Originally posted 7/25/21
Fairy tales were the true stars of the Hooray for Gay YA! panel at SDCC 2021. When asked about formative queer narratives, panelists Victoria Lee and David Levithan were quick to answer with myriad stories, as well as praise for the plethora of queer YA now available. But, Trung Lê Capecchi-Nguyễn had a more nuanced response, stemming from his experience as a refugee and immigrant.
Trung went on to single out The Little Mermaid and why they relate so strongly to it.
That got me thinking about fairy tales, folklore and queer history. I don’t want to overstep, so my references will be more Euro/US-centric, considering that’s what I’m more familiar with. However, I’d be remiss not to mention that prior to colonialism and the spread of Christianity, queerphobia wasn’t a thing in many parts of the world. For the similarly uninitiated looking for a primer on queer narratives in non-Western folklore, check this out. I promise to keep learning.
“Hidden” queer fairy tales
As Trung points out in the Hooray for Gay YA! panel, Hans Christian Anderson‘s Mermaid was an unrequited love letter to another man. But … there’s so much more. Oscar Wilde “sneaked” gay themes into his fairy tales. Shakespeare‘s Twelfth Night can easily be read as a meditation on gender nonconformity and bisexuality (his sonnets are pretty gay too). And did you know that the advent of the printing press allowed Europeans to essentially excise queer fairy tales from the record? Me neither! Or, at least, not till I did this write-up.
But what of modern queer readings? And I don’t mean retellings of traditional fairy tales. I mean, seeing ourselves in cis-hetero stories. And that brings us to …
Disney (tell me you’re gay without telling me you’re gay)
A lot of queer people love Disney, for better or for worse. We see ourselves in the narratives, as so many tales are about outsiders, about children lost, needing to find their place in the world. Otherness. As I’ve been thinking about it, I realize many of these characters’ stories would just as easily resonate with immigrants or refugees or with anyone who feels different for any reason, really.
We all “make empathic leaps” to feel seen. Is it the inherent magic of fairytales, the inherent make-believe that allows us to do so more easily? Will we ever achieve true diversity in storytelling that will make these surrogates unnecessary?
Watch the full Hooray for Gay YA! panel here: