• Should MLP Have Same-Sex Ships?

    Despite having more than six years of pony under my belt, it’s always odd to see a subject come up within the fandom that’s so divisive and polarizing. Homosexual ships in My Little Pony seems ridiculous on paper, considering it’s a children’s show that wants to focus more on friendship problems than the cultural significance of a character’s identity. One would consider this type of problem to go over the targeted demographics’ head. But this is not a subject that deserves to be waved away with apathy.

    With an increasing amount of live-action shows portraying homosexual characters and pairings as normal, one would wonder: “Should My Little Pony have a confirmed, canon same-sex ship?”. Let’s talk about this after the break.

    There really is no right or objective way to go about this subject. In America at least, which is where this question is being brought up the most, homosexuals in media is such a hot button—or there’s enough of a vocal minority—that the mere appearance of same-sex ships is considered to be a political statement, whether the intention is there or not. In a little over a decade, pop culture and shows such as “How I Met Your Mother” and “Will and Grace” has made “coming out of the closet” easier because homosexuals have been portrayed as normal. They are flawed—but if written by a good writer usually not in ways that has to do with their sexuality—yet complex like every other character. Surprising no one, gay characters aren’t always the stereotypes that old media has portrayed.

    But the question still stands. Should My Little Pony canonize a homosexual ship? Well, my first question in response would be “to what degree?” There is a huge difference between whether the ship is two background characters or two members of the main six, as shown by the degree of nuclear fallout that the fandom will enact the next day. For example, canonizing a Main Six same-sex ship could be considered to be the type of “jumping the shark” that others thought Alicorn Twilight was back at the end of Season 3. At least with “Magical Mystery Cure”, the preceding episodes were showing Twilight as learning more and more about magic and friendship, to the point where her ascension made us feel like we’re watching “The Sixth Sense”. What was going to happen was obvious, we just forgot because of Lauren’s mantra that there should only be two alicorns. Or maybe that was just me.

    Canonizing a same-sex ship between the Main Six is a bigger deal than it should be, for the simple fact that it closes many doors for the fans who want to create fan content that’s the opposite or negligent of canon. While not a perfect example, Twilight getting her wings does close off the ability for fan creators to make narratives that build off of a Unicorn Twilight. I don’t think that there are that many substantial narratives that we have lost because of this, but that’s what alternate universes are for and I could be wrong. I also feel that it is conducive to the discussion of canon vs fanon to bring this up.

    With a background character ship, it’s not as noticeable because the two who are shipped can easily be written off or ignored. Their time in the episode is minuscule, unless it specifically focuses on the two characters and their struggle (or lack thereof) with the ship for 22 minutes. The only risks that come with having background characters shipped is the disagreement between fans over whether the ship feels real or legitimate (for example, not shipping Vinyl with Octavia, or tacking the ship onto an episode at the end), and any possible dissent from groups who feel that this type of representation isn’t appropriate in a children’s show. I hesitantly agree with this stance, but we’ll get to that later.

    There is an argument to be made for the fact that homosexual ships in My Little Pony (even as toned down as they can be) are an excellent perspective for a myriad of friendship problems. How would a character act if their best friend came out of the closet or a family member came to them first to confess that they felt different from everyone else because of their sexuality? Now, the problem that I personally have is that these stories are so out of tone for the show that I would begin to wonder if this problem should have been tackled at all. Is dealing with the struggles of gender identity really the “slice of life” episode that MLP wants to have? I don't think so. You can create an entire spin-off series based on the wasteland from the finale, or the one “Slice of Life” episode that we got. That doesn’t mean that it’s an economical idea.

    I do understand that other shows with arguably similar demographics (Steven Universe especially) have hinted to or confirmed homosexual ships (yes, I know that the gems are non-gendered, technically). Even MLP has Lyra and Bon Bon as “best friends” (yes, “Slice of Life” is canon), which is basically the closest thing to dating that the show could say without family foundations dropping on them like an atomic bomb. The fan reaction to these shows is usually minuscule, except for when the idea of same sex couples comes up. If the show wanted to go down this route, I think they would integrate Occam’s Razor: among competing hypotheses, the one with the least assumptions wins.

    My Little Pony, ever since the pilot has had the overarching theme that there is no wrong way to be a girl. You can be a hard-working cowgirl, a tomboy athlete, or a dress-maker with a stereotypical eye for fashion. All of the Main Six are stereotypes in their own way, but they are developed and complex enough to where they seem stereotypical on paper, but simply aren’t as you experience each new episode. To put it bluntly, any character can be gay or straight. Whether it’s the Main Six, or the secondary characters, or any background pony that walks across the screen for two seconds. It’s 2016, and there doesn’t need to be a reason for characters to be gay anymore. They simply are, or aren't. The only problem I see, is when the character is written poorly or without enough depth to where their sexuality is considered to be “token” or ham-handed.

    I cannot tell you the amount of times that I’ve been told (more by non-fans than anything else) that Rainbow Dash is gay because of the way that she looks. She has a rainbow mane and tail and is a tomboy athlete. Of course that must mean she’s a lesbian! On the flip side of the coin, I’ve seen many a fanfic (content created by fans) have Applejack or the Apple Family as vehement critics of homosexuals, to the point that it’s as tired as those who instinctively label Rainbow Dash. I will agree that the idea of Applejack’s or Rainbow Dash’s struggle to confirm their sexuality (because honestly, it’s not black and white) are good as fan-fiction or comics or animation ideas within the fandom. And as I said before, you can have a myriad of understandable reasons for why Applejack is gay or straight. Ditto for Rainbow Dash. But this immediate labeling (in fanon at least) of a character’s sexuality because of their appearance needs to die with the rest of the things that we left in Season 1 (the Scootabuse trope, “only two alicorns”, etc.)

    Yes, there can be intricate and deep reasons for why Applejack is gay. She could be scared of (existent or nonexistent) family pressure that makes her dodge the question over why she doesn’t have a lover yet (apart from the obvious reason that it’s a children’s show that doesn’t want to dive into this mire). Rainbow Dash could be struggling with her own identity. She could wonder why she’s one of the biggest tomboys that she knows, and if the way she looks pins her as gay (when the obvious friendship problem of this episode would be "it doesn’t matter"). Or to put it bluntly again, the world of MLP doesn’t prioritize these problems.

    I’m not saying that the staff of MLP don’t care about whether homosexuals are portrayed in their show. I’m also not saying that they have a duty to say whether or not there are same-sex couples in Equestria. What I am saying is that the world of My Little Pony is not as deeply fractured about this issue as we are (as far as we know). Equestria has had a theme of friendship and acceptance ever since the Pilot. It’s right in the title, “Friendship is Magic”. If any of the Main Six had a hatred or uncomfortable feeling towards homosexuals, you’d wonder why it hasn’t been brought up before. Or why Princess Cadance, the Princess of Love/Crystals/TheyReallyNeedToFigureOutHerLore hasn’t said “Love is love. Full stop. I don’t care who it’s between.”

    If any of the Main Six were to admit to their friends that they are gay, I’d expect it to be a passing thought or said with the same tone as “So, want to have a picnic today?” Any other response would seem antithetical to the show’s overall idea: that anyone can be whatever they want, as long as they aren’t evil or disrupt harmony. I never said that the world was fair.

    In conclusion, I don’t believe that we should have homosexual ships in My Little Pony because these types of questions are usually the product of thinking too hard and going down the wrong path as the fandom struggles ad-nauseum with canon vs fanon. Apart from the myriad of logical reasons such as criticism from family groups and backlash for not enacting the fandom’s preferred ships (of which I don’t think there are any), the show doesn’t have a confirmed same-sex ship as a priority (if we aren’t counting Lyra and Bon Bon).

    While I don’t want to label this lack of same-sex ships as Hasbro’s inability to “sell gay characters”, the negative press from canonizing this type of pairing (attack from family groups and people who disagree with the pairing, etc) would far outweigh the positives (having a gay character as a role-model, further pushing the narrative that being gay is as normal as being straight, etc). I also can’t speak for the company, these are only my guesses and estimations from what has happened before. The show has given us tastes or hints that one pairing might be gay, but going the extra mile is a completely different ballgame because of the reaction that would follow.

    Admittedly, this is one of the hardest editorials that I’ve had to write. I also wish that the show would prove me wrong. We still have a few more years of pony, so this subject will not close anytime soon. But I do sympathize with the idea that a same-sex pairing would be as commonplace as the other confirmed straight ship (Shining Armor and Cadance). The problem that stands is that same-sex ships are not commonplace in America, at least within our culture. The good news is that it’s getting better.

    I’d love for the show to canonize a same-sex pairing and for all the staff, from top to bottom, to tell the world that this type of representation in cartoons is nothing to be ashamed of. But I don’t believe that this is the show’s place to do that. I very well could be wrong, and I honestly hope that I am. The simple fact is that I don’t know everything. I don’t know what Hasbro thinks about having these pairings. I don’t know if there has been a rejected episode idea that deals with sexuality and gender identity. All I know is that the lack of this episode most likely means that Hasbro doesn’t want to touch this idea with a ten foot pole.

    What do you guys think? Should MLP have same-sex ships? Will they do anything else with Lyra and Bon Bon and have them as the definitive “lesbian ship”? Or on a happier note, what is your favorite ship? Let me know in the comments, or you can tweet at me. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you all soon.