Frozen’s sizable queer fandom had two key questions going into Frozen 2. Which song from the sequel would be the equivalent to “Let it Go,” the first film’s breakout power ballad? And would Elsa be revealed as a gay character?
The first film read as queer enough that homophobic bloggers accused Disney of indoctrinating children with the gay agenda in the wake of its release, and queer fans (myself included, although I didn’t know it at the time) latched onto Elsa as the potential first queer Disney princess. Interest in queer Elsa was renewed in 2016, when the hashtag campaign #GiveElsaAGirlfriend had a moment in the spotlight. So the fans naturally wondered if Frozen 2 would give them any more reason to hope Elsa would step out of the closet.
“Show Yourself,” an emotionally laden Elsa number from Frozen 2, is arguably the answer to both questions. There was never going to truly be another “Let It Go,” which as director Chris Buck rightfully put it in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, was pure “lightning in a bottle.” But “Show Yourself” is arguably “Let It Go”’s spiritual successor: while the soundtrack’s lead single, “Into the Unknown,” was created for the charts and awards shows, “Show Yourself” is Frozen 2’s gay anthem.
At the very least, that’s how fans heralded the song on Twitter after the soundtrack dropped prior to the film’s release. It isn’t difficult to fathom why: with lyrics like “I have always been a fortress, cold secrets deep inside / You have secrets too, but you don’t have to hide,” and Elsa emotionally belting “I am found,” the song is overflowing with quintessentially queer themes like found community, repression, and vulnerability.
[Ed. Note: This essay contains spoilers for Frozen 2.]
Elsa’s sexuality is still left open in Frozen 2. But even more so than in the first film, her arc is strongly identity-based, dealing not only with her growing powers, but also the tension she feels as an outlier in her kingdom of Arendelle. The ethereal voice she hears throughout the film beckons her to an unknown place where she may find a community that sees her for who she is. Aside from the surface-level “Elsa decides to follow a mysterious, compelling female voice” (which is already, uh, pretty gay), the underlying message and risk involved makes Elsa’s story feel like a coming-out arc from the get-go.
“Show Yourself” is located at the apex of that story arc. The song’s sequence begins with Elsa traveling across the ocean on a water horse to a mystical river that may hold the secret to her existence. It’s a moment of pure vulnerability, but electrifying nonetheless: although apprehensive, Elsa is finally ready to bare her soul. Greeting the mysterious voice with open arms (“Come my darling, homeward bound”), she’s ready to step into a new, transformative role. Ultimately, this Elsa — unbound, powerful, and with her hair fully down — is the resolution she’s been waiting for across two films. If you’re looking for it, “Show Yourself” absolutely reads like a coming-out anthem, especially if you consider “Let It Go” as the queer awakening where she embraces her identity, and “Into the Unknown” as Elsa weighing the risks and benefits of coming out. It’s all just about as gay as pure subtext gets.
Some subsection of the fandom has wanted Elsa to be gay since Frozen premiered in 2013. The #GiveElsaAGirlfriend Twitter hashtag was a way for fans to air their grievances over the lack of representation in all-ages programming, pushing for Disney to make one of their most popular (and profitable) characters explicitly queer. Right around the same time, GLAAD released its annual Studio Responsibility Index report, which tracks LGBTQ representation in film, assigning studios a grade based on their number of LGBTQ-inclusive films, among other factors. That year, Walt Disney Studios flunked it.
Three years later, things aren’t much better. Disney has yet to include a queer character in a significant role in any of its mainstream film releases, both on the animated side and among its other properties. Joe Russo playing a gay member of Captain America’s support group in Avengers: Endgame does not count. Neither does LeFou’s “exclusively gay moment” in 2017’s Beauty and the Beast. Of course, the problem isn’t limited to Disney. LGBTQ characters are generally scarce in all-ages programming, but film lags significantly behind TV. In 2018, GLAAD counted no queer-inclusive kids’ films in the entire year.
This dearth of queer characters in kids’ film informs why people are so keen to read Elsa as queer. Given the dominant themes of Elsa’s character development — repression, social ostracization, authenticity, love, and acceptance — that’s no significant stretch. As the most popular character from one of the most successful animated franchises of the decade, Elsa has become a figurehead of a larger push for representation in kids’ programming, an effort significantly hindered (as Vox’s Emily VanDerWerff points out in her case for a queer Elsa) by Disney’s need to cater to markets that are notoriously restrictive about depictions of queerness.
Ultimately, though, the films’ queer viewers just want to feel seen in mainstream media. Elsa’s gay character arc crystallizes in “Show Yourself,” which absolutely reads like the queer anthem fans want it to be. Elsa finally baring her identity and finding a community that accepts her unconditionally is a queer dream, and one fans have quickly latched onto. Elsa’s sexuality is still up in the air, but she’s become a queer icon in her own right, with “Show Yourself” emerging as her next queer anthem.