I’ve always loved unicorns and butterflies. Some trans girls really like mermaids. I guess I fall under that category, too, but as a small child, I discovered the magic of the beautiful (mythical?) unicorn.
Voiced by Mia Farrow, the eponymous protagonist in the 1982 animated children’s epic The Last Unicorn is tormented by evil, most insidiously represented as a giant Red Bull with crazy white eyes and a notorious orange blaze of fire and fury atop his back. She also experiences identity rejection by others.
In the beginning of the movie, our beautiful unicorn is captured and cursed by an evil witch. The witch cages the unicorn and forces her to appear under false pretenses in a traveling carnival. (Since most spectators cannot see the unicorn’s real horn, she is seen as nothing more than a white horse. However, the witch casts a spell that gives her a fake horn in order to convince the gawking carnival goers.)
If you haven’t seen the movie, or it has been a long time, you might be wondering where I’m going with all this. Give me a minute, and keep an eye out for connections to 2017 social undertones. (Here’s the film’s IMDb page.)
Rather similar to the life cycle of butterflies—perhaps like the singing butterfly who gives Unicorn enigmatic guidance early on—the protagonist undergoes a metamorphosis throughout her journey. With the help of the witch’s bumbling apprentice, Schmendrick (voiced by Alan Arkin), the Unicorn is freed. She later conquers the angry, destructive Red Bull that lives in a cave (under a rock, for all intents and purposes), and eventually frees her fellow unicorns, which run out of the sea where they’ve been segregated as prisoners and pariahs by the loud, unreasonable, oppressive, nefarious Red Bull.
Along her path, Unicorn experiences small victories and great adversity. Similar to some transgender individuals’ transitions, she experiences highs and lows. Schmendrick helps to free the unicorn from the witch and accompanies Unicorn on a long trek through life-threatening adversity. She experiences multiple enemies with varying tactics, strengths and weaknesses; but she’s rewarded finally, and along the way, with increasing degrees of growth, transformation and, eventually, acceptance for who she truly is because she remains strong and enlists the help of supporters.
Although the movie ends with Unicorn finding love, freeing others of her kind and realizing the amazing beauty in her true identity, her path is paved in sadness and struggle. Like many closeted or denied-existence transgender folks, Unicorn is trapped by various fake exteriors imposed on her by sometimes malevolent-sometimes benevolent outside forces. Many are unable to see her true magical beauty and simply assume Unicorn is nothing more than a horse.
In an attempt to protect the unicorn, Schmendrick turns her into a human woman, Lady Amalthea, throughout most of Act II. The good-hearted magician can be equated to any number of supporters in a trans person’s life (family, friends, therapists, doctors, etc.) But like trans folks who feel the need to apply various accoutrements early in their transitions—binders, wigs, shape wear, excessive makeup, hyperfeminine or hypermasculine clothing/accessories*—the unicorn knows she is still not her true self. She even admits at one point that her “human body is dying all around her.” According to a Last Unicorn Wiki on Fandom, “The Unicorn has a very complex personality. She is free-spirited, open-minded and shows concern and compassion to all around her. … She is very much a lost, lonely, frightened soul who seeks to find what matters most to her in the world.” But she eventually finds it!
*This is not to say there’s anything wrong with any of this. However, in my experience, I’ve felt increasingly better as I appear more naturally as the gender with which I identify and gender dysphoria begins to break down.
Largely buoyed up by the myth that precedes it, and the loud, unintelligible noise it makes, the “fire and fury” of the weak, insolent bull are snuffed out. Misdirected hate and anger lose out, and well-deserved resolve and perseverance win in the end. Unicorn doesn’t only realize the affirmation of her true self; she becomes a heroine for all other magical creatures in her universe! By setting a heroic example and bearing through much tribulation, Unicorn empowers the other magical beasts to step out of the depths of the abysmal sea and show off their beauty in the light. For the record, I don’t see myself but rather what I’ll call the Transgender Movement as the hero who releases others of her kind.
—I first watched The Last Unicorn in 1984. I’ve loved the film and unicorns—like all magical, beautiful creatures—ever since. A few days after I posted this, a Google search revealed that I’m not the only one to develop this connection; but I did so independently. After all, The Last Unicorn is pretty clearly about transformation and realizing one’s true self.
Thanks, Simon Gangl, from whom I borrowed this beautiful image, which lives on the internet 😉