During my most recent stay at Disney World, I had a conversation while I was lounging at the pool with my nephew and my husband. The following day was National Coming Out Day (see my previous article on the subject), and we started discussing creating a custom T-shirt in case we happened to be at Disney World the following year, or some other year, during National Coming Out Day.
Not shockingly, our idea for the shirt involved a number of Disney characters, perhaps carrying a pride flag. My nephew was completely amused with the idea of gay Disney characters, and he tried to be very hopeful on the subject. One of my favorite quotes from him was, “Statistically, wouldn’t some of the 101 Dalmatians have to be gay?”
Since not everything I write has to be deep and meaningful, here is a light and frothy look at which characters from Disney might appear on a coming out a T-shirt. Will there be surprises? Shocks?
Nah. Get ready for some camp and kitsch.
And though I wish it didn’t need saying, please understand this article is just for fun, and it’s not meant to offend anyone. Take it in the tongue-in-cheek tone in which it’s meant.
A Rose by Any Other Name
As one looks back through the Disney vaults it isn’t hard to find Disney’s first major “sissy” character. From the moment that Bambi meets Flower, there’s a sort of a weird gender/identity confusion. Flower is drawn with longer eyelashes, a trait that most Disney characters only have if they’re female.
If you’re someone who somehow has never seen Bambi, here’s how their first meeting goes: Bambi is sniffing through a patch of flowers and has been told that the word for them is “flower”. He comes nose to nose with a little skunk who is hiding in the flowers, and, when the skunk raises his head, Bambi delightedly cries out, “Flower!”
Bambi’s buddy Thumper thinks this is hilarious. “That’s not a flower!” he laughs.
“Oh, that’s alright,” the skunk says with a coy smile. “He can call me a flower if he wants to. I don’t mind.”
And when Bambi follows up by calling out, “Pretty Flower,” the skunk giggles and turns away with what seems like an embarrassed smile. “Oh, gosh!”
Later on, when Owl is telling the trio about becoming “Twitterpated,” his term for falling in love, he eyes Flower suspiciously and hesitates, but finally, he says, “Yes, it could even happen to you.”
Honestly, I don’t think Disney was specifically trying to suggest that this skunk was gay. There’s the old archetype in film of “The Sissy”, an effeminate man who’s usually a humorous character. This is definitely what the animators were going for with Flower, but, in more adult films, the connotation would be that the character was gay. With Flower, well…he does end up with a female skunk. We’ll just leave him be for now.
The Disney short The Reluctant Dragon is based on a short story by Kenneth Graeme, the author of The Wind in the Willows. It’s a retelling of St. George and the Dragon, but it casts the dragon as an erudite lover of poetry, a sophisticated fellow with no desire to fight at all. Eventually, thanks to a smart lad who befriends the dragon, everything works out.
The Dragon in the Disney film is another “sissy” character, but things go an intriguing one step further, making one wonder if Disney didn’t really intend the dragon to be gay. In an effort to rouse the dragon’s ire, the boy calls him a “punk poet”. This seems incongruous when you watch the movie today, as punk seems like such a modern term. A little digging, however, reveals that one meaning for the slang term punk is homosexual. Another meaning is “inferior”. So the boy could’ve been saying the dragon was a bad poet, or calling him gay. Knowing the crowd over at Disney, I suspect the term was chosen for this very ambiguity. But if you doubt, go take a look at The Reluctant Dragon and you tell me which meaning they intended.
Heroes and Villains
I could certainly go on and on, speculating on vague character possibilities here and there. I think, however, I will jump right to 1994 and a Disney movie which features character both heroic and villainous who seem to be, well, pretty gay.
I’m speaking, of course, about Disney’s mid-90s mega-hit, The Lion King.
Timon and Pumbaa are a couple so obvious that my nephew mentioned them before we did. You can blame him for the picture that goes along with this article, as he’s the one who told me about it.
I can understand if you want to be in denial, despite the fact that openly gay actor Nathan Lane, camping it up to the fullest, voices the character. You can deny it even if Timon dresses up in drag. But you cannot watch The Lion King 1 ½ and pretend these two are not gay. There’s a slow gaze into one another’s eyes, followed by a dissolve. Seriously, guys. There’s no way around this one.
On the other side of the coin, you have Scar. My nephew initially balked at the idea that Scar was gay, but it’s hard to watch Scar camp it up through “Be Prepared” and think anything but, “You go girl!” It may be that Scar is just really fabulous, in the pinky-up effete British sort of way. And it’s true that the Broadway version of TLK has a song in which Scar tries to take Nala as his queen. On the other hand, there is the infamous, “Oh, I shall practice my curtsy,” line, complete with swishy pinky extension.
I say he’s ours. Not that we necessarily want him.
GGG, What Is This All About?
There’s a line in the documentary The Celluloid Closet which I will paraphrase here, which says that everyone looks for themselves in the movies they watch. When I watch a movie, I’m delighted to find a male character who’s gay, especially if he’s someone I find attractive or just generally likeable.
As a big Disney fan, and a furry, there are characters I adore. And if those characters seem to be gay, well, I mean, come on now…of course that makes me even more pleased.
The point is, everyone likes to see themselves up on the big screen, or the little screen, or in a book. If you’re part of a minority, seeing yourself reflected in a character is very enticing. When pop culture started reflecting Dungeons and Dragons, for example, even clumsily (you have read my articles about this, right?) I jumped up and down in excitement. Why should be any different with being gay?
I could go on and on with this list, expanding it to other cartoon properties (Snagglepuss, Mac n Tosh, Smithers…) But since Disney has never had a literal, out of the closet gay character, and I’m a huge Disney geek, it’s just more fun to speculate on their characters.
Do you think I’m off-base? Are there other Disney characters you think scream gay? Let us all know.