The morning after the most horrific and humiliating day at school, I needed some ‘emergency Disney’. At 6am I took myself away to Hawaii with Lilo and Stitch, one of Disney’s rare Noughties triumph. If you haven’t watched it stop reading now. There’s no spoilers ahead, you’re just missing out on the blue alien you didn’t know you needed.
I’ve always watched ‘emergency Disney’ when I’m stressed or upset. It’s the escapism of cinema ramped up to full fairytale heights. Yet from these far away kingdoms and characters there’s a very close truth I share with them. Belle wants more than her provincial life, Ariel wants to be part of your world, and Hercules dreams of a far off place.
Most ‘Disney orphans’ have stories about not quite fitting in and escaping to somewhere else to be true to their heart. Even Disney characters who haven’t tragically lost one or both of their parents have an unresolved longing to see how far they’ll go. And on that morning when I watched Lilo and Stitch, I understood there was another place for me.
The surprisingly deep, mysterious resonance of cinema to my life is nothing new or unique. ‘Friend of Dorothy’ has been used as a gay slang euphemism since at least World War 2, not because all gay men like musicals but because her path making making friends on that Yellow Brick Road represents freedom and inclusion. You can read Straight Jacket by Matthew Todd for an overview on mental health problems affecting gay men, including a chapter on how cinema, especially films like The Wizard of Oz and Disney, speak to gay men like me before they know they’re gay.
There’s a problem with the Disney fairytales though. (Actually there’s more than one and I’m slowly unpacking them all on my Disney and Bakes blog.) Belle transforms the Beast, Ariel finally kisses the Prince and Hercules gives up his godliness to be with Meg. Frozen was praised for being about sisterhood instead of girl meets boy, yet still there’s a girl and a boy. At times the Disney orphans almost taunt me. Their longing is quickly replaced by true, heterosexual love. Mine remains lost in Grindr and gay nightclubs where I don’t feel hot enough (again, read Matthew Todd who unpacks more how this continual shame obviously has a negative impact on mental health and well-being).
Of the fifty-something Disney films I could have watched that hopeless morning, I chose Lilo and Stitch. The other place I saw on screen wasn’t Hawaii or a fairytale castle where I too will marry a prince (though I’m still very single and available for that). It was ‘ohana: ohana means family, and family means no-one gets left behind’.
When my stress and mild anxiety has physically ached and everything about my world suddenly seemed wrong, it’s my ‘ohana’, friends, family, colleagues I never chose who made sure they carried me on with them. It’s Lilo and Stitch, Inside Out and yes, Frozen that help me recognise that and ask for help for when I need it. Almost a decade since 6am ‘emergency Disney’, I’m looking for a boyfriend. It’s still my ohana carrying me on, now through the heartache and laughs of modern gay dating.