One of my earliest VHS tapes (yes, VHS) was of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. I believe my first was Cinderella but the anecdotes of me enacting scenes alongside the playing tape will have to wait for another day.
In the tale of The Little Mermaid, in case you don’t know, the mermaid Ariel chooses to give up her voice and delightful life under the sea to pursue love in a world unfamiliar and rather isolating for her. Of course, this is entirely different to the Hans Christian Anderson original, or the opera Rusalka – the latter of which scarred my nostalgic, happy memories of singing crabs, choreographed dancing fish, and Zaddy underwater kings.
My affinity with Ariel has recently undergone its own transformation, not unlike the plucky mermaid’s own transition from tail to legs. The lovestruck amongst us will recognise her pining for her prince, and the queer amongst us might recognise the sense of disconnect from the world in which we strive to belong.
“Look at this stuff, isn’t it neat? Wouldn’t you think my collections complete? Wouldn’t you think I’m the girl, the girl who has – everything?”
I find myself once again humming this seminal moment in Ariel’s adventure – in which she verbalises her discontent. Granted, it’s an upbeat song that smacks a little of privilege and self-entitlement, but, and stay with me here, it also speaks (or sings) of her unsettledness – her desire for something more, not something material.
To find this, in Ariel’s case, love – she embarks upon a perilous alliance with the Sea Witch herself: Ursula (an ICON). It is in this encounter that we have the best song of the whole dang film, and I won’t hear any different. To journey to a world in which she believes she’ll find everything she could ever want, Ariel relinquishes one of her treasures that means more than all of her “gadgets and gizmos a-plenty”: her voice.
“Now, sing”, Ursula commands. A climatic cinematic moment, I think we can all agree.
My story is different, yet the same – I’ve relinquished my voice to be part of a world in which I thought I had to belong to find peace. A world of conformity and uniformity, one where having a voice is isolating, even dangerous. Last year I sat too quietly on issues that troubled me, on actions by individuals and governments that I found problematic and sometimes downright terrifying. This year too, I look ahead and wonder whether I’ll have the voice to speak not in metaphor or allegory, but boldly and with conviction. I have defended my actions by being willing to speak quietly to friends and colleagues on issues of vaccine mandates, overreaching and authoritarian government action, and the silencing of dissent, yet I have not been willing or able to be bolder and to speak louder.
I gave my voice to the Sea Witch in the hope of peace and safety, but all I have found is disconnect and separation.
Unlike Ariel, I want to claim back my voice not by compromising my sense of self, but by embracing it. I desire my voice to be powerful and strong; to be grounded and fair; to be reasoned and passionate. In my silence this past year I have learnt a lot – perhaps how to listen a little better; to consider more carefully the words I use to respond; to have been reminded not to speak so dismissively or homogeneously of those who may think differently to me. I have learnt again the power of asking questions; of tending to the hearts involved in the discourse; of the harm that can be done when we use our voices callously and flippantly.
I haven’t broken Ursula’s spell yet, but this year I’ll be working on it.
 Worth noting that I didn’t need to search for these lyrics online, they’re just there – in the back of my head, for just such a reason as this.