Why We Need Queer Fairy Tales:
Complicating the Happily Ever After
By Derek Newman-Stille
So many fairy tales end with a Happily Ever After that involves a straight relationship, as though everyone’s life becomes complete when boy meets girl. This is a message that is repeated to queer people through our heterosexist society – that life is only positive if it is heterosexual.
Narratives shape us and queer people are often confronted with narratives that tell us that we don’t belong in our own societies. We grow up with repeated messages that we don’t belong, that we are outsiders in our own societies. Like many of the heroines and heroes of fairy tales, we are left in a place without a home, without a sense of belonging to the world we grow up in. We are dislocated.
Fairy tales also provide a chance to change our circumstances. I have always been drawn to fairy tales because they provided a chance to escape. As a young person, I was frequently called “fairy”. This was meant to be an insult for being queer, but it provided a space for me to think about the role of fairies, those outsider figures who bring a sense of enchantment to our world. Fairies often appear in fairy tale narratives as a critical question, a change in circumstances that makes the protagonist think about everything s/he has taken for granted and considered normal. They challenge the pre-existing and preconceived notions of how to interact with the world, by providing a voice of estrangement, a weirding of the world we have been told is the only possibility.
Queer people provide this critical challenge to heterosexism, asking society why it excludes and why it only presents certain ways of interacting with the world as “the right one”. Our presence in society invites the question “who is being excluded? Why are they excluded?” We invite questions about what we are told is “just the way things are”.
Fairy tales have the potential to open possibilities for queer re-tellings because they are tales about transformation. They are tales of transition, allowing a character to undergo bodily, psychological, and economic changes. They recognize that these transformations are beautiful, embodying the magic of new possibilities and new beginnings.
Queer tales make for great fairy tales because they are tales of battles against impossible odds. Daily we have to wander into the unsafe and unfamiliar woods, dealing with wolves of homophobia who tell us that they will tear us apart. We have to battle dragons of discrimination to even carry out basic tasks like using the washroom. We encounter monsters of prohibition telling us “no” to the basic act of love itself. And queer stories ARE love stories, fundamentally about love triumphing over all even when that love is socially rejected by the majority. We live in a world where large parts of it still have the death penalty for just being queer, where others force jailing on queer people, and where homophobic violence is accepted and not protected against. We live in a world where politicians can win votes by talking about their hatred of the queer population and where homophobia is considered part of the general rhetoric of hegemonic masculinity.
Like fairy tales, queer tales too have their fairy godmothers – those figures who transform our perceptions of ourselves and reveal to us that we have an important place in this world. They are the figures who fight for social justice so that we can have a Happily Ever After that isn’t the one that society tells us is the only possibility. They reveal that there are multiple Happily Ever Afters, each made to encompass the feelings, perceptions, desires, and needs of each person.