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believe in subtext

Once Upon a Time's Mulan is Bisexual, and That's Okay

If you haven't been keeping up with ABC's "Once Upon a Time" series, spoilers abound. This is your first and last warning. The subject line is about the only spoiler you'll see not hidden by a cut, if you're not current up to S303 "Quite a Common Fairy."

If you don't know the characters up to this point, best not read on.

Immediately after watching what is (as of today) the latest episode of ABC's "Once Upon a Time" (henceforth OUaT), I took to the Internet to see the fandom's reaction to the supposed revelation that Mulan was bisexual, if not lesbian.

I say "supposed" for one reason only: it's not as if Mulan explicitly said to anyone that she loves women, or that she's in love with Aurora in particular. As is common with OUaT and similar media (after all, it does come from the people behind the "enigma wrapped in a sandwich dipped in mystery surrounded by foggy veils of confusion" series Lost), a lot is up to interpretation.

Here's what happened in the scene that got people freaking out all over the Internet:

Neal plotted a way to get to Emma (and presumably Henry) in Neverland, once he found his father's crystal ball and saw Emma there. Knowing the dangerous place that it is, and why she must be there (because Pan kidnapped Henry). With the help of Mulan and Robin Hood (and Robin Hood's son by the "gone" Maid Marian, Roland), Neal grabbed onto the leg of Peter Pan's "Shadow" and made his way to Neverland, but not before leaving Mulan with some parting advice: "When you love someone, you say it. You don't hide it." Neal feels he failed Emma by not saying he loved her earlier on; if he had, it might have made it easier on her, even though she may have never become the person who broke Storybrooke's curse. She would have believed in him, maybe even kept Henry. A lot of things would have been different.

Mulan takes Neal's advice to heart, and when Robin Hood offers her a spot in the Merry Men, she says that she has someone to talk to before deciding. Robin asks "A loved one?" and Mulan responds, "We shall see." So clearly she's hoping that whoever she's going to talk to is someone that loves her (in return).

We see Mulan hesitating at Aurora's palace. Aurora looks up from tending a plant and sees Mulan, and inquires as to how long Mulan's been standing there, doing...? Mulan responds she was "gathering courage." So whatever Mulan wanted to say, she couldn't say it right away, she had to think about her words. And she couldn't bring attention to herself beforehand; instead, she stayed looking at Aurora, unseen by the pillars, until she was noticed and came forward, ready to say her piece.

Aurora asks why Mulan looks so happy, she looks as though she has something to say; Mulan responds in the affirmative, and then asks if Philip is there. Aurora says he's not there, but she can go get him; Mulan says "it's not necessary," because AURORA is the one she wanted to talk to, anyway.

Here's where fandom gets divided: was Mulan going to confess that she loved Philip to Aurora?

That doesn't make sense to me, because even if Mulan DID earlier carry a torch for Philip, it seems pretty clear by this episode that it's no longer the case. What started out as a duty for Mulan (protecting Aurora on behalf of Philip) turned into respect and/or friendship, and finally, love.

First off: even if Mulan WAS best friends with Aurora, what kind of girl looks thrilled beyond all reason to admit to said best friend that she's in love with best friend's One True Love? If that had been the case, Mulan would have likely been very reluctant to speak to Aurora, maybe even going as far as avoiding her. But instead, she lingered in the palace, WAITING for Aurora to notice her. She easily could have gone to find Philip herself, if she intended to confess her love to him, but she didn't.

If, out of duty, honor, or respect for Aurora, Mulan DID intend to tell Aurora such a thing, why would she then have said to Aurora that "it didn't matter" that Philip wasn't present? She said that IMMEDIATELY after Aurora said Philip wasn't there, but she could get him; it wasn't that Mulan felt nervous and wanted to speak to Aurora before Philip, or get Aurora's advice or permission or something. In fact, Philip NOT being there made things loads easier. After all, if he had been, how could Mulan have confessed her feelings? It would have made things extremely difficult, because how do you tell someone that is the love interest of your BFF but is ALSO someone you deeply respect that you're in love with him? Simple: you don't. Mulan would have gone straight to Philip if she was in love with him, but she didn't. She didn't want to see him at all. Him not being near Aurora at the time made things EASIER, which could only mean that Mulan's words weren't meant for him.

So assuming Mulan was going to confess that she loved Aurora, it explains that when Aurora bubbles over with her own happy news--that she's pregnant with Philip's baby--why Mulan looks so devastated. It was one thing to be willing to come between Aurora and Philip when they weren't officially married and didn't have a family together, but once a baby enters the picture, Mulan's sense of honor and duty kicks in. She can't be the reason behind dividing a family. She knows too well (from examples demonstrated by Neal with Emma, Robin Hood losing Maid Marian, Belle and the Beast/Rumpelstiltskin, and probably others) that a family apart is an unhappy family. Well, she assumes so, anyway.

Instead of telling Aurora her real news, she instead "confesses" that she's decided to join Robin Hood's band. She had originally said she needed to speak to someone BEFORE she made up her mind, but now suddenly, before actually saying anything else to Aurora, she's saying she HAS made up her mind. We have no further clarity on whether Mulan's love is returned, because she hasn't said anything of the sort. Her "we shall see" is answered--but only to herself and us viewers, not Aurora, not Philip. And of course, being an All-Around Good Guy, Robin doesn't ask when Mulan DOES show up, but probably knows what happened. Had Mulan's love been requited, she probably wouldn't have joined Robin's band, but stayed with Aurora (and Philip?).

And now, the fandom reaction. Of course, some people are enthused; OUaT's creators mentioned the possibility of an LGBT character appearing in the show, but weren't specific as to whether it would be an original character or an existing Disney character.

Considering Disney HAS NO LGBT characters in its animated franchise, people probably assumed it wouldn't be a Disney character. After all, all the Princesses have their "Prince," right?

Wrong: even if in Disney's official "Princess" franchise, Mulan is shown, she's a) not technically a princess and b) from a historical poem rather than a fairy tale. About all the magic we see in the Disney Mulan movie is in the form of Mushu, her family's ancestral dragon protector. Mulan herself isn't magical, isn't affected by magic, and aside from Mushu, has no magical friends.

What this translates to in terms of OUaT is that Mulan is an extremely flexible character--perhaps more so than even the early, barely-dimensional Princesses like Snow White, who got turned into a badass bandit and freedom fighter in OUaT. After all, in her storyline in the television show, she didn't "save China" and wasn't rewarded by "the Emperor." Instead, she DID join the army disguised as a man just to prove she could. Presumably she was eventually found out, but she didn't return home to her village; she journeyed. That's how she met Belle (while hunting the Yaoguai that ended up being a cursed Philip), how she ended up journeying with Philip AFTER the Curse, and how she ended up with Aurora after Philip "died" from the Wraith. (And unseen in the show is how Aurora and Mulan "saved" Philip from the Wraith. We don't know just how long that took, but it presumably wasn't quick and easy, and it's entirely possible that Mulan's feelings for Aurora grew during that time.)

People are freaking out; what is the world coming to, with GAY Disney Princesses? Well, consider what you're watching: even if it's rooted in fairy tales, even if Disney's characters are making regular appearances, these are very clearly NOT Disney's animated Princes and Princesses. Queens are pulling out still-beating hearts, Fairies are acting as Judge, Jury, and Executioner of fae and mortals alike, doctors are resuscitating dead brothers.... OUaT is NOT a kid's show. It's a primetime DRAMA, in fact!

Never mind the fact that even if kids are watching the show, they're not necessarily understanding everything they see. Of course, plenty of kids will: after all, they probably watch other programs, go on the Internet, read magazines and books, and talk to people. The real world is changing, and a lot of stodgy, traditional people are acting like it's not.

I saw one person on a OUaT reaction post quoting statistics about what percentage of the population is gay or lesbian, and that the small percentage doesn't justify a primetime drama suddenly featuring a LGBT character, let alone the possibility of an LGBT couple!

I don't like joining in on such pointless debates, but if I had, I would have said: "so what?"

First off, the percentage of people who openly identify as LGBT does not include the many, many people who are still "in the closet." The percentage also mainly took GAYS and LESBIANS into account, but NOT bisexual or transsexual people. They're the other half of that acronym, in case you didn't notice. Even if that doesn't make the percentage jump a crazy amount...so what?

For ages, everything we consumed on media presented male x female relationships. Whether they were portrayed as good (Snow White x Prince Charming) or bad (Emma x Neal, because their relationship revolved around a life of crime, or Greg Mendell x Tamara, both of whom were being deceptive to the people around them, including Tamara cheating on Neal with Greg), we never saw any other types of relationships. And that's just not realistic, fairy tale world or not.

Some people don't fall in love. Some people love only once. Some people love many times. And some people happen to love those of the same gender as they are. None of these kinds of "love" (or not-love) are BAD.

There was someone else on the same website thread who talked about how "unnatural" it is to be homosexual or bisexual. After all, such relationships will NEVER produce children, and we are creatures MADE to reproduce!

Uh, way to sound evolved, dude. Regardless of whether humans exist solely to reproduce (sounds kind of sad, actually), the fact is: some people don't want kids. And some people who DO have kids, by choice or not, are actually pretty horrible parents. Even people who DO want to have kids, and actually end up having them, life doesn't always deal them a "fair" hand. People die: from accidents, war, disease, murder...all kinds of things. So we've got orphans.

Orphans like...Emma? A big part of Once Upon a Time's Season 3 arc is Emma acknowledging how hurt, lost, and lonely she felt as an orphan. She didn't know she was the heir of Snow White and Prince Charming. She didn't know she was going to be the mother of the "Truest Believer." She just knew she grew up without any family, and it shaped who she became. But regardless of her history as an orphan, she's proven to be a CAPABLE mother--regardless of whether or not she has a male counterpart.

In fact, up until the end of last season, we haven't seen Emma have any explicit love interests. It was made clear in last season's finale that she still loves Neal, but she also has no idea he's still alive and now in Neverland, trying to make his way to her. In the meantime, Hook is flirting with her, Regina's being her usual cruel self, Snow is trying to be her mother without understanding Emma's pain, and Charming is trying to be his protective self--up to and including not telling his family that he's dying of Dreamshade poisoning.

Yes, heterosexual characters and relationships are just plain PERFECT, don't you think?

Anyway, the idea, in both life and in dramas like OUaT, "stuff happens." Something could easily happen to Philip (again; the poor guy seems to be Tuxedo Mask-like in his attempts to save the day but getting cursed instead), leaving Aurora heartbroken and alone with his child. Who would she turn to in such a crisis? Perhaps the only person she can identify with as a friend: Mulan.

Now, I'm not saying I want that to happen, but I could understand if it does. And honestly, if I were in Philip's shoes, I would much prefer that my beloved and our child is protected by someone I know and trust than hoping that my beloved is capable of moving on and choosing someone that will love her, protect her, and cherish her, regardless of whether or not she has a child by another man. We already know that Philip trusts and respects Mulan, regardless of her gender. It stands to reason that her gender wouldn't play a factor in him wanting SOMEONE to care for Aurora in his absence.

Long story short: even if it wasn't explicitly stated, I believe Mulan is bisexual.

I don't have a problem with this, and think it's awesome.

I find Mulan of OUaT different and still very cool from the Mulan of the animated Disney movie.

I think people are freaking out over nothing, and we need to see more fair representations of LGBT people in media, especially popular mainstream (network) media.

The LGBT people in Hollywood should have no fear of putting out a good story, regardless of whether it's a "love story" or not, whether it's between men and women, men and men, or women and women.

If cable networks like HBO and Showtime can find success with it, it shows that there IS demand for it on primetime as well.

Finally, people need to stop thinking that folks are trying to "push an agenda." As demonstrated by this post, everything we see on TV, and especially in tricky shows meant to make you think like OUaT, everything is subject to interpretation. You don't have to interpret it the way I do, and the way I interpret it may not be the way the show's writers, actors, directors, etc. thought I would. And maybe that'll be positive for them, maybe it won't. If I don't like a show, I don't have to watch it.

But I do like Once Upon a Time, and I WILL keep watching it.

And probably 'shipping Mulan x Aurora, because they're an awesome contrast to one another.

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