“No love interest = not straight”

The Asexual Agenda’s latest question of the week is about contrived romance in movies, and it got me thinking again about something related that I’ve pondered on and off before. As many people have already pointed out, the majority of mainstream movies have a romantic storyline or subplot, which means that it’s downright strange to see a film’s main character reach the end without having had a romance or love interest. And it’s always great to see films like that, as they challenge amatonormativity and lend credence to asexuals and aromantics. But a lot of people explain these characters’ lack of love lives by saying that they’re queer, which can actually lead right back into supporting amatonormativity.

The two movies that I’m specifically thinking of are both recent Disney/Pixar films. Merida in Brave shows no desire for romance. The internet says, “Merida is gay!”* Elsa in Frozen has no love interest. The internet says, “Elsa is gay!”** In ace/aro communities, people may headcanon Merida or Elsa as ace and/or aro. And I’m all for aces and aromantics, and queer people of all stripes, finding and appreciating characters who look like us, especially when there are so few in mainstream films. But my problem with assuming that any character who isn’t proven straight must be queer is that that idea says, “If you don’t have a romantic relationship at the moment and aren’t actively pursuing one or making it clear that you want one, you can’t be straight”—that everyone who is straight is going to be seeking romance all the time. It says that romance is the most important part of every straight person’s life story, that they can’t have periods of their life that don’t involve it but are still interesting.

Why can’t Elsa be straight, but too busy dealing with the anxiety and guilt she feels about her power to be thinking about finding a man? Why can’t Merida be straight but interested in a different trajectory for her life than a traditional marriage? I’m definitely not advocating for more heterosexual characters than there already are, or saying that we must read every character as straight unless it’s explicitly stated otherwise (for ace/aro people, it hasn’t yet been stated that any mainstream movie/TV character is like us, so our headcanons are all we’ve got!). I just want society to recognize that romance isn’t, and doesn’t have to be, the ultimate goal for anyone, of any sexual or romantic orientation—and the belief that the only explanation for a character not having a heterosexual romance or love interest during the course of a movie is that they’re not heterosexual isn’t helping.

*Merida is also a bit of a tomboy, which apparently also equals lesbian. That’s not a good assumption to make either.

**Although at least with Elsa they had other reasons too.

10 thoughts on ““No love interest = not straight”

    • luvtheheaven January 17, 2015 / 1:59 am

      To expand on this thought, I guess… amatonormativity encompasses multiple concepts.

      One basic thing that amatonormativity does is encourage the incorrect but pervasive idea that every single person who is not aromantic is always seeking out romance 100% of the time. This is especially tied into heteronormativity and the idea that if a character isn’t seeking out a heterosexual romance in our fictional story, they must not be hetero(romantic/sexual)…

      Or on a different note, a lot of amatonormativity is simply the unfortunate but often reiterated idea that all people desire romance (and it’s the most prioritized form of love in everyone’s lives, no exceptions). It incorrectly assumes aromantic people don’t exist, and is also tied into heteronormativity because it often simply assumes all people are straight, not simply that all people are “not aromantic”.

      These are two very different manifestations of amatonormativity, in my opinion, even if they are often tangled together and influence each other. I feel like maybe it’d be a good idea for us to separate them out and look at each of these two ideas on their own, because in my opinion they truly are… well, different. You know?


      • cinderace January 19, 2015 / 12:18 pm

        Yeah, good point. So the first concept you talked about is the idea that everyone is going to engage in a certain behavior—seeking romance—and the second is the idea that everyone has a certain desire—for a romantic relationship. They are strongly tied together in that the behavior comes from the desire; that is, amatonormativity says, “everyone desires romance,” and if you believe that assumption, it follows that everyone is always actively seeking romance. So that makes it hard in a way to look at them separately; the first belief wouldn’t exist without the second.

        But you’re right, it is possible to separate them in that the implications are different. The first idea, focused on behavior, can be easily refuted because obviously not everyone is actively seeking romance, so that one leaves room for the existence of aromantic people. But as you said, the second one erases aromantics completely, and it’s harder to prove that it’s wrong because innate desires can’t be fully proved or disproved; people can easily lie about them (or promoters of amatonormativity can easily believe others are lying about them).

        And bringing it back to movies, separating the two ideas is probably good to do in this context, because like you said the first one is what I was specifically talking about, and maybe lumping it in with the second one isn’t helpful. While I don’t like the argument “X shows no interest in romance; thus X is not straight”, that idea perhaps does no harm when looked at in light of the second manifestation, because any time a character is depicted who is not showing an interest in romance (especially heterosexual romance), that’s a blow against that assumption, and speculation about the character not being straight can only be a good thing because it questions heteronormativity and makes people think outside of that. My idea of Elsa and Merida being straight but too busy to seek romance right now, or not wanting the type of romance that they’re presented with, would debunk the first assumption but still does assume that they have some innate desire for romance.

        Thanks for making me think more about this! I guess now I would say—being straight doesn’t mean you necessarily want any sort of romantic relationship ever, so it’s entirely possible for characters like Merida and Elsa to be straight but not desire romance. And that’s an idea that, sadly, I don’t see people discussing.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Elizabeth January 19, 2015 / 12:52 am

    I haven’t seen Brave yet, so I can’t comment on that, but you make good points about Elsa. I do think it’s worth noting, though, that at least the post you linked to at the very end talks about her being queer, but not specifically gay. So it *should* also apply just as well if Elsa is interpreted as being aromantic/asexual… well, except for that author’s comments at the end about how we need to see girls kissing instead. That author didn’t seem to be including ace people in their definition of “queer,” so I kind of wonder why they used that word instead of “gay.” Still better, but maybe it was accidentally better?


    • cinderace January 19, 2015 / 12:32 pm

      Oh yeah, good point about that post; there were others I read that were pretty similar and specifically discussed a reading of Elsa as gay, but I ended up picking that one for some reason. The author does specifically mention Elsa’s stories paralleling those of LGBTQIAP+ people, so she is trying to be inclusive; but like you said, I feel like that falls apart at the end, because there are multiple identities in the acronym and included under the queer umbrella that the idea of “girl meets girl, big sweeping love ballads, true love’s first kiss” doesn’t have anything to do with. I think the author saying that that’s the storyline we need from a queer heroine is what made me interpret the whole post as being about Elsa as a lesbian. But I am glad about the author’s attempt to be inclusive, and thanks for pointing that out!


      • Ettina January 30, 2015 / 11:05 am

        Personally, I was annoyed by the idea that the ‘hiding who/what you are because you’ll be rejected’ thing is unique to queer people. People with invisible disabilities, especially mental health conditions, face that all the time too. So do mixed-race people who can pass for the dominant ethnic group, and religious minorities who aren’t ethnically distinct, and abuse survivors, and so many others.


        • cinderace January 31, 2015 / 3:18 pm

          Yeah, I felt the same way; while it’s great that queer people can find meaning in Elsa’s story, it’s definitely a stretch to say that Disney must have intended it to be a metaphor for queer people’s experiences, since many people will be able to relate for lots of reasons besides being queer. Thanks for stopping by and for commenting!


  2. Ettina January 30, 2015 / 11:00 am

    I just read Merida as not being far enough into puberty to have much of a sexuality. I don’t know if it’s just me, but Merida struck me as pretty young – say 10-12 – and plenty of girls that age aren’t sexually interested yet.


    • cinderace January 31, 2015 / 3:14 pm

      I saw her as a little older than that, but yeah, still kind of young for people to be speculating about her sexual orientation, and I think some people pointed that out in response to the idea of her being gay. Her reason for not being interested in marriage could just be that she’s too young, rather than that she’s not straight.


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