If you grew up in the ’90s, you were probably raised on Disney movies. This was the age of what’s referred to as The Disney Renaissance, full of some of the best animated features Disney has yet made. Each of these stories has something in common — a love story, either to the side of the hero’s journey or front and center.
It’s a long-standing tradition in fairy tales to tell a love perfect, comfortably predictable love story. Princess meets prince, the forces of evil try to separate them, but in the end, their belief in love conquers all and they live happily ever after — never having another unhappy day in their life together.
Over time, these love stories have grown more complex, and so have the characters that we watch in children’s movies. No longer do the characters fall in love at first sight — instead, they take time to get to know each other. Frozen is famous for poking fun at this trope and for having Elsa be crowned queen of her country without a prince at her side.
I am not the first person to notice Elsa is queer coded. And I don’t think it’s subtle. In fact, I think that Elsa is a prime example of an aroace character, and Frozen 2 is about her learning to accept and love herself for who she is in a heteronormative world.
So let’s talk about it.
Oh, and spoilers for Frozen and Frozen 2, if you haven’t seen them.
What do “aromantic” and “asexual” mean?
First, some definitions, if you aren’t familiar. Aromantic refers to someone who does not experience romantic attraction. Asexual refers to someone who does not experience sexual attraction. Each of these identities are spectrum identities — meaning there are some people who rarely experience romantic attraction and some people who rarely experience sexual attraction, who may use these terms to describe themselves. Some other common terms you might see are gray ace, graysexual, demisexual, grayromantic, and demiromantic — these are people who may rarely experience sexual and/or romantic attraction, or experience it under select circumstances.
This is using something called the split attraction model — meaning that a person’s romantic and sexual attraction towards others are two separate things for them. For a lot of people, they go hand in hand — if my friend says she’s bisexual, I can probably assume that unless she experiences romantic and sexual attraction towards people in tandem unless she tells me otherwise. The split attraction model is not used by everyone who is aromantic or asexual, and has received some criticism for being incomplete, but is popular among many.
The term “aroace” is shorthand for a person who is both aromantic and asexual — “aro” being short for aromantic, and “ace” being short for asexual.
Celibacy is different from asexuality. Celibacy is the choice to remain abstinent from sexual relations, usually for religious reasons, where asexuality is a lack of sexual attraction towards others.
Gender is a third, separate thing.
Got all that? If not, it’s okay, I’ve put some links over these definitions to help you out, and you can read further about these topics on my page here on Medium. I didn’t know about any of this until my 20’s and I didn’t understand it for a few years after that, so there’s no shame in not knowing what every word for everything means. There are a lot of words to learn and it’s okay if you didn’t know them before this! That’s what putting out videos like this is all about — awareness.
With that foundation of what we’re talking about down, we can begin to talk about Elsa.
And to do that, we need to go back to the first Frozen movie.
Frozen: Coming Out
In the first Frozen movie, we are introduced to Elsa and Anna when Elsa accidentally freezes a part of Elsa that hurts her, leaving her with a streak of white hair, and the trolls remove all of Anna’s memories of her and Elsa’s time together. Essentially, the parents decide that in order to protect Anna, they have to lie to not just her, but everyone, about who she is.
This, to me, is a great metaphor for experiencing homophobia at the hands of your own family. Elsa tries to please her parents and even fears that she could hurt others — all over an accident — and her parents only reinforce that fear by locking her away from the world and telling her to “conceal, don’t feel, don’t let it show.”
Each time their parents tell her this, they’re reinforcing that it isn’t okay for Elsa to be who she is — and as a result, she learns to fear how she really feels. It’s a very traumatic thing to be told over and over that who you are could harm other people by the very people who also tell you that they love you. We see this in Elsa’s character in both movies — she’s a shy, introverted person who suffers from extreme anxiety about her effect on her loved ones, even when it’s unwarranted.
I think it’s worth mentioning that we see this take a toll on Anna, too. Anna ends up with a lonely childhood and feels like she’s lost her sister due to her parents’ actions and has no idea why, which propels her to fall in love with the first man she meets, as she’s desperate for connection. Elsa, on the other hand, grows up isolated and fearing herself — until the party, where she snaps at Anna.
Anna even accuses Elsa of not knowing anything about true love because “all you do is shut people out”. This is an example of some of the hostility that aromantics and asexuals can face — the world thinking that we’re heartless, rather than understanding that aromantic people don’t feel romantic attraction. It’s also an example of things people can unknowingly say to aroace people without truly intending to be hurtful that can end up hurting them — or in this case, accidentally outing them.
And this segues us into Let it Go — a song about Elsa accepting herself, or, in this analogy, deciding to go ahead and come out because everyone knows anyway.
Let it Go is a coming-out anthem.
Elsa is confident, sure that she can take on the world and ready to stand alone and be who she is. Elsa is transformed into a more confident, assured version of herself. She realizes that she can be queer and it won’t destroy the world. She is who she is, and she can’t conceal it forever and be happy.
The other thing about Let it Go is that it’s about coming out and being confident in the moment, but Elsa hasn’t truly accepted herself yet. She still thinks the world is much safer without her around and feels the need to hide from the world, and even from her sister. And after being told her entire life until she was twenty-one that who she is, this part of her she didn’t choose but it’s there all the same, isn’t okay — well, who could blame her? It isn’t until she accepts herself and begins to love herself that she can thaw the kingdom of Arendelle.
In the analogy of Elsa being queer, the rest of the first Frozen is about Anna learning who Elsa is and that who she is hasn’t actually changed even if she is queer, and the two deciding on a life of solidarity together. If Elsa is queer, Anna is the ultimate straight ally — not understanding completely at first, but willing and ready to learn and love Elsa for who she is, even if it takes Elsa time to learn that that love is not dangerous.
I think there’s a lot to be said for the first Frozen movie being about two sisters overcoming trauma and learning to navigate a world together. But at the end of the movie, things feel only partially resolved — and to be honest, that’s why I love the fuller picture we get with Frozen 2.
Frozen 2: Embracing Queerness
In Frozen 2, we begin the film with Elsa feeling like she’s ignoring a calling to herself for the benefit of others once again. While she has the love and acceptance now of her sister, and of her kingdom, something she never thought she would have, she feels like she’s not where she’s meant to be. And she’s not the only one on a personal journey — every character in this is on a journey of self-acceptance.
For Elsa, this means accepting herself fully in a way she wasn’t ready to do before.
In the beginning, we have the song Into the Unknown, in which Elsa expresses fear at following the voice to discover what’s next. She’s afraid of risking her life and her loved ones by following the call — but she also knows that she cannot remain where she is.
The journey is one about learning the dark secrets of their family’s past, and it culminates with the most powerful song in either of the films, Show Yourself.
Show Yourself is about Elsa embracing that she’s aroace in a whole new way — without shame.
Perhaps even more importantly, it’s about finding out that the voice calling to her is that of her mother, Iduna. It’s about Elsa finding out that self-love is the thing she has needed her entire life, and that the spirit of her mother has been trying to tell her that she loves her exactly how she is — queerness and all.
I think also that this is essential for Elsa’s journey healing from her trauma. She’s finally getting the love and acceptance that she hasn’t had before. The song is about showing herself — being herself. When her mother tells her “You are the one you’ve been waiting for all of your life”, she’s telling Elsa it’s okay to not be with anyone and to be aroace. She’s telling her that who is is someone worth loving — even if Elsa has no desire for romantic love.
Every time I listen to this song, I start to cry, because that feeling of acceptance — it’s such a powerful feeling. And I think it’s something every asexual and aromantic person — every queer person — should have.
It’s extremely beneficial to the mental health of queer people to be accepted, including asexual and aromantic people. I have written a piece about asexual and aromantic people being queer and have included a long section of what can happen to us when we live in a world that does not accept us and the harm that this can bring. When we live in a world that does not accept us, we cannot embrace who we are or fully love ourselves.
You cannot “hate the sinner and love the sin” when the “sin” is an integral part of a person’s identity rather than a conscious choice. Similarly, you cannot accept asexual and aromantic people only if we meet your requirements for acceptance — you have to accept all of us, and in turn more of us will be able to proudly accept ourselves.
Being able to come out and being able to embrace our queerness matters.
Coming out, being in a safe environment to come out, and being accepted as we are is very important to the mental health of queer youth and adults. I myself knew I was on the asexuality spectrum for years before coming out but was terrified that I wouldn’t be accepted, that no one would want me, or that the people in my life would look at me as other for being that person who rarely experiences sexual attraction. In my experience, I was very lucky to have the acceptance of many people in my life. Since coming out and being more open about my sexuality, I’ve felt a lot better — and when I saw Elsa crying as her mother sang to her to show herself, as she was — I couldn’t help crying too.
So remember — asexuals and aromantics are here, queer, and sometimes we see ourselves in movies and weep. That said — there needs to be so much more representation for us. I hope that with time, there is more and that it’s increasingly diverse and reflects the true diversity of the community. We are here, and I am glad to say that I could see myself in a character in mainstream media like this, but that experience is rare and is just my personal opinion. Representation of asexual, aromantic, and all other queer orientations needs to be expanded, cannon, and representative of more than just white gay people. Remember, representation and education matters; it leads to increased acceptance from the general public and helps us live happy, fulfilled lives. Queer people deserve happiness. We deserve to feel seen. I saw myself in Elsa, and I hope that after reading this you will see your aromantic and asexual friends in her, too.
Elle Rose, also known online as secretladyspider, is a freelance writer and demisexuality advocate specializing in LGBTQIAP+ education and issues. She also creates YouTube videos about the intersection between pop culture and mental health, where you can also see this piece as a video. Contact her at email@example.com to see how she can work to advocate for you.