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A Look Under The Light Bulb: Is Riley Anderson from Inside Out Transgender? (Pixar Theory #1)

Okay. I know what you’re thinking just by the title and I can tell you that, yes, this topic has been covered before and yes, I can also tell you that should someone write about it good enough to be coherent that it may cause controversy, but…hear me out, okay?

I think that Riley Anderson from the 2015 film ‘Inside Out’ could possibly be transgender.

I can already hear you typing away at your keyboards, so let me explain my theory before you hit that fire button.

As presented in the movie, Riley does some things that in the modern world, are quite unexpected for her gender. She is presented in the movie as female, obviously, but there are several factors that show that perhaps what we are seeing might not be the whole picture.

  • Firstly, one of the biggest clues is her name. ‘Riley’ is a unisex name. It can be used for a boy and for a girl. Big shock, whoop-de-doo, I know, but stay with me. The meaning of the name Riley is ‘valiant’. Now, not trying to be prejudiced in any way here, but have you ever heard a girl be called valiant before?
  • Riley’s voice. Now, I don’t mean to ask this, but have you truly heard her voice properly? If you listen carefully to Riley’s voice in the film against both her mother and her best friend back in Minnesota, as well as Joy and Sadness respectively, it sounds nothing like their voices.We both know them as being female, so we usually would assume their voices, especially the best friends, would sound parallel to Riley’s. However, if you go back and listen to Riley’s father carefully, his voice sounds a lot more like Riley’s than her mother’s in the way he pronounces his words, though his voice is deeper due to puberty.
  • Riley plays hockey. Yes, now women play hockey too, I understand that. But, traditionally, hockey is a male dominated sport. The sports goes back at least as far as we know, 4000 years and according to said history, the first time that women started playing ice hockey (the version that Riley plays) was in the 19th century and that was without an organizing body.

    The first tournament, though unofficial, was held in the 1980’s, with women’s place in the sport only becoming official in 1998 with placement in the Winter Olympics where the US team won gold. Having been just turned 12 in 2015, Riley would have been born in 2003, a small while after this movement was made.

    So, maybe it is safe to say she was inspired to play ice hockey after seeing other women do it, but I still think due to the heavily dominated assumption of it being a mostly male sport that it’s a contributing factor.

  • Riley’s style of dress. I feel like if anything, this is where I’ll be most attacked for some reason, but I’ll say it anyway. Riley does not dress, like the typical girl.

Now, I can understand that this may trigger some people, but let me catch you for a second here. I am not here to talk about body image or make fun of it in anyway, as it is a serious issue, but I want you to look at these two images from Riley’s first day of school in her classroom.



Look at Riley’s outfit. To my eyes currently, she is wearing a rainbow-ish shirt/tank, a yellow hoodie, brown pants and sneakers. Now, look at her classmates. The girls are wearing completely different outfits, but the corresponding factor is that none of them, /none/, look like Riley’s. Before you go and saw, ‘Well, they are the popular girls’, I want you to look closer at these two girls right here:


Look at what they are wearing! One girl (front) is wearing what looks like to be a rather elaborate pair of jeans and a striped t-shirt, while the other, a much more hefty girl, is wearing a shirt and khaki pants. All the other girls in the classroom are either wearing skirts, shorts or tights (as in the popular girl with blue hair). Nothing like Riley’s brown pants. But you know what else I noticed?

Their shoes.


Look at all the girl’s shoes. They are almost all the same. Flat black shoes. Some with socks, some without. No other girl in the classroom, is wearing sneakers. But you know who is?


The boys! All the boys in the classroom are wearing sneakers and no girls are. Also, what else are the girls (except Riley) not wearing that some of the boys are? Hoodies.


Three of the boys in the classroom are wearing hoodies and that’s just the start.

  • Half or most likely all of the girls are wearing earrings (though you can’t see some of them under the hair) and Riley isn’t. She doesn’t even have pierced ears!
  • The girls are wearing bright cheery colors, Riley isn’t. She’s wearing mustard yellow and dark brown, both common colors on a darker palette than that of the other girls wearing blues and pinks.
  • Most of the girls have their hair pulled back or short, Riley doesn’t. Riley’s hair is long and if I’m going to be honest here, looks an awful lot like that long haired boy in the back of the classroom, just a different shaped face and different colour hair.

But, I think we’ve come to the biggest and most obvious sign of all, that Riley may not be entirely female or in the middle of transitioning from female to male under our noses.

  • Anger and Fear.

Anger and Fear, as portrayed in Riley’s head during the events of the movie, are male compared to Joy, Sadness and Disgust, the other emotions in headquarters.

However, when we look in other people’s heads, like Riley’s parents or at the end, the teacher, the dog, the boyfriend’s and the cat’s, all the emotions are portrayed as the exact same gender tailored to each person that they come from.

If they are tailored to the exact person they came from, how can it be that Riley’s emotions are half male and half female?

Because Riley is struggling with an internal conflict.

Now, I have talked to several transgender people, I watched a lot of documents on LGBTQIA+ culture and in fact, I will admit this, I am also LGBTQIA+ myself, so I have a lot of experience with the kind of internal conflict that Riley seems to be going though.

You see, Riley is 12 years old. She’s about to start high school, she’s about to go though puberty, she’s starting to decide what and who she was to be. That’s tough decision to make, even more so when your body isn’t the way you want to to be.

The reason I think that Anger and Fear are portrayed as male in Riley’s head is simple. Gathering all the background information and all the circumstances in which the movie is set up, Riley seems to be suffering from what looks like childhood gender identity disorder (GIDC) or gender dysphoria.

The basic term to describe this action is ‘the condition of feeling one’s emotional and psychological identity as male or female to be opposite to one’s biological sex’. In a child’s case, symptoms often demonstrate well before puberty unlike traditional gender dysphoria.

Looking at Riley, you can see she is showing (or at least portrayed to be showing) three of the five symptoms associated with childhood gender identity disorder (GIDC):

  • Dressing as a member of the opposite sex (see above)
  • Primarily befriending members of the opposite sex (most of the hockey team members on both the Foghorns and her original Minnesota team were male)
  • Demonstrating a desire to engage in play activities characteristic of the opposite sex (ice hockey, sliding down rails roughly, rollerblading)

Looking at these and also the other components of diagnosing the disorder, Riley pretty much fits most of the criteria for a sufferer of the disorder.

Also, the information given about the disorder, it might become clear, should Inside Out 2 go ahead and Riley comes back, that this may not last.

According to several studies on the subject of GIDC, ‘the majority of children diagnosed with GID cease to desire to be the other sex by puberty, with most growing up to identify as gay or lesbian with or without therapeutic intervention’.

Could this mean that Pixar, in its strange planning ways, is planning to possibly show Riley as a lesbian in Inside Out 2? Will they be highlighting the fact that Riley is slightly more male than female? Will Inside Out 2 showcase Riley, possibly, as the first transgender Pixar character in the history of the franchise itself?

All of these options/questions seem viable in some way,l according to the evidence, but until Inside Out 2 comes out, I honestly just don’t know. Guess I’ll just have to wait and see when it finally comes out.

Well, that’s all I got for now, but I’ll see you under the light bulb again for another Pixar theory.

XOXO, Scott


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