Okay, look, I really don’t have a ton of problems with Once Upon A Time. Do I think the plot needs to get a hold of itself after the tangled mess that was the lead-up to the S2 finale? Yes. But in general, it’s a pretty great show and it’s leagues ahead of a lot of shows in that it has a variety of very different female characters with a variety of personality types, interests, and skills.
So what’s my beef? Well, here’s the thing. What legitimately always saves the day in Storybrooke? Say it with me: true love—especially true love’s kiss. Whether it’s platonic and familial or romantic, whether it’s Emma’s love for her son or Snow’s love for Charming, the power of true love truly seems to conquer all when it comes to our misplaced fairytale heroes. And that’s all well and good, but something’s missing. In a storyline that literally revolves around the power of true love, the portrayal of true love remains depressingly heterosexual.
I mean, I know we bitch about this a lot here, but it’s freaking 2013, people. It is well past time for popular media to put its big-girl panties on and give queer people some fucking representation already. Even Supernatural has managed to do it, for the love of Pete, which is saying something. Instead, Once Upon A Time seems intent on giving us scenes that are… not even worth calling ‘queerbaiting’. They’re just flat-out missed opportunities.
There was an episode early in season two, before we learned who Dr. Whale was, where the townspeople are storming Regina’s house in a rage. Charming heads them off and stops them at her door to talk them down, but Whale snaps at him, “You’re not my prince.” My head snapped up to the TV. The way he delivered that line, the bitterness—it screamed to me of love lost and I thought, this is it. Whale was in love with a different prince who didn’t make it to Storybrooke. They’re finally gonna introduce a gay character. It just made sense to me. Then, in the next episode, it was instead revealed that Whale was Dr. Frankenstein, and was just from a different fictional universe. That’s why Charming wasn’t his prince. Bah.
Swan Queen, the pairing of Emma Swan and evil queen Regina, isn’t one of the ships I really get behind, and with the huge ensemble cast I’m sure if they did queer a character it wouldn’t be the two leads. But. That doesn’t mean I don’t want it to happen. Emma and Regina finding love, and Henry getting to keep both his mommies? Sounds fine to me! Is it endgame? Probably not. Is it cool to think about? Definitely.
And finally, don’t even get me started with Mulan and Aurora.
Mulan and Aurora are my Once Upon A Time OTP. They’re originally an odd couple forced together because both of them love Prince Philip and want to try to rescue him, but they grow to care about each other as they journey. The last we saw them in the present (and not in flashbacks), Mulan literally fights for and retrieves Aurora’s stolen heart and places it back into Aurora’s chest with her hands. They stare deeply into each others’ eyes… and then go off to save Philip.
Disney owns ABC, the channel on which Once Upon A Time airs, and they have a unique opportunity with this show to give people who are clamoring for LGBTQ+ inclusion in Disney products what they want. OUAT has a primarily adult audience and airs relatively late at night on Sundays. The ‘kids could see it’ excuse (which is garbage to begin with and especially so in regards to a show that makes allusions to rape and torture as often as it does) doesn’t fly. It will be a long time, I can assure you, until Disney introduces a queer character into any of their animated features, but if a same-sex relationship was well-received on this show, LGBTQ+ representation might spill out into the other Disney fairytale products sooner rather than later. In the meantime, though, I’d just like it if Storybrooke’s idea of ‘true love’ looked a little more like mine.