Be the good girl you always have to be: Is Frozen’s Elsa the queer heroine we need, but not the one we deserve?
Another Disney film and another wave of reviews, reading, and critisisms are beginning to hit the internet. Amid discussions of Disney’s ongoing race problems, feminist-friendly trope subversions, and the eternal question of “why the hell is that Reindeer acting like a dog?” one question stands out to me: Is Queen Elsa, well, queer?
There certainly is a compelling case for it. On the obvious level, Elsa has no love interest in the piece (her sister, Anna, gets two!) Hans himself says that “no one was making progress” with Elsa in a romantic sense. Now, I’m not about to argue that any young woman about to take control of a country who isn’t interested in a boyfriend is a lesbian. Similar comments were made about Brave’s Merida, and honestly, that in itself isn’t enough for a decent queer reading.
But with Elsa there is more. So much more.
Effectively, her ice powers are a convenient LGBTQIAP+ metaphor (much in the same vein as the X-Men’s mutant powers.)
Elsa has been born with these powers (she’s literally born that way). They are an integral part of who she is as a person, but she is forced by her parents to keep that part of her hidden. If people know, they would reject her, she would be in danger, made into a pariah by her own people. So she is made a self-exile instead. Full of fear of experiencing the isolation and discrimination that LGBTQIAP+ people know so well, Elsa hides away from everyone, even her sister.
Watching Elsa struggle to keep up her mask or normalcy is heart breaking. She wears gloves all the time, constantly afraid to touch other people. Her father’s words- her mantra is- “Conceal, Don’t Feel.” Hide who you are. Don’t follow your heart. Don’t feel your feelings. “Be the good girl you always have to be.” She is, rather obviously and metaphorically, in the closet about her true inner self.
But on the day when she comes of age- her Coronation day, when she is finally a young woman and no longer a girl- her secret is revealed.
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.
Now, let me be clear: a queer reading for Elsa is easy and, for me, compelling. She may very well be the queer icon that many of us NEED right now- high profile, sparkling, with a karaoke worthy ballad.
But ultimately, Elsa isn’t the queer icon we DESERVE. Her queerness is simply an interpretation, a reading built on metaphor and subtext. She is not canonly queer. she does not give visibility and representation to the LGBTQIAP+ community.
What we DESERVE is a queer heroine who’s queerness is more than subtext. I’m talking Girl meets girl, big sweeping love ballads, true love’s first kiss, all of it. And someday, we WILL get it. Elsa just isn’t that.
So any girl who isn’t stereotypical and “boy crazy”, any girl who has passions and interests more immediately compelling than heterosexual pursuit gets “read” as “queer.”
Oh look, it’s the same old sexism that fucked me up, back in a new “progressive” form.
Leave Elsa and Merida alone. “Queering” kids’ movie characters is brony nonsense.