By Mike McMahan, LPC
There has been a push by progressive-leaning folks online for Queen Elsa, one of the main characters in Disney’s beloved Frozen, to identify as lesbian in the anticipated sequel and to have an on-screen love interest. I fully support this idea.
Lesbian and gay people have gained more and more acceptance in society as they have taken on more visible, public roles. This shift is very evident in pop culture as well. I remember a time when no one blinked that Eddie Murphy had a track on one of his stand-up albums called “Faggots” (he has since apologized for these jokes). And did you know that the Beastie Boys considered calling the classic Licensed To Ill album Don’t Be A Faggot? Thankfully, for the Beastie Boys, the record company refused to release the album under this title (the one time a record company refusal to release something actually worked out well for everyone, just sayin’). It’s safe to say that, had the LP been released under this title, it would have been reissued at some point with an alternate title. Whether the Beasties would still have been the icons of progressive values that they are now is pure guesswork.
In 1997, it was a major news story when Ellen DeGeneres came out, and the titular character on her sitcom, Ellen, came out at the same time. It will be interesting to see how history regards DeGeneres, especially now that the fight for things like marriage equality has been christened “the new civil rights movement.” She took a lot of risk in doing what she did and, though she has been highly successful in the time since, there were no guarantees at that time. She literally risked her career.
My personal feeling is that as more LGBT people have come out, many of us have gotten to know them as people. It’s very common these days to have gay family members and co-workers, which has led to the shocking realization (gasp!) that they’re people just like everyone else. This, in turn, led to the relatively quick turnaround from the popularity of Defense of Marriage Acts in the early 2000s to the Supreme Court’s landmark decision recognizing marriage equality in all 50 states.
The CDC has identified numerous health issues associated with homophobia. For example, gay and lesbian youth who’s families reject or resist their child’s sexual orientation are eight times more likely to have attempted suicide and six times more likely to report high levels of depression. Having a lesbian Disney princess will undoubtedly reduce homophobia, as it normalizes being gay and reminds kids that LGBT people are just like other kids, only they happen to fall in love with people of their own gender.
The field of psychology strongly supports LGBT rights. Recently the American Counseling Association cancelled a convention in Nashville in protest of a law that allows counselors to refuse LGBT clients on religious grounds. In addition, the American Psychological Association has issued a statement condemning conversion therapy, which seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation from gay to straight. While the field of psychology as a whole now strongly supports LGBT equality, that was not always the case. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), which describes criteria for diagnosis of different psychiatric illnesses, listed homosexuality as a “mental disorder” up until its third edition, which was published in 1980(!).
Which brings us up to now. Disney has made strides to be progressive, including having their iconic princesses come from minority groups. In addition, Frozen itself laid waste to the idea of “love at first sight.” Who wants to end up with someone as two-faced as Prince Hans? So, perhaps, as the idea of a Frozen sequel continues to gain steam, it was only natural that there would be a push for Elsa (conspicuously single in the first film) to have a love interest and for Disney to bring another formerly disenfranchised minority to the forefront: members of the LGBT community.
In a previous post, I discussed the possibility that Elsa was suffering from depression, symbolized by her isolation in a castle of ice. This symbolism could just as easily be applied to the idea that she feels isolation due to having to hide her sexual orientation. After all, she does have a power that she has to hide under gloves. Even actress Idina Menzel, who voiced Elsa in the first film, supports the idea. So what’s the problem?
Well, that depends on who you ask. As expected, this proposal has generated a significant amount of controversy and sparked a counter-movement, composed of those who do not support this idea. I support free speech, discussion and understand that people have a right to their opinion. That said, these arguments are largely based on religious objections. I don’t want to make this a discussion about religion and morality, so I’ll just say that while I respect the role that religion plays in people’s life and understand that it can be a source of strength, I don’t believe these arguments are a valid reason to deny people things like basic respect, civil rights or health insurance.
Another objection (or question) that will arise from parents is “how did I discuss this with my kids?” In my opinion, this is a valid question, but let’s put it in perspective. This is a Disney film, not an R-rated adult film or a piece of pornography. At the most there is going to be a kiss between Elsa and her girlfriend. My suggestion would be that this discussion be similar to any other discussion about adult matters such as sex. Children of different ages will have different sorts of questions, and what parents feel is age-appropriate will vary from family to family. I always recommend books as a way to explore issues with your kids. An excellent book on this subject is And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson. This book (which is based on a true story) is a very family friendly title that has two male penguins falling in love, but is more or less just like any other family story about two parents welcoming a beloved child into the world.
As the father of a four-year-old and a man who has gay friends and co-workers, I have told my daughter “most of the time boys fall in love with girls, but sometimes girls fall in love with girls and boys fall in love with boys.” As homosexuality continues to be more accepted in our society, it is likely that your kids will have friends who have same-sex parents. I myself have worked with several same-sex couples who have children. The definition of family is changing and evolving with the times. I hope Disney takes a huge next step and does the same.
Mike McMahan, LPC, is a psychotherapist based in San Antonio, Texas.
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Therapy Goes POP
Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture