Politics, it has been said, is the question of “who gets what, when, and how”*. We’re often conditioned to think about this in terms of materialistic goods and the distribution of resources. Who should pay more taxes? How do we pay for healthcare? What’s better, guns or butter? Yet, often the most divisive but fundamental questions in politics is the who. Who gets to vote? Who gets to run for office? Who gets protection against discrimination? In short, who gets to be a full and equal member of the community?
Right now, seven seasons into the show, it seems pretty clear that as far as Equestria is concerned, LGBT individuals don’t even exist, let alone get to be a part of the community.
I’ve actually been meaning to write this for a while now, and have registered complaints about it before in the case of the treatment of Bon Bon and Lyra in the 100th episode special. What prompted my finally actually sitting down and writing this was twofold. First, the recent news that a spin-off book includes an implied lesbian couple that takes care of Scootaloo, which prompted further reflection on LGBT representation in the show. Second, the usual statements that come from this type of news, particularly the claim that while they would be “totally okay it’s part of the story” they would not be okay if it was inserted because “it would be political”.
That last part, the idea that it would be “political” to include an LGBT character on the show proper is “political” but the lack of characters isn’t, is why I started off talking on politics. Communities don’t just magically appear, they are created by the decisions of the members of those communities on who is allowed to be a part of it. The decision to include is, of course, political, but for the same reasons, so is the decision to not include. That the show lacks any LGBT representation, then, is just as much a political decision as it would be to include it.
It doesn’t surprise me, though, that such an argument has been made. Heteronormativity is the idea that we have been conditioned to accept that humans fall into two distinct categories – male and female – with natural roles that align with these categories, and that heterosexual relationships are the only “normal” relationships. Any expression of gender, or relationships outside of heterosexual ones, then, are “deviant” or “abnormal.
And Equestria is pretty heteronormative when it comes to the question of relationships. Since the very first episode, when Spike shows an attraction to Rarity, heterosexual relationship have been present and considered normal. In seven seasons we’ve had:
- Spike’s crush on Rarity being omnipresent in every interaction between them
- At least three episodes that rely in part on Rarity having a crush on a male character (Blueblood, Trenderhoof)
- At least two episodes in which the CMC attempt to hook up a character within a heterosexual relationship (Miss Cheerilee, Big Mac)
- Two weddings between male and female characters (Shining Armor & Cadance, Cranky Doodle and Matilda)
- Ship teases between some version of Twilight Sparkle and a male character (Flash Sentry, Timber Spruce)
- Two births (The Cakes, Flurry Heart)
- Plenty of heterosexual married couples, from Mr. and Mrs. Cake to the shown parents of the Mane 6, including one episode dedicated to how Applejack’s parents got together
Now, absolutely none of this wrong in isolation. Relationships are a part of life, after all, and there is nothing wrong with a show wanting to explore all the ways relationships can impact both ourselves and those we care about. There’s a reason why so much fanfiction is shipping oriented after all. But the pervasiveness of heterosexual relationships throughout the show, and the lack of a fuss this creates (well, outside shipping wars), is a testament to heteronormativity. It’s not “political” to use heterosexual relationships as part of the plot, but if Twilight Sparkle had been ship teased with Sunset Shimmer instead of Flash, it would be considered as such by many.
But, as I said, the decision of who to include and who not to include in the community, fictional or otherwise, is fundamentally a political question. That it is more controversial to include LGBT characters in a children’s show – an argument that is growing weaker and weaker as shows such as Steven Universe and now Disney’s Andi Mack are being developed – does not therefore make not including them an apolitical statement, but simply a decision to reinforce the current status quo. And these decisions matter. Research by Jeremiah Garretson (available in book form next June) shows that part of the motivation for the increase in LGBT rights is the increase in sympathetic portrayals of LGBT individuals on television, both in terms of news coverage and fictional television, encouraged the development of positive attitudes as well as encouraged many individuals to come out, perceiving that their lives and experiences had value.
And that, really, is the crux of the argument: to exclude LGBT individuals from the community is to say they aren’t valued. At best, this would be that their experiences are viewed as being unimportant, but at the worst, it is to say that their experiences, their very lives, are corruptive and dangerous and must be removed or “fixed” so that they are “normal”.
It is “fortunate”, for lack of a better word, the closest the show gets to the latter position is the episode “Brotherhooves Social”, in which the character Big Mac disguises himself as a mare to participate in the Sisterhooves Social with Apple Bloom, an act that is described by Sweetie Belle as “Weird, but sweet.” While this act is not presented as corruptive or degenerate, the episode still relies on the idea that an individual identifying as something other than the gender that society has ascribed to them because of their physical sexual characteristics – in other words, a transgender individual – is an individual who is weird and whose experiences are a source of humor
So while the show claims to want to present and show off the wide range of ways in which girls can be girls, it is still fundamentally rooted in heteronormative restrictions on what is an acceptable expression of gender and attraction. Girls can be “tomboys” and enjoys sports like Rainbow Dash does, but a boy identifying as a girl? That’s perfect for “man in a dress” jokes in which we laugh at a boy thinking they can be a girl. Girls can date boys, marry them, and have children, but Bon Bon and Lyra as a lesbian couple? That’s perfect for making some “gal pal” jokes because seriously, women can’t ever be anything than best friends.
In short, My Little Pony: Friendships is Magic the show needs to do better about this, because right now, the decisions that have been made regarding which relationships get to be part of the show essentially point to one thing: LGBT people aren’t members of the community, they’re jokes.