Pro-Gay? Disney is Pro-Being Yourself

By  · Published on April 24th, 2014

Walt Disney Pictures

There are few movies that stay so firmly in the public discourse this long after their release. Even with the boost of awards season, we’re focused on what Summer 2014 will bring instead of pouring new thoughts about Gravity or 12 Years a Slave into old wineskins. Yet here we are with yet another editorial on the Frozen pro-gay agenda, this one from Akash Nikolas taking the ho-hum angle by attempting to link classic Disney films like Dumbo – and really an entire history of the studio – to LGBT supporting subtext. Frozen’s pro-gay? What isn’t?

By giving a queer reading of multiple movies from multiple eras Nikolas has achieved something clever, using hyperbole to point out how any movie featuring a character who learns to be comfortable with himself or herself can be read as a metaphor for homosexuality. Because of course it can.

But coming out of the closet (or the genie bottle, of the ice castle) isn’t the sole visual metaphor in these movies. Emergence from a timid existence to embrace/learn your unique talent/destiny is a hallmark of the hero’s journey, and in every case (even Frozen) is so broad that it could mean absolutely anything.

Feel isolated because jocks tease you for being in the school play? Let it go. Alienated because you’re a hardcore Republican living in Austin? Let it go. Lonely because you love playing jazz but none of your friends think it’s cool? Let it go with syncopation.

It’s fascinating that have latched onto the concept of Frozen being pro-gay because of a very general, well-worn theme in storytelling. And it is pro-gay. Because it’s pro-being yourself. It’s pro-acceptance. Pro-tolerance. So it’s pro-gay, but it’s also a lot more.

And the reason that Nikolas can pull Pinocchio and Dumbo into the mix is because Disney (and a lot of children’s programming) has been pro-You’re Different But That’s Alright Just Roll With It for a very long time.

Still, it’s not all that surprising that a single reading has gained popularity because civil rights battles for marriage equality are a powerful part of the zeitgeist. It’s the kind of wedge issue where right-wingers can cry havoc and go full Crucible on it while gay advocates can feel comfortable adopting the exact same view (obviously with a completely different qualitative stance). Both have co-opted a specific reading to support their cause.

But what’s funny is that, because of how encompassing the metaphor “Be Yourself” is, claiming that Frozen is pro-gay or believing that it’s going to indoctrinate your darlings says far more about you than it does the movie. It’s a Rorschach test that’s revealed a dominant cultural pattern.

One side of a cultural struggle has dismissed the larger concept and distilled it into representing the boogeyman they currently most fear. Which is a shame considering that the only alternative is a children’s movie that teaches kids it’s not okay to be themselves.

I don’t buy that Disney has been pro-gay for nearly a century. They’ve been progressive on the issue since at least the 90s, but there’s little chance Dumbo was uniquely whispering to children that being gay was okay. He was shouting that you shouldn’t fear your identity, regardless of what that is. Gay, republican, jazz lover – anytime a movie’s message is that the people who mind don’t matter, and the people who matter don’t mind, it’s a lesson not for a specific group but for everybody.

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