• Editorial: Pony Pride and What to Make of It

    A few days ago, the Hasbro official Instagram page ended Pride month by editing together a few vectors (with a questionable number of wings) over a pride flag of their own design with the hashtag PonyPride.

    This isn't really anything new. Hasbro's been taking baby-steps towards supporting the LGBT+ community with Pony for some time, and by now, not much hoopla was made. Not much of a big deal.

    But as a diehard Pony fan and a member of the LGBT+ community myself, I thought it worth adding my perspective. What, if anything, have Hasbro's timid but positive efforts meant to me and fans like me? Is it pandering? Exploitative? Not enough representation or too much? 

    Why does it matter, and more specifically, why does it matter to MLP?

    But first, a blanket statement:

    If you're neutral on the subject of Pride, the LGBT+ community, and the topic of it relating to MLP specifically, you're not automatically bigoted. Don't worry. This isn't that kind of editorial.

    I've experienced real homophobia, and trust me, there's a difference. I'm not here to demand you support me and my ideas or else be villainized as homophobic. 

    Even those of you who disagree with including LGBT+ characters and/or relationships aren't necessarily the root of all evil. But the question is, why did any of this become relevant to your favourite cartoon horse show, anyway?

    The *shudder* Real World 

    To understand the full scope of why this is butting in to the friendship show, a brief modern history lesson. Thank the wonderful Matt Baume and his video Why Opinion Changed So Fast on Gay Marriage? for this and watch that video for more details.

    The early 90s saw the beginning of lawsuits against state governments asking for the right to marry, but also backlash from the 70% of the American population who opposed gay marriage. And it went on like that. Progression, backlash, progression, backlash. And so on and so forth.

    Jump ahead to 2011, support for gay marriage reached about 50%, and this is around the time the way we talked about gay marriage started to change. To quote Matt directly:
    Previously "ads were about abstract rights and discrimination... and nobody cared [...] [Voters] heard that message and thought LGBTs only married for political or financial reasons. Voters just didn't understand why queer people would want to get married, and what was at stake for their families." 
    Then, "we started seeing actual gay people and their families in ads. [...] When the message shifted to love, commitment, and family, support climbed above 50%."

     Fast-forward again to 2015 when the United States at last passed nationwide same-sex marriage laws with the viral slogan #LoveWins, and you'll see this was the idea that finally connected with people. Finally, gay people were humanized.

    Today, the support for gay marriage in the States is 70% overall. Not ideal, but well over a majority.

    Cartoon History

    While a few kids cartoons managed to slip it under the radar with off-screen confirmations and subtext (Hey! Arnold, Courage the Cowardly Dog, The Powerpuff Girls to name a few), gay characters wouldn't be depicted clearly until 2014.

    Just before the U.S. went rainbow nationwide the next year, three major advancements in kids cartoons set the tone for the 4 years to follow in children's animation:
    1. Olivia Olsen, voice actress for Marceline the Vampire Queen in Adventure Time, confirmed Marceline and Princess Bubblegum used to date (which had been speculated on for a long time)
    2. During a regular episode of Clarence, two minor male characters kiss, meeting up for a date in a restaurant. Clarence would later also reveal one of the main characters, Jeff, to have two moms.
    3. At the end of the finale of The Legend of Korra, Korra and Asami, the two female leads, hold hands and begin a relationship.

    All this was huge, but kids cartoons only got gayer from there.

    Steven Universe, Gravity Falls, The Loud House, a subtle mention in Harvey Beaks, Star vs. the Forces of Evil, We Bare Bears—and yes, even our very own Friendship is Magic (oh hey, I finally remembered what site I'm writing on).

    2010-Present in Equestria

    Early fandom meme + 2018 canon.
    Knowing all that, we can look at the show's run with a bit more depth.

    For instance, we know when the show started, support for marriage equality (the metric we keep using just because it's the most popular) wasn't even at 50% yet. And of course, for the first 5 seasons, Hasbro played it safe and the few times the show threw in couples they were all straight—but that didn't last forever.

    Slice of Life aired on June 13th, 2015, 13 days before the U.S. Supreme Court made samesex marriage legal nationwide. Approval for samesex marriage: 55%. 

    I can't and won't stop you from taking Lyra and Bon Bon's "best friends" chant at face value, but I can point you in the direction of an overused phrase that I think applies: queer coding.

    Coding of any kind, in any media, doesn't have to be intentional on the author's part. Whether or not M.A. Larson intended it to be a nod to the fandom favourite ship, the Lyra and Bon Bon Larson ended up writing act (or are coded) like a couple. They share long loving-gazes, have spats that they'll "talk about later," and have serious conversations about their relationship. They're absolutely lovely.

    But since it's all coded, it's incredibly easy for those who don't want to ship Lyra and Bon Bon in canon to have the version they want. I can't blame anyone for that.

    If you look to Equestria Girls not much later, it's even more confusing. At first, in Rainbow Rocks, they seem to be just as queer coded as they were in Slice of Life, but looking to the Lyra and Bon Bon short, All's Fair in Love and Friendship Games, they act more along the lines of actual best friends.

    After that, I was willing to drop it for the time being, but we'll come back to those two.

    Also in 2015 was an episode with a mixed reception: Brotherhooves Social. At the time, there was a small bit of hubbub about Orchard Blossom.

    A few people were concerned Orchard Blossom was transphobic. This isn't the case at all, however: Big Mac isn't transgender. If anything, Orchard Blossom is closer to drag queen culture than any part of the transgender community.

    What's the difference?

    Transgender individuals don't identify with the gender they were assigned with birth.

    (For clarity's sake: gender and sex are two separate, but related concepts. Sex refers to your biological parts and hormones, gender refers to the ideas we have associated with "boy,""girl," etc. 
    i.e. My Little Pony being thought of as a girls show has very little to do with biology.)

    Drag queens, on the other hand, are men who want to flip the bird to anyone who says they can't dress up in feminine clothes and still be a man. Their stage personas may be dramatic and wildly feminine, but they're still men off-stage.

    All that said, what this really was was a Looney-Tunes style cross-dressing gag. Nothing more, nothing less. But Big Mac did dress in drag, and it's not the only time he's written to embrace his feminine side while still being the manliest stallion around.

    From tearing up when his little sister went missing, to loving the Smarty Pants doll, to dreaming of being an alicorn Princess, Big Mac is never afraid to be a little girly. It ultimately doesn't affect his stallionhood.

    Dressing in drag is just another demonstration of that. Rather than saying Big Mac's necessarily a member of the LGBT+ community, we can use Orchard Blossom's drag queen roots as a metric to see just how little Big Mac cares about maintaining the illusion that he always has to act in a masculine way to be a dude. 

    Anyway, back to Lyra and Bon Bon. Because I love them.

    In 2016, before the start of season 6, Hasbro's official Facebook page posted this Valentines card:

    While not impossible, it was getting harder and harder to refute Hasbro's intentions. You can argue friends can give Valentines, but friends don't make your heart "gallop." You can argue it's a dumb little Facebook post, and fair enough, but it's also from Hasbro itself.

    Well now I'm imagining an alternate universe where the IDW comics were allowed to just go for it. I've heard the Transformers IDW comics have samesex relationships. Gosh, how crazy would it be it the IDW comics either strayed from canon THAT far, or told stories of this level the show left out. 
    Likewise, comic writer Jeremy Whitley expressed his desire to really and truly represent the LGBT+ community in canon. While not his decision, it was heartwarming and affirming to say the least. In the same way Ashleigh Ball signing that AppleDash wedding fanart for World Pride Day one year was sweet.

    Then, in October of 2017, Scootaloo's aunts, Holiday and Lofty, debuted thanks to Mike Vogel and Nicole Dubuc. The former of which confirmed via Twitter that Holiday and Lofty were a couple.

    You can see Hasbro daring further and further with each new step. While not in the show proper, this book series was still up for sale, and it was calculated risk to include Scootaloo's lesbian aunts.

    In season 7, two background stallions appear to be living together, sitting at a table together. This, however, is left vague and uncommented on by staff.

    After that, season 8 came out and it became a bit of a running gag to see Lyra and Bon Bon on dates (or at least spending time together) in the background until The Break Up Break Down, where you see them exchange Hearts and Hooves Day gifts. It seems at this point pretty clear they're meant to be special-someponies.

    Which brings us back up to the present with the #PonyPride instagram post. Seems to me Hasbro feels safe, and even a bit self-congratulatory for supporting the LGBT+ community in a small, but undeniable way.

    But, have they done enough? Too much? 

    Responding to a Few Common Arguments Against Inclusion

    This is by no means exhaustive, but I wanted to address a few of the more common arguments against LGBT+ inclusion in MLP. Not to dismiss them out of hand, but to explain my perspective now that I've gone over quite a lot of background history.

    1. I don't want politics or political agendas in my cartoon.

    Neither do I. No offence, Mayor Mare. 

    You remember from earlier how people only started understanding LGBT+ people when they were made relatable? And not, y'know, always protesting for rights?

    Well, Lyra and Bon Bon, and for that matter Holiday and Lofty, aren't here to rally for rights or fight systemic homophobia. They're characters—minor characters at that—here to live their lives and love each other in the background of the show. 

    With two-thirds of Americans in favour of gay marriage, at this point it's becoming less and less of a political statement just to include it every year (in fact, support of gay marriage is no longer exclusive to any one political party). And while it's understandable to caution against inclusion taking over everything, they make up a very, very small part of the show.

    2. Kids are too young to know about sexuality.

    Kids are too young to know about sex, definitely, but according to any number of kids media and even MLP, they're not too young to know about romance. 

    From the Princess of Love and her husband Shining Armour, to Bright Mac and Buttercup, to Big Mac and Sugar Belle, romance isn't age-inappropriate. And it isn't with Lyra and Bon Bon or Holiday and Lofty, either. All they do is hug and kiss.

    I'd recommend the gorgeous short-film In a Heartbeat to see how Dreamworks/Disney/Pixar-esque the subject can be handled.

    3. If they don't confirm things about the characters, no one's headcanons are ruined. Why limit fan imagination?

    It's Nick Confalone's headcanon that Rarijack is canon. I'm only half-joking, have you seen the way he writes them???
    Well, if we didn't want things to be developed further, we would stop watching. That way, none of our headcanons would ever be ruined. As a shipper myself, I can tell you imagination (and a pinch of denial) are more important than canon. 

    I think what this argument tends to be is a way to say the following:

    4. The show's about friendship, not romance. It should stay that way.

    Yes, it absolutely should. 100% agree. But having Shining Armour and Cadence being a couple doesn't take away from the core message about friendship. And even if a more significant character were gay, whether in a relationship or not, how would that change the message about friendship?

    Heck, I think you could make some really interesting friendship lessons, if you were creative enough. For instance, Cadence is the Princess of Love, but aside from a general love for all her subjects, we never see her helping any of her subjects with their love woes. 

    If you have to do a coming out story at all (spoilers: you don't), that would be unique way to do so, as most stories don't have a guide in helping you find out who you really are.

    I've also made the argument in the past that Equestria Girls would be an excellent place to include more LGBT+ representation. They already seem more comfortable exploring romance subplots there, and that way, it could be segmented from the main show. Just... do it a little better than Flash Sentry.

    5. We don't want to risk cancellation or unnecessary fandom drama.

    The fandom makes drama over little things already. 

    We exploded the first time when Twilight had a brother we didn't know about. I love this fandom, but the truth is, we flip our collective shit every few seasons like clockwork. It happens whether it's over LGBT+ characters or not. 

    As for MLP getting cancelled because of anti-LGBT+ parents, Steven Universe, Gravity Falls, The Loud House, We Bare Bears, and the others haven't been cancelled or censored in the U.S.

    Even when there is a stink over it these days, it doesn't affect the financial success as much as you might think. Finding Dory received some outrage and even a boycott for a baby with two moms in the background, but regardless, it ended up having the biggest box-office opening day for an animated film with $54.7 million. In a single day.

    Generally speaking, even when there is a controversy, like in the case of Finding Dory, it's usually forgotten about within a week or two.

    Mechaniding isn't as affected, either. You can even make a profit off of inclusion (though doing so ethically is a whole other set of arguments).

    A children's book based on two female characters meting and falling in love, a novelization of an episode of the same name.
    We've outlived the time where boycotts and moral outrage over this particular issue is, well, an issue. MLP hasn't died because Lyra and Bon Bon are a couple, or seem to be. And Hasbro clearly knows all this. 

    So, after all this, the big question remains: why on earth does any of this matter?

    In my perspective, the more we humanize LGBT+ people, the better. That's the big hubbub behind inclusion. Not to shove agendas in your face, but to show you people and characters who are, in the end, just like you.

    Does every show need LGBT+ inclusion? No, certainly not, but so long as there isn't a story reason why not to have it, show-writers should have the freedom to choose if they want to, and it seems MLP's staff wants it as a part of their world.

    This show has meant so much to me over the years, including Lyra and Bon Bon's slow trot canon, but the most heartwarming thing? Kids are growing up right now watching MLP and the other shows I mentioned and all this is already just the norm to them. That's why kids cartoons, and that's why MLP.

    This show has developed a loving world where everyone's already accepted, unless they're a villain (or soon to be one). No questions asked, no unnecessary "Special Episode." And to me, that's exactly the kind of world LGBT+ inclusion would be perfect in.

    It has been so far. And it's been amazing to watch this show embrace that in the casual, loving way I knew it could.

    ... Also Sunset x SciTwi forever (you know it would be better than Twimber, admit it).