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Unicorn as Queer Symbol
 

How did unicorns find their way into the symbols and language of the LGBTQ community? Even though unicorns have been referred to in a wide variety of literary, historical, and philosophical ways for centuries, they have somehow wound up having a connection in the queer iconography. By understanding some of the attributes associated with unicorns, one can begin to see why unicorns resonate with LGBTQ culture.

 

 

The mythical unicorn is a legendary creature that has been described since antiquity as a beast with a single large, pointed, spiraling horn projecting from its forehead. It was a beautiful, magical creature that could only be lured and captured by a pure maiden.

 

The unicorn represents chastity, virtue, and purity of heart. It has been more broadly embraced as a symbol of hope. Unicorns are said to have healing powers. According to legend, they can cure illnesses. And, nowadays, the unicorn is strongly associated with vibrant imagination and a sense of wonder.



According to the Urban Dictionary, a unicorn can be further defined as that girl that is unattainable and perfect. Everything about her is so flawless and divine, that getting with her is unfathomable. Being someone's unicorn means you are someone's fantasy. She is truly a blessing from God. Bumping into her on the sidewalk is a good day. Holding a conversation with her... you were probably dreaming. Good luck finding her. It takes time, effort, and a whole lot of persistence. Even though unicorns are said to be uncatchable, never give up your pursuit. Unicorns are worth the hunt.

 

"Dude, did you just see that girl? I think I just found my unicorn. Now how do I go about talking to her?"

 

“That girl is a ten for sure.” “No bro, she’s not a ten. She’s beyond a ten. She’s my unicorn.”

 

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One of the unicorn’s first appearances in fantasy literature was in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, “Well, now that we have seen each other,” said the unicorn, “if you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you.”

 

According to Alice Fisher, in her essay in The Guardian, “The unicorn started as a fierce creature found in the furthest corners of the known world. It had the head of a stag, the feet of an elephant and the tail of boar. So how did one end up on my daughter’s birthday cake all pink and covered in glitter?”

 

 

Unicorns gained a reputation for being elusive, a reference to things you could never quite see or catch. Wild animals at heart, unicorns are highly independent and they can easily elude the grasp of humans. When they are spotted, they run away. In the rare case that a unicorn is cornered, it will fight, and fight hard, for its freedom.

 

Legend has it that the creature is tireless when pursued, yet falls meekly to the ground when approached by someone with a pure heart. It is reputed to live for a thousand years and to be the noblest of animals.

 

Unicorns have long been a representation of the moon, embodying the mysterious, intuitive, and magical. Often considered the most wondrous of all mythical creatures, the unicorn is a symbol of miracles and enchantment. It appears to only a rare few and has the ability to bestow wisdom upon those who are pure of heart and virtuous in their deeds.

 

 

But unicorns no longer have to be lured from magical forests by pure maidens. They’re everywhere. If you’re a kid, unicorns are ubiquitous. If you’re a girl, they’re inescapable. And they’re cantering into the wider popular culture, too.

 

Nor is this purely superficial. The values of a unicorn, as something described as rare and magical, have seen the word used in various connotations. Now a unicorn can be a start-up business valued at more than $1 billion. And, as we have seen, a unicorn is also an elusive or unobtainable woman.

 

In that same context, a unicorn can be that hard-to-find bisexual woman (or sometimes man) who joins a polyamorous couple. A unicorn is that sexually adventurous woman who is willing to join an existing couple (and be the third member of a poly triad), often with the presumption that this person will date and become sexually involved with both members of that couple. The unicorn will be the girlfriend to the couple.  The couple is usually considered a primary relationship, while the girlfriend will be a secondary partner to both.

 

 

The unicorn was mentioned in ancient Greek, Hindu, and Hebrew literature during the Bronze Age. It was part of European folklore during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. In Chinese tradition the Unicorn is an auspicious and perfect spiritual beast which appears when sages are born

 

“The unicorn has been popular at various points for at least 3,000 years,” says Dr. Miles Leeson, director of the Iris Murdoch Research Centre and a lecturer in English literature. “They were considered as real in the ancient world by the Greeks. They appear in books of natural history, not books about the gods. The Old Testament contains possible mentions of unicorns, and from there they have been incorporated into Western art and culture, surfacing at various times, including the Medieval period and the Renaissance (in paintings and tapestries). The unicorn also has a role to play in Chinese mythology.”

 

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According to author Juliette Wood’s book Fantastic Creatures in Mythology and Folklore, “The myth began to develop early in the Christian era. It’s found in Islamic sources as well. This fierce creature would come tamely to a virgin female. It also became popular in that aspect of chivalry known as courtly love. A lover is hunted by his love of the lady and, like the unicorn, wins her and becomes tamed as the husband.”

 

The unicorn has also done its bit for the LGBTQ community in the last century. Rainbows and unicorns are so intrinsically linked that it’s not surprising that the magic creature started to appear on t-shirts and banners at Gay Pride parades around the world.

 

The legend of the unicorn combines male and female in one beast and therefore rich in the symbolism of opposites. It represents the balance of the yin and yang. Psychologist  Vivian Diller says, "The unicorn can be a sweet, innocent pony, but it also has a phallic horn protruding from its head. It’s a symbol of freedom to be male and female. In other words, it’s an iconic example of the possibility to be whoever you want to be, separate from any limiting binaries." Its gender fluidity seems emblematic of our times.

 

 

According to Kristen Iversen of Nylon, "Unicorns have a complicated mythological significance when it comes to queer culture, having represented everything from virgins to outsiders to Christ himself. But it is the unicorn’s resolute status as a wild being constantly under threat of capture, torture, and death, which is most significant to the queer community."

 

As Juliette Wood says, it’s a complicated beast. “It can represent sacred and romantic love, it looks gentle but it’s fierce, yet the horn protects against poison. I think the unicorn has endured in culture because it’s just too lovely and rare to abandon, isn’t it?”  

 

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