Does Ariel Worry About Passing?

By , May 11, 2009 8:23 pm

I was listening to some This American Life on my iPod today while driving and came across Living the Dream. This American Life is no stranger of stories about trans people, and the first act in Living the Dream is about trans girls in LA. (Another interesting episode, though not without its detractors, is Testosterone, which is about said hormone and has one act about a trans man and his experiences.) One of the girls in Living the Dream mentions Ariel, from The Little Mermaid, and how Ariel meant a lot to her (and other trans girls) as a metaphor for transitioning. And that got me thinking…

Does Ariel worry about passing?

Does she worry about putting on makeup and having it look good? Even if she had makeup as a mermaid, the applicationĀ  of makeup in and out of the water must be different. I’d imagine the limited selection of outfits she had as a mermaid didn’t really carry over into fashion sense as a human – how could she understand color matching and outfit selection when she’s only worn a seashell bikini her whole life?

Does Prince Eric worry about his friends and family reading Ariel as a post-op mermaid? Do his parents know he’s married to someone who isn’t a woman-born-woman? (And are they accepting if they do know?)

Likewise, would the prince from Beauty and the Beast (does he even have a name?) qualify as a part of the ex-beast movement? (The cure of which was just finding the right girl?) Is he just with Belle to please the neighbors? Is she forgiving of his inevitable indiscretions with the monsters who dwell in the forest?

I’m really enjoying this warped view of things, and need to write more on this later… Any other movies or pop culture that would work well?

9 Responses to “Does Ariel Worry About Passing?”

  1. Juliana says:

    Well, putting on my “I took a storytelling class once” hat on for a moment… Lots of fairytales include some sort of magical transformation. There’s the Frog Prince,plenty of stories about animal brides as well, or the stories about selkies, which are much like the mermaid story (non-Disnified versions tend not to end well). There are even more such stories if you look through this site. Maidens being turned into swans and whatnot.

  2. trillian says:

    Juliana – Fair enough. And, as I’ve said before, I tend to identify with any character who happens to undergo some major literal/physical transformation, either one they had to fight for or one they are forced into and have to fight against. (At least, I’ve thought it before. If I haven’t said it before, I should have. And I’ve said it now, so that’ll have to do…)

    That said, The Little Mermaid is unique in my experience of fairy tales in that she doesn’t start the story in her ‘monster’ form (using the word to mean ‘fair-tale-non-human-entity’) by a curse cast by an evil stepmother or by her own evil actions. Rather, being a mermaid is her natural form, and she fights against that for something that would suit her better. Likewise, she wants to be “a part of their world” even before she sees the prince (at least in the Disney version).

    Both the Hans Christian Anderson version and the Disney version make it clear that becoming human comes at a cost (although, not surprisingly, the cost is higher in the Hans Christian Anderson version). From Wikipedia – becoming human will mean that “it will constantly feel like she is walking on sharp swords, and her feet will bleed most terribly.” I’m fortunately on my way out of a bad spell (hopefully…) but there are days when I’ve felt like that.

    Anyway, I’m not trying to disagree with you – there are lots of stories about physical transformations, and I think my next writing exercise needs to be a story about all of them at a ‘transformed entities support group.’ But I do think its understandable that The Little Mermaid hold a particular place in the hearts of trans girls, as the metaphor of transitioning works well with the story in a way that doesn’t hold as solid for other similar fairy tales.

    Thoughts?

    -R

  3. Juliana says:

    I agree that the Little Mermaid seems to fit what you’re getting at best. But as far as fairy tales go, the selkie stories are more like that (the seal is their natural form), although the cost is higher, and ultimately don’t end well (they usually return to being seals for various reasons; it’s really pretty depressing). With the other stories, I was thinking about them more in the light of being in a form that doesn’t suit one and doesn’t feel right, and the consequences of that. And then, after they are transformed again, what are the consequences of having been something else all those years? Does the Frog Prince occasionally feel compelled to eat insects? Does he have some of the same fashion issues Ariel might have (what do frogs know about style, after all?)? And so forth.

  4. trillian says:

    Hrrrm, Juliana. No, I think you’re right. I’m already brainstorming about the story mentioned above (about a support group for transformed entities) and I’m looking forward to doing some research reading. ::grin::
    -R

  5. I’ve seen this thought touched on a few times, and it always fascinates me. I think it’s even been the basis for one or two stories by modern fantasy writers, in various ways.

    In modern television, there’s the episode of Red Dwarf in which Kryten, the mechanoid, is transformed into a human. It’s played for male-bonding laughs (because it’s that type of show), but the basic issue is that Kryten still has mechanoid desires and responses, and doesn’t really know how to operate his new body – in other words, doesn’t really “pass” as human.

    Also, Buffy the Vampire Slayer in which Anya (formerly the revenge demon Anyanka) has to learn to pass as human after being demoted from the demonly ranks.

  6. INTPagan says:

    Actually, that’s an interesting thought, because, as a pagan, you come to realize that a lot of these fairy tales have a lot to do with myth time, and characters who walk between the worlds. A lot of them are analogies. Certain cultures consider transpeople to be sacred, as people who have walked between the worlds (in their experience as both genders). So, yeah – that’s pretty interesting.

  7. trillian says:

    Thanks for the post, SnowdropExplodes! I agree that passing as human isn’t an amazingly original concept, but I do think it’s worth noting Ariel as being unique (at least, from stories I’m familiar with) because she really wants to be (and “identifies” as?) human. Anya may have come to like being human (or not…depends on what season of Buffy, if I remember correctly) but she didn’t de-demonify by choice.

  8. trillian says:

    Welcome, INTPagan. I really like the transformational nature of fairy tales as metaphor, and completely agree it’s an interesting topic. On the reverse side, I’ve had cis people at performances I’ve done (or reading my writings) who have commented on how my actual experience transitioning is successfully conveyed to a cis audience through metaphor and they can find their own meaning in my sometimes-foreign-experiences. So, at least in that regard, the metaphor seems to work successfully in both directions: fair tale transformation as a metaphor for being trans, and being trans as a metaphor for any other identity/journey/transition issue.
    -R

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