Let me preface this entire thing by telling you that I love Disney movies. I love them. I always have. And I hope I always will. Yes, there are some major flaws to a lot of them, especially the older ones, but when it’s all boiled down, Disney movies are about hope. They’re about wishing and dreaming and never giving up. Sure, more of them could be about actively achieving your goals, instead of relying on a fairy godmother or a sea witch, but all in all, the messages are intended to be positive, and that’s what I will always take from them.
That being said, as a lesbian, there’s a limit to what I could take from these stories. Belle (Beauty and the Beast) was an outcast, different from everyone in her town, and the only one who didn’t fall for the “handsome guy,” but that’s pretty much where the comparison ends. She knew she was different, but was mostly OK with it, and knew that someday, if she could just escape the “poor, provincial” town, she’d be alright. Ariel (The Little Mermaid) harbored a forbidden love, (“He’s a human, you’re a mermaid!”) and knew that just because someone was different didn’t mean they were bad, but ultimately had to choose between her family and her love — and chose a man she barely knew over her father and sisters. Mulan didn’t feel comfortable in the roles society was trying to force on her, and had to pretend to be a boy to be able to achieve her goals, when that wasn’t quite the right fit either (and eventually had a romantic pairing with a man).
Frozen, however, features a storyline that resonates more for me than any of those. And that’s Elsa’s.
Now, of course, the correlation isn’t 100% on the nose, but there are enough similarities that I think it’s safe to say that she is, overall, the easiest for a queer girl to relate to. Though I only represent one letter of the LGBTQ alphabet and can speak only for myself.
So, in no particular order, a non-exhaustive list of reasons, why Elsa is a gay girl’s Disney princess. (I’ll try to avoid some of the major plot points involving other characters, but there will definitely be spoilers in this post, so if you haven’t seen the movie, you’ve been warned.)
1. Elsa could, technically, be a lesbian for all we know.
Merida from Brave was the first Disney princess (to my knowledge) who did not have a mutual love interest for her entire movie. She had suitors, but she wasn’t the least bit interested in them. Her story was about independence and a freedom to choose who you love—and when. Elsa’s story is similar in that her journey throughout the film has nothing to do with a romantic partner. She doesn’t even have any suitors. She turns “of age” (whatever that means in Arendelle) and is crowned Queen all by her lonesome. No one tells her she needs to get married, she shows no interest in getting married, and none of her songs mention even a theoretical a “him.” You know Anna is interested in men right off the bat because she uses male pronouns in “For the First Time In Forever,” but Elsa has a lot more on her mind than finding “the one.”
Often little straight girls pretend they’re going to marry Prince Eric or Prince Phillip. Because they’re pretending that they’re the princess. But what if you’re a little girl who wants to marry the princess yourself? But you don’t want to be a prince. You want to be a princess AND marry a princess. Well, with Elsa (and Merida), that is a possibility, without even having to stretch your imagination too far.
Bonus: There IS a gay character in this movie! I missed it the first time I saw it, but after reading PolicyMic.com’s article about why Frozen is the most progressive Disney movie yet, and paying more attention the second time around, I realized when Oaken (of Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post and Sauna) waves to his family in the sauna, it is indeed a man and several children who wave back when he says, “Hello, family!”
2. Elsa has a secret.
Elsa’s magic powers can be a pretty strong metaphor for homosexuality, with one exception being that homosexuality as a trait can’t injure someone else. Or build snowmen out of nothing (unfortunately). But Elsa’s powers are something that neither her nor her sister thought twice of when they were little, until their parents told Elsa that they were something to be ashamed of. They insisted she keep it to herself, never let anyone know.
This develops into a fear of her own powers, a fear of anyone finding out about them, and it becomes all-consuming. Elsa pushes everyone, including her sister, her best friend, away — just to keep the secret of her powers, which she was told were bad. And sure enough, when everyone finds out about it, they are outraged. They call her a monster, because it’s something they haven’t seen before, something they don’t understand. She believes them, because she is predisposed to, since her parents raised her to think it was wrong. And now these people (strangers, mind you) are confirming that belief, that fear.
In real life, you don’t need your parents to explicitly tell you to hide your feelings to feel like you have to keep something to yourself. It could be something you saw on television when you were young, it could be your church, your peers, your school. Whatever it is that drives it, queer children are often convinced that they need to conceal those feelings, and hiding something so inherently a part of you takes its toll.
3. Elsa is stronger when she embraces her differences.
Image credit: movies.disney.com
As soon as Elsa gets away from everyone who is telling her she is a monster for something that is entirely out of her control, she immediately feels better. She stops trying to hide her powers for the first time since she was first told they were wrong, and she feels amazing. It’s like going to your very first gay bar, or live-tweeting Pretty Little Liars with the #BooRadleyVanCullen crew for the first time. It’s exhausting to keep something to yourself for years and years, and it’s so, SO freeing to finally feel like you’re in a safe enough space to let it go. (Pun intended. You can try all you want, but you will never convince me that “Let It Go” isn’t a coming out song to end all coming out songs.)
Actually, I’m taking that out of parenthesis. Let’s give this song it’s own number:
4. “Let It Go”
This song, you guys. I came out to my parents in a car on the highway on the way from Boston to New York because I literally could not “hold it back anymore.” As Elsa sings, I “couldn’t keep it in; heaven knows I tried.”
If I had known this song, immediately afterward, I would have hung out the window and sang it at the top of my lungs. (Or possibly just performed it for them in lieu of the awkward bumbling confession that really happened.)
In a bit of a stretch of the metaphor, Elsa even changes her appearance during this number. She literally lets her hair down and puts on a dress with a slit right up the leg, complete with a cape made of ice. She takes off the gloves that acted like chains her entire life and can finally walk with her head held high. For some little lesbians, being forced to wear a dress can feel like being shackled. Your parents might just think you’re being a tomboy and tell you to just get over it, which not only makes it feel like a punishment, but also can make you feel guilty for feeling so uncomfortable in something that other girls your age seem to be wearing without a problem. When you finally stop trying to be someone you’re not and start dressing however you want to (which hey, might still involve dresses, but also might never include a dress ever again) it’s just one more thing that makes you feel more comfortable in your own skin.
Bonus: Demi Lovato sings the pop–ifiedversion of the song, and Demi plays Santana’s girlfriend on Glee. Even though she has next to no airtime, it’s still a fact. And I’m still not entirely convinced that Demi won’t one day see the light and come over to our side. (I’m really rooting for her to play for our team.)
5. Elsa found her happy ending when she found self-acceptance and let love in.
Elsa’s self-hatred makes her push everyone around her away. She doesn’t think she deserves their love, because she doesn’t love herself. Even when Anna finds out Elsa’s secret, Elsa tells her to stay away, sure she can’t truly be accepted, convinced she is a freak. She feels out of control and so very alone.
In the end, what gives her the most control over her powers is letting her sister in and accepting her love. Once she does that, she is less wild, less angry, less scared, and more in control of her emotions (and thereby, her powers) than she has been since she was little, before she was taught to be ashamed of who she was. Once the townspeople see how much Elsa and Anna love each other, they are able to open themselves up to love Elsa, too. When Elsa was afraid of herself, the people around her were afraid of her, too. But when she learned to love and accept herself for who she was, they followed suit.
Image source: disney.wikia.com
Of course, there are things that make it an imperfect metaphor. A person’s homosexuality can’t cause an eternal winter (I don’t think) nor would it put an entire town in danger. Also, as far as we could tell, Elsa’s powers were extremely rare —though the troll did ask how she got them, and her parents said she was born this way. But I could still go on with other ways Frozen has something for gay girls that no other Disney movie has yet to offer. Because while I relate to Anna in that we are both awkward and clumsy and excitable and goofy, I relate more strongly with Elsa’s internal struggles, pain, and overall journey. (As I’m sure others will, for other reasons beyond growing up gay.)
Though it’s not nearly as good as it would be if they had an actual queer princess, and obviously the movie has some flaws I haven’t touched upon, but I think Frozen is a huge step in the right direction, because even if they didn’t write this character with the explicit intention of being relatable to the gay community, the fact that there ARE so many points we can relate to is more than we’ve been able to say too many times before. And Disney did just have it’s first lesbian couple (lesbian moms, no less) on an episode Good Luck, Charlie—so who knows, maybe the day of a gay Disney princess will come sooner than you’d think.
What did you think of Frozen? Do you relate to Elsa the way I did, or did a different Disney princess resonate more with you?