Monday, July 2, 2012

Reading Gay into Brave

Some people in the blogosphere have recently taken offense to the notion that Merida, the character in the latest Disney/Pixar movie "Brave," could possibly be a lesbian. As a bisexual in a lesbian relationship for almost 17 years I do not understand why this is offensive. More to the point, as a little girl growing up knowing that I sometimes had crushes on other girls (mostly celebrities), I think this question is actually kind of important.  I mean, if there really is nothing wrong with being a lesbian, so what if she is?

But she's not, for the record. I mean, at least officially. There is nothing at all in the movie that overtly suggests Merida is gay. So why are we having this conversation? Why does this conversation matter?

All the feminist mommy blogs have been anticipating Brave's release since Pixar first gave us a glimpse of the movie early last year. It's a big deal to finally have a female lead character in a Pixar film, and it's an even bigger deal that she is a non-princessy princess. Merida is a strong, independent young woman. And girls in our culture are starved for strong, independent characters that we can identify with.

But lesbians will tell you we are starved for positive role models even more. I wouldn't be surprised to find that the first person who posed the question of Merida's possible lesbianism was herself in fact a lesbian -- though interestingly, the only people I've seen writing about this so far are men: Chris Heller in The Atlantic and Andrew O'Hehir at Salon (unsure if they are gay men or not), and of course the post that started it all: Adam Markowitz's piece in EW. Honestly, as I sat watching the movie I had the thought myself.  I thought, 'oh, cool the way she's written little girls watching this who may already have some inkling about who they are might be able to read that into it if they want to.' Postive representations of who we are are essential for human development. But some of us are more represented than others in popular culture. As LGBT people, we look for ourselves all the time! There's a whole field of academic study that is built on combing through pieces of literature looking for subtle cues or signs that may allow us to read a character as gay. This is a human need: the need to see ourselves and our realities reflected back to us in some way.

One of the criticisms that I've come across of Markowitz's argument is that he's basing his ideas about Merida on stereotypes. I see why that is problematic. Of course not all tomboys are lesbians and not all lesbians are tomboys. That's silly. But saying that the question of whether Merida is gay or not is a a ridiculous and offensive question is actually problematically heteronormative. Of course, I think that we should resist the notion of sexualizing everyone all the time. Although, let's be honest: too many people don't seem to have a problem with the marriage plot that exists, well, ALL OVER movies and pop culture targeted at young girls. The fact is - Merida is not a young child. She is a young lady, obviously of marrying age. But most of the audience for this film are young children - young girls. Many of them will grow up to be lesbians or bisexual; some of them already know this about themselves, even if they are young. And wouldn't it be awesome for those kids to have some role models? Nobody here is saying, "oh tell your daughters Merida's a lesbian because she probably is."  But I think whether she is or not is a perfectly valid and interesting conversation for grown ups to have, and to have with a child if the child does happen to wonder and asks.  I wouldn't expect Disney to put out a movie with a lesbian character. That is never going to happen. But, gosh, let a girl dream a little.

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