I, like many others in the world of geekdom, have been deeply moved and troubled by the story of Michael Morones. Should you click that link you will be cast, most likely unprepared and without tissues handy, before a story of an eleven-year-old boy who tried to hang himself after receiving constant abuse over his unrepentant love for My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
Although unsuccessful, he is on life-saving machines and has not regained consciousness.
[Note: Since I first began writing down my thoughts, Michael’s condition has improved, and he is currently in stable condition.]
He may never. It is very unlikely he will fully recover, and life will certainly be different from here on.
I don’t know Michael, but I know children like him. One of them, I’ll call him Max, is my neighbor. He’s played with my kids for many years, and though he has felt the pressure from the boys he plays with to cut back on playing with girls, he still does. He also likes lots of “boy” things–“boy” shows, “boy”movies, “boy” games, the whole lot of it. But when he was playing over at our house at a time when My Little Pony was on you could see he was conflicted. He wanted to watch the show, but he was also being very conscious to not watch the show, or at least not getting caught watching the show.
“This is one of my favorite episodes,” I said. His eyes doubled in size and looked at me like I was testing him somehow.
“You watch My Little Pony?”
“Yes, I do,” I said. “I think it’s fantastic writing, and really funny.”
His whole body eased, and he dropped down into a chair to watch with the rest of my kids. So did I, right after I made some popcorn for everybody. And afterwards we all quoted our favorite lines from the episode at random throughout the afternoon.
Am I a brony? Yes, I believe I am. I even have a copy of the Brony documentary. And a pony of my very own:
The culturally aware amongst you might recognize Derpy Hooves (although some purists forego the fan-dubbed name in favor of the working name of Ditzy Doo that was originally conceived for the character). I love Derpy BECAUSE she’s a bit of a weirdo, and BECAUSE it’s easy to mock her but she doesn’t give a damn, and BECAUSE her expression is how I feel regularly. My kids know when I’m self-identifying when talking about her because I will accidentally slip into the pronoun “he” and they’ll say “Are you talking about Derpy or you now?”
As an adamant anti-bullying activist, I always want to be clear in expressing the idea that it is okay to like the things you like. Even more, it’s okay to like the things you like, even if those things are crap. I will probably never be able to restrain myself from making fun of the Packers, Justin Bieber, or the Twilight series. However, it should be clear that I am making fun of THEM, and not YOU, if you like them. It is a fine, but an important distinction (one that “Weird” Al Yankovic–or Cheese Sandwich, if you will–could appreciate).
You see, I don’t like to categorize things into “girl” things and “boy” things. Just “well-made” and “crap.” My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is well made. Bratz is crap. Littlest Pet Shop is crap, but harmless, so I guess there’s a third category. As someone who heavily favors function over form, well made always appeals to me. If I needed a new bread maker and the only one that did what I wanted reliably and without breaking down was hot pink, I would buy it and I would use it.
Because I travel to schools and talk to kids both young and old, I have always tried to work in the message of not being ashamed of liking the things you enjoy. In the past I’ve worked in references to gamer girls and men who dance and occasionally even sexy mathematicians. I’m adding a new element to some of my presentations on behalf of all kids like Michael. My kids help me “ponify” myself, and I’m going to use it as my new author page profile image for a while, but I’m also going to incorporate my fledgling bronyhood into my presentations without flinching.
I wish it were surprising that a person could look at a boy with guts enough to openly and honestly like something against the grain and then label that boy as somehow less masculine for their bravery. But perhaps with enough bronies we can start to buck that trend.