For decades, the Walt Disney Company has been one of the most powerful influences on childhood development, shaping young minds from a very early age. It's cute that we all remember the lyrics to those fairytale songs still today, Disney is still a very conservative force
when it comes to gender roles
. Even parents who swear they won't stop their daughters from playing with trucks are resigned when those same girls embark on the pink princess phase
, thanks to Disney and Barbie.
Since the world is still bursting with homophobic and transphobic media representation — extending even to the current cover
of Science Magazine
— you’d think that many LGBT people (in particularly, those queer, lefty types) would have a huge problem with Disney and its normativity.
But in many cases, they don’t.
Why do so many left-wing, gender-nonconforming queers love Disney?It’s partly because the Magic Kingdom is just that: magical. So many gays flock to Disney that the park's Gay Days draws hundreds of thousands of red-shirted revelers. It also draws the (predictable) backlash from the Florida chapter of the American Family Association, which charters low-flying planes with messages warning more wholesome families
to stay away, lest they see two dads and their kids posing with Maleficent. (Yet, as OC Weekly observed
in 2011, every day is Gay Day at Disney; according
to the tell-all Inside the Mouse
, a huge percentage of the park’s employees are LGBT.)
Zech Dittus, a politically engaged San Franciscan who identifies as genderqueer, prefers gender-neutral pronouns, and who is active in the kink community, makes an annual pilgrimage to Anaheim.
“I like sci-fi, I like fantasy, I like pretend. And Disney goes out of their way to make sure their park gives you a little bit of that feel,” Dittus said. “The more I go, the less there’s an itinerary. We just go walk around all day.” So why not just stick to LARPing or similar subcultures where overt gay participation isn’t as limited? “You can literally walk down the streets of Disneyland and forget the rest of the world exists, whereas Comic-Con happens in a convention center.”
Beyond Disneyland’s appeal to the imagination, there’s also the fact that Disney’s animated villains are, well, cartoonishly queer
. Ursula the Sea Witch was reportedly based on Divine, the drag performer. Jafar is an effeminate imperial (as are Scar, and Prince John from Robin Hood
). Gaston in Beauty and the Beast
is both hyper-masculine and surrounded by male sycophants.
This pattern hasn’t gone unnoticed. Disney has earned criticism for over relying on stereotypes, which scholars have also connected to the company’s overtly racist (and suppressed) past
. Yet instead of a boycott or any real furor, queer reappropriation seems to be the order of the day. Tinker Belles and Evil Queens
, a historical examination of the gay community’s relationship with Disney, notes that “Mickey Mouse” was a code for a gay man in the 1930s. Fanfic Tumblr Queer Disney
plays with the animated canon’s tropes, and semi-tongue-in-cheek Q&A blog The Checking of the Privilege
goes further still. Taking politically correct social awareness to the nth degree, it’s written by someone described as the following:
23, femme-presenting queer trans non-binary two-spirit genderfluid, xe/xir/hir/xirself pronouns, pansexual, PoC (1/16th Native American), white-passing except for hijab, Muslim (convert), neuro-atypical (self-diagnosed Aspergers), economically privileged, sex-positive, body-positive, vegan, sociology major, loves Disney. [emphasis mine]
Whether that grace note is comic relief or not, it’s not entirely out of place. Maybe Disney has been so ubiquitous in American childhoods that it really is almost like a marker of identity the way “queer” or “vegan” are. It’s impossible to ignore Disney, and its relentless images of domestic utopia are so hammy that maybe lovingly subverting them is the only real response for kids who could never grow up to live them. And the LGBT love affair with Disney should make all homophobes relax. What clearer proof do you need that gay adults can’t turn children queer, if Disney couldn’t turn queer children straight?