Don’t #giveelsaagirlfriend

elsa and annaA few days ago, I stumbled across the #giveelsaagirlfriend campaign. Yesterday, I found out #givecaptainamericaaboyfriend was a thing. Like most of the angry tweeters, I thought the campaigns were well-intentioned but wrong. (Actually, most of the angry tweeters wouldn’t grant that it’s well-intentioned, but whatever.) I think it’s wrong not because it promotes “the gay agenda” but because it undermines it.

Last time I checked, being gay was a part of who you are. That’s why the gay rights movement is gaining traction: people are getting the hint that being gay isn’t a choice. It’s a reality. It’s an identity. It’s not something you can add on or take away, no matter how noisy the twittersphere gets.

How does giving Elsa a girlfriend affirm her identity? Elsa, the one and only princess who hasn’t ended up in a romantic relationship (singles represent!)? Elsa, the girl who learned that a sister can show the truest love?

How does giving Captain America a boyfriend affirm his identity, when his love interests have been women, saving America, and staying loyal to his friends in a totally bro way? (Maybe he appears gay in his latest movies, and that’s where the hype’s coming from? I’m still catching up with the culture after four years of undergrad.)

If Disney wants to affirm that sexual orientation is a fixed thing, giving Captain America a boyfriend or Elsa a girlfriend is the last thing Disney ought to do. Tacking on a new sexual orientation to an already established character won’t be saying anything substantial except that Disney capitalizes on the LGBT+ movement. I think that’s giving the wrong message about personhood, and gay persons in particular.

Where do you stand on #giveelsaagirlfriend and #givecaptainamericaaboyfriend? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

PC: Disney

12 thoughts on “Don’t #giveelsaagirlfriend

  1. Karen Wright

    Interesting take on this. I don’t think it would be a bad idea to create LGBTQ marvel or disney characters….but I really really hate when integration of this whole movement feels forced. However another way to look at it…I remember when I was trying so hard to integrate into normal society. It felt super awkward and forced. I am sure i did and said things that seemed like it didn’t make sense just in an effort to get to the point of acceptance and ease with myself in “normal” society. maybe this is just the point the LGBTQ movement is at? Things feel awkward and forced, in an eager attempt to integrate and maybe all these awkward hashtags will disappear in the next decade?


    • Bailey Steger

      You’re definitely right. The Elsa hashtag (not sure about Captain America) was started by a teenager who probably wasn’t thinking about personhood — she was just trying feel integrated. This post wasn’t meant to discount her real need to feel integrated. I think it would do a far greater service to the LGBT+ community to create a new character who was gay — provided his or her sexual orientation was actually *integrated* in the character, and not just a publicity stunt for the LGBT+ movement.


  2. Rebekah

    I think you make some excellent points and I love this question: “How does giving Elsa/Captain America a girlfriend/boyfriend affirm her/his identity?” I think we all need to realize that are identity is never in a relationship. We are not who we are because of who we are with (or not with). One of my friends was talking one time about possibly being single her whole life and said, “I don’t need a man.” I replied, “No, you don’t. You just need Jesus.”

    Personally, I don’t want Captain America to have a boyfriend. It’s selfish. I want him to be straight. :D


    • Bailey Steger

      Haha! Captain America is my superhero crush too. ;) I was thinking more along the lines of this: giving Elsa a girlfriend doesn’t fit in with her established identity. But your point fits in too — giving Elsa a girlfriend or a boyfriend as part of her “identity” is unhealthy. Thanks for weighing in!


  3. Sara

    This tho. I’m all for having representation (of different races, sexualities, genders, etc) but not in the heavy handed way that it has been in most media. Have a character who happens to be black not A Troubled Black Man From A Broken Home™ reinforcing stereotypes. Have a female character who has a life and a career and yeah also a girlfriend not Lesbian Woman Who Struggles With Being Gay Also Did We Mention She’s Gay? Gay™ Reducing someone down to heavily political traits reduces their personhood as opposed to showing the beauty present in the diversity created by God. Have GOOD representation so that people can have characters to relate to and expand their worldview as opposed to reinforcing negative stereotypes.


    • Bailey Steger

      YES. Agreed! A poorly handled, political portrayal of any minority does little good in the long run for winning over the majority. I suspect those supporting the hashtag are thinking more about LGBT+ kids fitting in than the majority being won over, but still.


  4. Mary

    As an asexual woman, I think you reallly hit well on the point that relationship status has nothing to do with sexual orientation. However, I would further argue that those aligning themselves with #GiveElsaAGirlfriend are searching for affirmation of their queerly beloved’s identity through visible representation. You asked, “How does giving Elsa a girlfriend affirm her identity?” Well (operating under the assumption that Elsa is, in fact, a lesbian), giving Elsa a girlfriend would make a powerful statement that being gay is not something to be ashamed of. That you can be gay royalty, gay with a superpower, gay and have emotional issues, gay and love your family. Giving Elsa a girlfriend would be an affirmation of her identity – a little late in the game, albeit, and I agree with you that if Disney wants a gay princess they need to make that clear from the outset when they introduce her – because it would show a natural outgrowth of her preexisting identity. Of course, ideally to make that point you’d want a gay character who starts out single, ends up in a relationship, and is portrayed as happy and fulfilled in BOTH scenarios (reaffirming that always-needed message that being in a relationship isn’t the ultimate life goal). But I don’t think giving Elsa a girlfriend would undermine a message of gay positivity. It might be a little clumsy, but I don’t think it would be harmful per se.


    • Bailey Steger

      I appreciate your input, Mary! For me, I don’t see Elsa and her story as having lesbian tendencies (or any romantic tendencies), so giving her a girlfriend would be something akin to “making her lesbian” instead of a natural outgrowth of her lesbian identity. It’s less about her staying single and more about her staying true to her character and her story, which, in her case, doesn’t involve any love interests. Of course, her sexual identity is more ambiguous than Captain America’s, I would argue, but I still think Disney would be better off creating a lesbian princess from the start. This is all a little more theoretical than the hashtag campaign, though, so I grant your point that giving Elsa a girlfriend wouldn’t undermine a message of gay positivity for the teenager her started it and the LGBT+ community that picked it up. :)


      • Julie

        “giving Elsa a girlfriend doesn’t fit in with her established identity”

        “I don’t see Elsa and her story as having lesbian tendencies”

        But what would having “lesbian tendencies” look like? How does being a lesbian go against her established identity? I guess what I’m trying to get at is that IMO a lot of people feel this way because they see heterosexuality as the default. If a person’s sexuality isn’t explicitly made clear, then people just assume that they’re straight. It’s not just sexuality where that’s an issue, you see it with race, too. (e.g. I don’t know if you’re a Harry Potter fan, but there was a lot of controversy when it turned out that Blaise Zabini was black. People lost their minds because they had envisioned Blaise as a white guy and were mad that Rowling subverted that expectation.)

        I think it’s telling that a lot of young LGBTQ women DID see themselves in Elsa. No, her storyline wasn’t explicitly about being gay, but the part about shutting/freezing a part of herself away, it’s something that a lot of young gay women could relate to. If you were to look at my life before I came out, you’d probably have insisted that I didn’t have lesbian tendencies either. I was pretty much Elsa (except with less ice magic)… I repressed everything, became a loner, didn’t date or have any romantic interests, etc. People didn’t read me so much as “she’s gay” as “she just hates people.” LMAO.

        I just don’t see anything in Elsa’s storyline that goes against the possibility of her being gay. Disney is pretty sexless to begin with, so it’s not like I’m expecting her to be panting after every girl in Arendelle.


  5. Abigail

    “Frozen” was a life-changing movie for me. I viscerally reacted to Elsa’s isolation, fear, and feeling that she had to hide, and although I understand why some relate that to feelings homosexual people deal with, in my experience, it was a parallel to my childhood struggles of having health-induced behavioral issues that made me a terror at home. I couldn’t control it, couldn’t stop, hated myself for it, felt like a burden and crisis point for everyone, and was determined to somehow hold it all in public and still present a good image to the world. Thus, I related to the whole “conceal, don’t feel” aspect and how hard she tried to hide what threatened to come bursting out of her at any moment. Thanks to dietary and health improvements, my problems were over by the time I saw the movie, but the film brought forth suppressed memories and feelings I had not dealt with. This movie helped me grapple with my past and heal, so my personal perspective is that by assuming that Elsa is lesbian and pushing the girlfriend concept, Disney would be cheapening the movie for a much wider range of people who can identify with Elsa for other reasons. Also, I loved her being single, because that emphasized the power of platonic relationships to be loving, powerful forces in one’s life. You don’t need a boyfriend or girlfriend to be deeply loved, and that’s something hardly ever visible in entertainment.

    As for Captain America, that bothers me much more, because it proposes to change something already clearly established about a character. More significantly for me, it is yet another cultural argument that deep, powerful, life-shaping friendships cannot exist without some kind of sexual component. It is infuriating to me that whenever a character has a close relationship with a member of the same sex, whether it’s Captain America or Lord of the Rings characters, people assume that they must be gay. Some characters are, certainly, but I loathe the assumption imposed on all fictional friendships and even some real-life ones that if you love, sacrifice, and have a sense of commitment towards another person, you must have romantic/sexual feelings for them.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate your insights and agree with your assessment of both cases.


    • Bailey Steger

      Thank you so much for sharing your story — truly. I’m sorry for the pain you’ve experienced with your health and behavior, and love how a Disney movie can be so meaningful. And everything else you said — SPOT. ON. I agree wholeheartedly!


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