When I was young, the realisation that I had reached the end of my allotted childhood was a tough one. I was the kid still wanting to play mermaids on summer holidays while my friends prowled the beach for boys to kiss. I was the avid reader still devouring books written for much younger audiences, because I wanted more tales of adventure and less about ‘true love’. I slowly learned to hide this childishness deep inside me, a facet of myself I only later discovered was my asexuality – which made it so surprising when that oh-so personal experience showed up on the big screen in Frozen 2.
In Disney’s blockbuster, a young Elsa and Anna play a make-believe game about an enchanted forest. Anna wants all the characters to fall in love and get married, while Elsa keeps trying to drag her sister back to the fantasy story, stressing the importance of saving the forest. That cute little scene hit me way harder than I expected. Even as a child, before I had a word for my asexuality, I was that little Elsa clinging to games and fantasy.
Even as a child, before I had a word for my asexuality, I was that little Elsa clinging to games and fantasy.
Elsa’s journey continues to feel so familiar through the film, in a way I rarely get to see in mainstream pop culture. She spends her time searching for something, someone that will make her feel whole, plagued by questions about who she is.
“Are you someone out there who's a little bit like me?” Elsa sings in Into The Unknown, echoing how isolating it can be in a world where asexuality is rarely visible. “Are you out there? / Do you know me? / Can you feel me? / Can you show me?” Her questions continue, sounding like so many friends and strangers who ask me what it’s like to be asexual, wondering if the word could fit their own experience.
If Into The Unknown is about Elsa questioning her identity, then Show Yourself -- a song the queer community have adopted as a coming out anthem – is about Elsa accepting that identity. Throughout the movie Elsa has searched for a person who will answer all her questions, and in Show Yourself she discovers that she is that person.
“You are the one you’ve been waiting for / All of your life”
When our entire culture prioritises finding ‘the one’, being asexual often means making your own peace with being alone.
When our entire culture prioritises finding ‘the one’, being asexual often means making your own peace with being alone – and I wasn’t the only asexual person who saw this struggle in Elsa’s Show Yourself – even the aromantic community, people who aren’t interested in romantic relationships, have seen themselves reflected in Elsa’s story. To me, the song is a glorious validation of being asexual, where choosing to be alone doesn’t have to mean you’re broken or unhappy.
Having this represented in a Disney movie is even more important to me as someone who was raised on the sickly-sweet romances of 90’s Disney movies. Movies like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and even The Lion King taught me that love was important beyond all else - whether you’re a lion, a mermaid or a giant hairy monster. If you’re a regular human being who doesn’t want to find love and get married, those stories seemed to say, you must be broken or even evil. But now, kids who may one day identify as asexual or aromantic have a role model in Elsa - a powerful, magical character who isn’t diminished or judged for her lack of a relationship.
As deeply as Elsa’s story resonates with me, I’m not rushing to give Disney too much credit. Elsa is never properly identified as asexual or aromantic, something that would help immensely to increase visibility and awareness. Considering Disney’s record with LGBT characters (remember the underwhelming ‘gay moment’ in Beauty and the Beast?) it’s likely that an overtly asexual princess would be considered just as risky to Frozen 2’s mass market appeal as a lesbian Elsa would – an alternative that’s hugely popular with fans thanks to the #GiveElsaAGirlfriend trend.
Speaking of a lesbian Elsa: she isn’t the first character in popular culture who has been immediately assumed gay, while not actually showing interest in any gender. When Stranger Things’ third season was released, Will Byers’ disinterest in girls made viewers question if he could be gay. Fans in the asexual community were quick to point out how Will’s experience mirrored their own, but that alternative was barely mentioned in the many thinkpieces discussing the character’s sexuality.
This trend points to a wider problem pop culture has with asexual erasure, and queer representation in general. A lack of interest in the opposite sex has been used so often to show that characters are hiding their homosexuality, the audience rarely bothers to ask whether the character shows interest in anyone. When the number of asexual characters in mainstream pop culture can be counted on one hand, it’s not surprising no one even considers that we exist.
Elsa’s story in Frozen 2 has provided a way for the asexual community to literally show ourselves – but what we really need is more overt representation in popular culture, so we can truly become part of the conversation.
Asexual Awareness week 2020 is October 25–31. Find out more about it here.