was simply more literal, while babiesarentreal pointed out that as written, Elsa can be a hero to asexual fans who are perhaps even more underrepresented in narratives than queer fans:
I’m just going to toss in that sexuality in a character should not [be] and is not the focus point of the story … For me it was nice seeing a strong character like her just…continue being a strong character. … Elsa is the first Disney princess that I can finally relate [to]. Finally. I’m 20 years old and I’ve been watching Disney since I was 5 and after 15 years I can feel happy knowing that I can understand her and sing her songs and feel good about it.
Whatever the reasons for resisting a queer reading of the narrative of Frozen, the immediate passion the debate fueled on all sides makes it clear that there’s an audience for these kinds of stories among the virulent and vocal Disney fandom. It’s helpful to remember that Disney fans, for all their obsessions with heteronormative blue-eyed princesses, are also the fans who spent most of 2013 angry with the Mouse for its sexualized marketing of Brave’s princess Merida, for whitewashing Frozen and other films, and making all its recent digitally animated women look more or less exactly alike. It’s easy to see a crusade for a lesbian princess beginning to gather steam.
Looks like the fans won’t be letting it go any time soon.
Photo via karebear1012/deviantART