When Meghan Markle spoke with Oprah Winfrey in last Sunday's must-watch interview, there were many bombshell revelations, among them claims that senior members of the royal family had worried about her child's skin color, and the "the firm" also prevented her from seeking care for mental health issues.
But there was one small moment that stuck out for me as a gay viewer, and that was a reference to a Disney film.
"I was sitting in Nottingham Cottage, and The Little Mermaid came on," Markle said, referring to her former residence on the grounds of Kensington Palace. "And who as an adult really watches The Little Mermaid? But it came on, and I was like, Well, I'm just here all the time, so may as well watch this."
However, Markle, who had reportedly been through a harrowing experience of being controlled by her new in-laws, was shocked to learn that the children's movie resonated with her. "I went, 'Oh, my God — she falls in love with a prince, and because of that, she has to lose her voice.'"
Sound familiar? In addition to cloistered duchesses, do you know who else watches The Little Mermaid as an adult? LGBTQ+ people.
As a child, the story about a mermaid who yearns to become human — a desire that flies in the face of strict warnings from her father — struck a chord with me. I could not articulate the reasons why until, as a teen and young adult, I found myself singing "Part of Your World" ad infinitum in the shower, car, and karaoke.
This anthem about wanting more, I soon realized, was my own heart song. It paralleled my experience as a closeted queer person wanting to escape the expectations of family members and society, in order to find freedom in another brighter world. The film itself is a clear queer and transgender allegory, requiring sacrifice and transformation for the sake of (a chance at!) love. The words were written, it is worth noting, by Howard Ashman, the gay lyricist whose songs sparked the Disney renaissance; see Disney+'s amazing documentary Howard for more on his own heartbreaking story of sacrifice.
As Ursula so devilishly outlined in "Poor Unfortunate Souls," there are risks and costs to living life openly as who you want to be. For Ariel, it was her voice — and the possibility of never seeing her father and sisters again, an experience of familial estrangement that many LGBTQ+ people are heartbreakingly aware of. "But you'll have your man!" the sea witch cackled. For Markle, she gave up independence for her Prince Harry, adopting silence in the face of international media scrutiny, in order to appease new family members who had othered her from the outset.
I may not have married a (literal) prince and suffered under royal in-laws. But I recall those early terrifying considerations of sacrificing my straight-seeming privilege. I knew the risks: that my friends and family might reject me, that I could face bullying and later, limited job opportunities for taking those steps out of closeted waters. But that heart song, the wish to "stay all day in the sun" and perhaps find love, persevered.
Clearly, I was also not alone in my Ariel-ian empathy. Leslie Jordan, one of the loudest and proudest gay voices on Instagram, declared, "Gays, we gays know drama better than anybody. We got her back. Yes ma'am. Miss Markle, the gays have got your back in this royal battle."
And lesbian comedian Cameron Esposito tweeted, "The queer laser beam of support im sending Meghan & Harry cuz family isn’t always family. That shit is BRIGHT." There were countless other social media posts of support from LGBTQ+ folks who, like Markle, know all too well the pain of being silenced by those who should support us most.
Viewers learn that, indeed, it was the power of found family that rescued Markle from tragedy. Tyler Perry lent her a house to regroup in and, of course, her Prince Charming found the clarity and courage to stand with her in going against his own family. "By the end, she gets her voice back," Markle concluded to Oprah with a smile. And indeed, what princess — or queer person — could ask for a happier ending?
Daniel Reynolds is a senior editor at The Advocate. Follow him on Twitter @dnlreynolds.