“Brave” (2012) part I: my rant about the “is she gay?” conversation
1 July 2012
Brave is not just a Pixar film with a female lead (two female leads, really), but one about a girl who doesn’t want to be told how to act, how to live her life. Merida wears dresses and likes to shoot arrows. She has long, gorgeous hair but wears it in a big mess of a red tangle. She runs and jumps and acts exuberantly rather than behave like a lady, as her mother desires. She finishes her father’s stories and can’t breathe in a corset. Most of all she doesn’t want to get married off to one of the three eldest sons of neighboring clan leaders.
So critics started a conversation about whether she’s gay.
“Because,” as Stephen Colbert put it nicely on last week’s Colbert Report, “any 15-yr-old girl who rejects an arranged marriage has got to be gay.”
Is it so radical for a girl to just want to be herself — before being crammed into other roles, like girlfriend, wife, gay, straight, tomboy, girlie-girl? Is it so radical to allow her to not define herself according to hoary stereotypes?
What is wrong with us that we’re so eager to slot children into sexual boxes? Is it so hard to fathom that some kids just don’t want to be sexual creatures yet? That some kids’ gender identities don’t fit into molds, and that those gender identities don’t necessarily signal anything about who they will want to sleep with down the road?
Now, I realize I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to watching media with a queer eye — when I sang the praises of the feminist potential of the Women’s World Cup last summer, it was partly because “whether or not they’re gay (and open about it), many female players have embraced butch haircuts or personal styles that signify at least tomboyness if not queerness — and this is good both for gay rights and for helping to blur a gay/straight binary.” I loved The Celluloid Closet for its analysis of how, in an era during which homosexuality was erased from film narratives, viewers scoured early American films for the slightest, tiniest evidence (clothing, effeminacy, a snippet of dialogue) that a character might be gay.
But hello, that was about adults.
Is it the most radical thing to allow kids to not be sexual — to allow them to express their gender freely without leaping to conclusions about what their gender performance signals about their sexual orientation?
I’m thinking here about my sister, who dressed as a tomboy till she was about 15. No, she’s not trans. No, she’s not gay. She just liked dressing as a tomboy. She wasn’t interested in playing any kind of boyfriend game just yet. Get over it.