The first thing you need to know about being a Disney is that you should avoid letting anyone know that you are one. You should conceal this aspect of your identity because it is not significant that you share blood with a famous stranger, and acknowledging this odd connection will only imply to others that you think it is, somehow, significant.
It’s a far-off relation and so you will always be embarrassed to explain it: “Walt was my grandfather’s uncle, my great-grand-uncle, I guess.” To you, this will seem like an unfair explanation because your great-grandfather also had a big hand in the company and, because no one knows who he is, you will feel like he’s getting stripped of the credit he deserves. Then, however, you will kick yourself for being frustrated about the specifics because you’re not supposed to care about this shit anyway. It’s better to just not bring it up.
When you’re in elementary school, your classmates will ask you if you get into the park for free, which you do, and you will become a hero to some of them and a source of jealousy for others. A precocious girl, who lives a few blocks away from you on the Upper West Side, will ask if you’re an anti-Semite like Walt, and you won’t know what this means, but you’ll feel deeply ashamed for it anyway. A lot of kids will make fun of you but you will be slightly relieved that the whole Disney thing seems to be distracting them from the ill-fitting, uniform polo-shirts your mom buys you and your bowl-cut and and your braces and your boyishness.
You will be thankful that your parents chose to raise you in New York City and not in Los Angeles, where your cousins endure a more invasive line of questioning from their peers. When you visit your relatives in L.A., you’re always surprised by the oppressiveness of Disney there, the Hollywood obsession informing the way people seem to act around you. Your unearned impressiveness in L.A. reminds you of the tour guides at Disney World and how delicately they treat you. You will think of one guide in particular, Tom, who refuses to explain how anything works in the park—like when you ask if there are multiple Minnies walking around at the same time and, if so, how do they make sure they don’t run into each other—no matter how old you are, he just insists that it’s “Disney Magic” and you find this maddening.
Even on the East Coast, when it becomes common-knowledge among the students at the liberal arts college you attend, or, later, among the other baristas at the coffee shop you work at, that you are a Disney—because your mother (and her damned, feminist choice to keep her maiden name) has commented on your Instagram photo or something—people may make assumptions about you. The older you get, the less people will comment on it directly, but you will always wonder what it means, to the world, to yourself, that a brand name hides itself away between your first name and your last.
You will realize that you can never be as punk or as badass as you want to be, even when you shave your head and pierce your face and drive a dilapidated, red pick-up truck around New Orleans, because whenever you see that grinning mouse you will be reminded of the tacky, privileged legacy you come from. You will watch Walt Disney testifying as a friendly witness in front of the House of Un-American Activities on Youtube and you will remember that you do not come from a rebellious lineage; you will want to make sure that the guy with a Satanist tattoo who you’re fucking never finds out anything about your upbringing. When your friends suggest road-tripping to Disney and doing shrooms in the Magic Kingdom as a fun activity, you will have to decline because you know that the level of introspection a trip like that would entail could only end in a life-crisis.
When you watch The Jungle Book as an adult you will cringe at the racism and know that you share the blame for it, you will know that in a way that racism paid for your education. You will be disgusted by the covertness of the hatred, how it’s slipped into a movie for children like subliminal messaging. Your family made that, and the name stands for a lot of things, but it also stands for that.
You will always be disturbed by the fact that real-life situations remind you of fake, Disney experiences—like how for all your life being on the subway has made you feel like you’re on Space Mountain and, every once in a while, you’ll stare out the window into the darkness of the tunnels, searching for some sign of animatronic life as you speed by.
When you go to Amsterdam for a three days with a few friends during college, you will walk around the red-light district one night and see the women behind clear glass doors with their neon bikinis glowing in the blacklight, like Barbie dolls selling themselves. You’ll watch the men of different ages disappear behind red curtains for their allotted time, returning to the numerous high-fives of their sloppy friends. Watching the organized chaos of the street, the capitalist show of it all, you’ll for some reason find yourself reminded of Disney World and you will never be able to shake this comparison, even if it came to you in a drunken and slightly high stupor.
Strangers and friends alike will make jokes at your expense and you’ll learn to make them before someone else can so people will know you’re capable of laughing at yourself. You will tell them about how, on your dad’s first trip to your mom’s family home when they were in college, he checked the fridge for the cryogenically frozen Walt, a gag that didn’t go over too well with your grandparents.
You will tell them about how your mother as a young girl once saw Mickey with his fake head on the picnic table beside him, his real head was wrinkled and hairless, he was smoking a cigar and speaking in a thick, New Jersey accent. “Edna, how are ya?” he coughed out to your great-grandmother, who had your mother, dressed for church, in tow. You will tell them about how you’ve heard a thousand incarnations of this story told by your mother, the story of that day in the late ‘60s when the Disney Magic was abruptly shattered for her.