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.
Ok I’d like to make some points about this. While the hints are a great reading into, I do not think in any way Elsa is queer. Yes, I do agree it would be nice to have a character in a film, especially a Disney character, to represent those of the LGBTQ community. But come on guys! Why does everything have to be read into so much. There are a lot of movies that could be read into to this extent and be said to represent a the community as well.
This movie is about true love being more that just romantic. NOT EVERY MOVIE HAS TO BE ABOUT ROMANCE! This is a very big step because as a society we romanticize everything. Why can’t a character just not have a love interest?! Sometimes it can take people a long time to fall in love.
Take Elsa for instance. She was kept in the castle but she isolated herself in her room by her own choice. Her parents didnt stuff her in and lack the door. She did it because she was afraid of her her sister, the person she was closest to. She had no romantic interest for her sister, she was simply afraid of literally harming or killing her with her powers. Yes, her parents were afraid that people would judge her and so they limited her contact to a minimal few people in the castle. And while you might say this represents having a queer daughter, it could also represent a great many other things. Parents are always afraid of people judging their children. Disabilities, mental disorders, queerness, or just having odd personalities; all of these are grounds for the same response.
Another point is when Hanz mentioned that no one was getting anywhere with Elsa. Well that was because Elsa was a recluse! She didn’t talk to anyone, she didn’t want to meet anyone. Its not necessarily because she didn’t have romantic interest in anyone, it was because she never took the chance to even TRY! She shut herself in not only for fear or ridicule and misunderstanding, but for fear or harming those around her. We know that the beginning of the movie shows her reaction to just accidentally harming her sister. That is majorly traumatic for a child! To know that even accidentally you could make a slight mistake and hurt people. Why would you want to have social contact with that knowledge. She hates herself for that fact, so no she’s never even considered romance.
And when Elsa finally lets her powers out, its a symbol of acceptance. Sure you could read it as acceptance of her queerness but it’s more than that. Its about Elsa accepting herself and knowing that she is going to make mistakes but her deep love and sacrifices she made for her sister, their true love of family, is what is going to pull her through. And seeing this, the town accepts Elsa as she is also.
This movie is not really about romantic love. While it is integrated to an extent, its about general acceptance of people and who they are no matter what makes them different: queerness, disabilities, culture, religion, just differences in general. Its about accepting things we may not understand because people fear what they don’t understand. When others are different, and I mean very different, to the point where we can not fathom what they are thinking, it scares us.
If you want to view this movie as a support for the LGBTQ community that is great, I am glad you find that kind of representation. But I personally think this movie has a much broader rang of meaning about being yourself. I do not and will not believe that Elsa is queer based on this because that would be like me assuming someone is queer based on very little information. But to say Elsa is not the representation the queer community deserves is going a little too far.
That aside, if you believe that the Queer community deserves an outed character, what is stopping you from making one? We always out creators for not representing specific groups, but we could say that for a lot of things. Where is the princess that represents the Hispanic community? How about the Jewish religion? The queer and transgender community need a representation too. If any of you out there feel you are missing a representation, then what is stopping you from making one? It takes one person to step forward and start these kinds of projects. Don’t expect other people to do it for you. You all have just as much ability to create these characters. But what if you are not good at drawing? Then find a community of people who are willing to help you. It takes more than one person to make a movie like Frozen. When you have an idea, you have to have the initiative to go out and make it happen. Don’t yell or blame other people for not doing it for you. Its not their job. They create things that make them happy; that inspire them.They took the initiative to make their dream come true the way they wanted it done. So now you must do the same.
What’s stopping me from making a wildly popular Disney Princess musical with queer characters? The fact that I don’t work for Disney, mainly.
But, uh, I am finishing the first draft of my book with queer lady pirates, including a trans character, multiple characters of color, and a disabled character.
Don’t act like those of us who want and ask for representation aren’t creators ourselves.
Edit: Wait. “She had no romantic interest for her sister, she was simply afraid of literally harming or killing her with her powers. ” Did you SERIOUSLY just imply that Elsa can’t be read as queer because she didn’t want to fuck her sister?