As You Like It: Ocarina of Time
I got a problem. I love this girl but she was nowhere to be seen. However, during her absence this guy has been super helpful. He helped me work through my problems that I would have worked out with the girl. I felt a connection with him. As time went on, the feelings I had for him were becoming similar to the feelings I had for her. Imagine my surprise when he revealed that he was actually the girl all along! So my problem is a question, “fellas, is it gay to fall in love with your woman when she is disguised as a man?”
As You Like It is a play written by Shakespeare that is considered the urtext of this trope. Orlando’s lover Rosalind is disguised as a man named Ganymede. Ganymede suggests a means to cure Orlando of his love; pretend Ganymede is Rosalind. Hijinks ensue, including a woman farmer falling in love with Ganymede. Eventually, Rosalind lets her disguise fall because she contrives a way for every character to be happy.
Rosalind uses her gender fluidity to find the love she needs. It is telling that she uses Ganymede as her alias. Ganymede was a Greek figure who was so fucking hot that Zeus desired Ganymede as a lover. So Zeus being Zeus, he transformed into an eagle and stole Ganymede. To top this off, during Shakespeare’s era only men could be actors. Women were not allowed to act professionally, so a boy actor played a woman pretending to be a man. As You Like It has homoeroticism baked into its DNA; it is inescapable.
In The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time Link’s love, Zelda, disguises herself as a man, Sheik. However, unlike As You Like It, the player does not know that Sheik is Zelda. Instead, Sheik is introduced as a mysterious helpful guide. He appears to teach Link music and give advice on what to do next. The conversation always ends with Sheik throwing a flash bomb and Link all alone. Once all the spirit stones are gathered Sheik drops the façade. Zelda appears before Link. All this time Zelda guided Link as a man.
The homoeroticism is palpable between Link and Sheik. Sheik is similar to Link as they are both, as Orlando would say, “fair youths”. They are not super buff or coded as “masculine”. Sheik is extremely androgynous but, the game explicitly states Sheik is a man. Right away, Sheik plays with gender just in his appearance.
Romance ripples between the two. The Sheik and Link scenes are underscored by harps, providing a romantic ambience and a sense of longing. Music connects the characters in LoZ:OoT. Sheik teaches Link music. Link is taught a song by Zelda, but taught six songs by Sheik. The majority of Link and Zelda’s relationship is spent with Zelda as Sheik.
In these moments, Sheik warns Link of the coming danger without being overt. To hide her identity, Zelda leads Link without directing him, much like Rosalind does for Orlando. Rosalind cannot tell Orlando how to love, she has to teach him. Zelda cannot tell Link how to be the hero of time, he must struggle to become who he is destined to be. When Zelda throws off the disguise it is because Link is ready for what’s next. Just as Rosalind is ready to marry Orlando because she thinks he is in the exact right place. The disguise is deceptive, but a means for growth.
Sheik is the only guiding light Link has. Sheik’s presence is a reprieve from the darkness that is ravaging Hyrule. Once Sheik gives the required information he disappears using a flash bomb. Link’s reactions show a desire for Sheik to stay. He throws out his hand pleading for Sheik to wait. In another scene he runs after Sheik, stopped only by a Sheik’s exit. Without knowing the twist the scenes show an intimacy that Link does not have with anyone else. At every point Link pushes forward without hesitation. However, when it comes to Sheik, Link needs him to stay.
The homoeroticism of As You Like It is in the Sheik scenes. Even if the audience knows the twist, Link doesn’t. His reactions are romantic towards Sheik. Link is fine because Zelda is Sheik. Link cannot hug the Gorons because they are bros. There is safety in this type of story for cis straight people. They can fall in love with a boy because a girl is in disguise thus making it super straight. However, this is only a surface reading on why these stories resonate. It’s irrelevant what the gender of the two romantic partners is. Love is the only thing that matters.