How to Navigate Disney World With Nonbinary, Transgender, and Queer Kids
Check out these pro tips on inclusive attractions, family restrooms, and everything else you need to make it the #BestDayEver for your little one.
Disney theme parks are known for their customer service, attention to detail, and acceptance. It's called the "Disney difference." After all, Walt Disney famously declared, "To all who come to this happy place, welcome." But Disney parks, especially Walt Disney World due to its size, can be pretty gender-polarizing and overwhelming for non-cis children. That's not to say The Most Magical Place on Earth isn't fantastic for non-cis kids. In fact, it can be an incredibly positive, gender-affirming experience and a chance for kids who are socially transitioning at home or school—or haven't transitioned yet—to express themselves without worry. It doesn't get more magical than that. But Disney World is saturated with hetero-normal, cis themes of princesses and princes and some experiences may be triggering. If you're planning a trip to Disney with a non-cis kid, check out these helpful tips on attractions, entertainment, and restrooms, as well as resources to make your vacation seamless and positive.
Dressing Up in the Parks
"When a trans child is preparing to go on a vacation to a place like Disney World, they might be even more inclined than at home to express their gender identity freely," says Lucas Wehle, a parent, Disney fan, and co-founder and treasurer of the PFLAG St. Petersburg chapter. "It can mean a lot to a gender-expansive child to know that they can dress and present themselves fully, and with their family's support. The Most Magical Place on Earth might just be the environment they need to help increase their confidence, or yours, while providing a lasting, positive memory," he added.
Costumes are a great way kids can express themselves at Disney. If your child is 12 or younger, they are allowed to wear full head-to-toe costumes inside the parks. It's basically Halloween every day. And during the fall, at Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, everyone in the family—even adults—can dress up in costume, too. If you live in a community that is not so LGBTQ+ inclusive, you could trick-or-treat at the Magic Kingdom. Regardless of when you go, costumes are a great opportunity to let your child dress up as their favorite character with no limits on gender. "Dressing up as a character that might be a different gender than the sex the child was assigned at birth might be a comfortable opportunity to explore how it might feel to be seen as that gender," says Wehle.
If you're willing to splurge on a one-of-kind experience, there are magical makeovers you can book for your child at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. This fun appointment features services such as a new hair-do, nail color, and lots of glitter. Deluxe packages feature royal ball gowns or dapper knight attire. The salon is temporarily closed amid the pandemic, but, when it reopens, the experience is available to book for any kid younger than 12. It doesn't matter the assignment at birth, any kid can have their Cinderella moment.
"When I think about Disney, it's all about messaging," says Aydin Olson-Kennedy, a parent, therapist, and executive director of the LA Gender Center. "All of the messaging for everyone—trans kids, cis folks, nonbinary people—is cis-hetero normative. That's the downstream and everyone just sort of gets in the water and everything just naturally pushes you in that direction. Everything is nice and set up for you. But trans and nonbinary kids, and to some degree, queer kids, are going to have to figure out their identity swimming upstream against the cis-het downstream." That downstream is most evident at Magic Kingdom, but the three other parks: EPCOT, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Disney's Animal Kingdom feel more gender-neutral in terms of theming and entertainment. At Animal Kingdom, you can sign up for the Wilderness Explorers just like in UP! The program is free and, once inducted, scouts earn badges (stickers) in their wilderness guidebook. It's a great souvenir.
Another great unisex activity is "Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple" at Hollywood Studios. The free experience lets kids train under a Jedi Master, learn how to wield a lightsaber and use the Force to defeat Darth Vader. And it doesn't separate into groups of boys and girls. In true Star Wars fashion, kids are referred to as younglings or padawans. And the costuming—a brown Jedi robe—is the same for all.
Interacting With Cast Members and Characters
One of the Disney differences that sets it apart from other theme parks is how cast members engage with kids. From the turnstiles to the FastPass+ entrance to the photographer on Main Street, there are so, so many touchpoints throughout the day. And it's all about making you feel special. You'll hear phrases like, "Have a magical day!" or "Have a nice day, princess!" While that interaction can be gender-affirming and exciting for children who have already transitioned, it can backfire if a cast member misgenders your kid. If a cast member refers to your little one as a prince or princess and it's wrong, let them know what you prefer. "Royal guest" is a great gender-neutral term. You can also use Disney's celebration buttons to identify gender. These free buttons are available at any guest services location. "Cast members are trained to pay attention to these buttons," says Wehle. "And it is an easy way to let them know how to refer to a trans child correctly and avoid frequent misgendering."
In addition to interacting with cast members, plan on some meet-and-greets with your kid's favorite characters. "For children who are possibly trying out a new name or more fully expressing their gender, a trip to Disney World is a great opportunity to encourage them to introduce themselves to characters by their new name or pronouns," says Wehle.
If your child has a negative interaction or gets triggered by gendered theming, Olsen-Kennedy says it's important to have a reset plan to pull out of those social experiences. "Go find a quiet spot or a spot that the kid enjoys being in the park," he says. "Because kids can get overwhelmed quite easily and if you don't interrupt the energy flow it sort of blows up on you." And this reset plan shouldn't be leaving the park because that sends the wrong message. "That could tell the kid that your feelings are too much to handle and you're going to get punished for them."
Disney World doesn't have specific gender-neutral restrooms, but they do have single-room companion restrooms that were designed for wheelchair users and their caregivers. These are not gendered and you can use those if your child is uncomfortable using gendered stalls. Pro tip: You can find the nearest one to your exact location using the My Disney Experience app. These companion bathrooms also exist at the Disney Springs shopping center and Disney's water parks: Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach.
Attractions to Skip
Much of Disney's narrative material is boy-girl, boy-girl. And that theming affects a lot of entertainment in the parks. The Magic Kingdom's afternoon Festival of Fantasy Parade is a cis-palooza with dancers paired up in hetero couples and tons of princesses and princes. If you're looking for something less gendered, skip the parade and prioritize the nighttime Happily Ever After fireworks show. The story is really heartfelt and more about achieving your dreams and believing in yourself.
For shows, the new Beauty and the Beast sing-a-long in the France pavilion at EPCOT should be avoided by families with transgender kids. The new animated story has some troubling twists such as Le Fou wearing a dress as a joke. It's insensitive, especially for transgender girls, and shocking given how groundbreaking it was that Disney introduced Le Fou as an LGBTQ+ character in the 2017 live-action film. If this is your kid's favorite movie, head over to Enchanted Tales With Belle in the Magic Kingdom for an interactive storytime.
LGBTQ+ Disney Meetups
Gay Days, an unofficial pride weekend at Disney, has drawn more than 50,000 people, living out and proud famously dressed in red shirts, to the theme parks. It's a great way to meet fellow parents with non-cis kids, other LGBTQ+ families, and for kids to see a whole community of Disney fans who support them.
If you can't visit during Gay Days, social media is another great place to connect with parents navigating Disney parks with non-cis kids. There are great communities for transgender and gender-queer kids on Instagram such as Princess Boy Bounds created by moms Jolene Vargas and Brittany Eason. Both women have sons who love Disney princesses and they created the account as a safe space for connecting with fans and breaking gender stereotypes in the Disney community. "It's important for everyone to feel seen and included, especially when going to a place that is described as magical," Vargas says. Eason adds, "It's even more important with kids because we want to raise mindful, accepting kids and we want them to know we love them for who they are even before they can voice their feelings."