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Lessons from LeFou

In Walt Disney's 1991 animated classic, Beauty and the Beast, LeFou is the devoted sidekick of the brawny braggart, Gaston. He is the consummate 'yes man'. For LeFou, Gaston is the epitome of manhood, and he never hesitates to (literally) sing the praises of his over-confident companion.

But in the latest incarnation of this story, a live-action version of Beauty and the Beast, LeFou is said to be exploring his sexuality as he explores his feelings for Gaston. According to the film's director, the movie includes an “exclusively gay moment”, apparently a first for Disney.

In light of the subtlety of the actual scenes, early statements on this subject from the cast and crew seem to be have been overstated. But whether you decide to see the film or not, the current conversation presents us with an excellent opportunity to talk (especially with our older kids and young adults) about changing perceptions concerning sexuality.

While this version of LeFou may represent Disney's 'big toe' in the waters of sexual identity, and may not go far enough for some, many have already hailed this as a step in the right direction in terms of reflecting diversity and promoting tolerance.

But while some searching children and uncertain teens may find comfort in a character who is apparently questioning his sexuality, sadly, both the film and the general, cultural dialogue will never venture beyond the boundaries set by the 'new tolerance'. If they did, it might just expose the disturbing foundation that upholds the modern stance.

What is this foundation? It is same reality described several thousand years ago in the biblical book called, “Judges”. In the final verse of the book we read, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25) In rejecting objective standards like genetic duality and complementary anatomy, which make possible reproduction and human survival, the 'new normal' in regard to sexual expression is dangerously subjective.

What does this have to do with LeFou? Not surprisingly, the “Magic Kingdom” is just the latest cultural entity to promote a sexual ethic in which feelings are enthroned as the ultimate authority. In French, LeFou means “the fool”. Certainly the character in the film is not a fool for questioning his sexuality. We should offer respectful support to those working through such questions. But even more than that, we should offer real answers, beyond modern mantras like, “Just do what feels right for you.”

The true fool is anyone (including you and me) who has no objective standard by which to gauge the healthiness of his feelings and actions, including sexual impulses and/or preferences. Certainly, cultural perceptions about femininity and masculinity must also be challenged (to establish, for example, that Gaston really isn't the epitome of manhood). But without real debate about the 'slippery slope' of ethical subjectivism, we can expect strange days ahead.

If 'no one can tell me who I can or cannot love', then we shouldn't be surprised when, in the near future, Disney releases “Snow White and Her Seven Husbands”, or in light of gender identity issues, “Sleeping Charming”, in which the gender-fluid heroine becomes her own prince. If you're snickering, don't. This is the logical outcome of everyone doing “what was right in his own eyes”.

A genuine exploration of sexuality is what we desperately need, not one in which words like “intolerance” and “homophobe” are used to squash even civil, thoughtful dialogue. We need to consider together which objective standards can help us make sense of our feelings, since we can all agree that not every one of our feelings, even if strong, is healthy for us or others.

That also means a context in which a man asking questions, a man like LeFou, can freely consider the stories of those who know the pull of same-sex attraction, who know the feel of gender dysphoria, or who have experienced life in the LGBT(Q) community, but have moved forward to a new life. Such individuals are not the products of therapeutic coercion or social shaming. These men and women have found (and are finding) help and hope in the grace of God and the love of Jesus Christ. They, like hundreds of millions around the world (regardless of their sexuality), are daily reassured by divine anchors on the turbulent sea of feelings and desires (cf. I Corinthians 6:9-11).

So thank you, LeFou, for helping us to consider these ideas, ideas with which every one of us should grapple if we hope, through our exploration, to arrive at a truly safe harbor.

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