Today, crowds will line the streets of cities like New York and San Francisco for parades that mark the high point of LGBT Pride Month. At the same time, legions of kids will swarm into theaters to watch Pixar’s Brave, the animated story of a young Scottish princess named Merida who goes to extreme lengths to avoid having to marry one of the three noblemen that her parents have chosen for her. The two events don’t seem to have much in common at first glance. But it’s quite possible that while watching Brave’s tomboyish heroine shoot arrows, fight like one of the boys, and squirm when her mother puts her in girly clothes, a thought might pop into the head of some viewers: Is Merida gay?
Let’s be clear: Merida isn’t an overtly lesbian character. Nothing in the story implies that she’s attracted to other women (or men either, but more on that in a second). She doesn’t completely swear off the idea of marriage to a man, and she never hints that she might have a hidden sexual identity. And neither Pixar, which created her, or Disney, which is distributing the film, has made any official attempt to tell the gay community that Merida might be one of them; we definitely won’t be seeing any giant, inflatable Scottish princesses hovering over floats at today’s Pride parades.
But could Merida be gay? Absolutely. She bristles at the traditional gender roles that she’s expected to play: the demure daughter, the obedient fiancée. Her love of unprincess-like hobbies, including archery and rock-climbing, is sure to strike a chord with gay viewers who felt similarly “not like the other kids” growing up. And she hates the prospect of marriage — at least, to any of the three oafish clansmen that compete for her hand — enough to run away from home and put her own mother’s life at risk. She’s certainly not a swooning, boy-crazy Disney princess like The Little Mermaid’s Ariel or Snow White. In fact, Merida may be the first in that group to be completely romantically disinclined (even cross-dressing Mulan had a soft spot for Li Shang).
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if Merida could be interpreted as gay. What’s most exciting is that she brings a new free-thinking attitude to the slightly staid club of Disney princesses, one that’s sure to appeal not just to gays, but to anyone who ever challenged an identity that was pre-assigned to them. Her strength in the face of opposition and her urge to forge her own identity (or, as she puts it in the film, “to change my fate”) both have the potential to ring true for moviegoers of all stripes, rainbow or otherwise. And regardless of whether or not Disney/Pixar intended it, those same traits are bound to make Merida an unofficial gay icon — even if she never comes near a Pride parade. If she did, though, she’d certainly be welcome.