On Being Called a Brony…the little things that make us anxious.

From the researcher’s personal collection

I’ll admit it. I have an aversion to being called a brony, even though I really do love Friendship is Magic. Fluttershy is basically my favorite thing ever. DJ Pon3 was my Facebook cover page for a really long time. I have a small collection of the McDonald’s PVC ponies underneath my Transformers Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime display. Feeling that it needed something more, I even switched out the tiny McD’s Celestia with one of the larger ones so the scale would be more show-accurate. So, presumably, my actions would belie something rather brony-ish.

But before you bro-hoof me, STOP!

(j/k about that — I totally accept your bro-hoof)

But seriously, on a very visceral level, I just don’t consider myself a brony, and when people suggest that I might be one, I have in the past quickly corrected them–“I watch the show, but I’m not a brony.” I don’t know if it is connected to particular anxieties about masculinity (I don’t think so, since I’ve watched magical girl anime like Sailor Moon and Fushigi Yuugi since I was a kid) or perhaps it’s tied to the etymology of the word fan–as in fanatic–which I have to admit makes me a little bit nervous because of its suggestion of psychological deviance.

That’s all surprising to me, because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the average brony at all. I mean, to the extent that all groups have people who do questionable things, sometimes you find a brony that is involved in something that makes you raise an eyebrow. But, on the whole, one might say that there’s nothing particularly weird about being a Brony, since it follows in a long tradition of social groups built around enjoying mediated performances of one sort or another–shows, movies, books, whatever. And as a fandom, the built-in emphasis on friendship just seems…nice. Admirable even.

And yet, to further my admission, the sense of a particular deviance is what draws me to doing research on this community. It’s my own knee-jerk reaction to being called a brony that makes me wonder why this thing that seems to me so innocuous and yet creates certain anxieties for people. It raises in them a particular sense of a transgression of social norms. Maybe that’s not fair…but it is most certainly true.

It’s okay to like these things, the little voice inside my head seems to say, but liking them together feels super weird. There’s something about that–not the fact that a man might like a cute thing, like the Viking who takes a shining to a bunny he found in a field; it’s the fact that a whole bunch of Viking dudes decided to all keep pet bunnies and started to write odes about their bunny companions to share with each other.

That’s weird to me. But I don’t know why it should be.

I’m not necessarily looking for an answer here, unless you have one, which would be great. But if you don’t have much of an answer, that’s great too.

Instead, let’s see if we can build a collection of experiences. Share something of your own personal anxieties about the show and/or fandom. Did you ever feel, in yourself, that there was something different going on, and perhaps something that you weren’t entirely comfortable with? I’ve shared that moment for me as being linked to the labeling of group identity itself, to the group affiliation that the term “brony” directly indexes in its etymology (via the word “bro”) and in its brief but spirited social history.

But where are your moments of feeling anxiety about yourself in the fandom? Is there some part of the fandom that still feels alien to you? Do, say, furries creep you out (to be clear, I’m not picking on furries here–we be cool, yo–just mentioning something that I know gets a lot of flack)? Does anyone else have anxieties with the word “brony” like I do? Or maybe you want to just tell me my anxieties are dumb and that I need to embrace the word.

– Jason R. Nguyen

9 thoughts on “On Being Called a Brony…the little things that make us anxious.

  1. I see nothing wrong with the title. I take it as it’s original description of “Older than target demographic fan of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic”.

    While I may call myself that in private, I don’t go around public with it.
    For the most part, it makes me feel a little self-conscious around other people who may or may not be fans of the show (either way, I don’t know). In regards to my love of the show, my younger brother (22 to my 24) looks to me like I’m sort of insane manchild for liking it. Of course, he does the same for the other children’s cartoons I like.
    And then there’s my 14 year old sister, you know, someone who is more in the target demographic. She wonders why I’m into it as well.

    I don’t inform anyone I know that I like it. Most I’ve revealed was when at a party someone was going around doing a survey about what others favorite TV shows were. Had I not been quite drunk at the time, I would have said any of the other more “age appropriate” shows, like “Mad Men” or “Breaking Bad” (which is what the majority of people were saying). But in vino veritas, I replied the show. Got a bit of a weird look from someone who was sitting near me.

    Another bit of awkwardness came from one of my friends. We had spent the time talking about “Adventure Time” (or more how he had just seen a few clips and had known people who watched religiously). I made the blanket statement of how there’s now “Shows for 11 year olds being discussed by 20 year olds online”. He was the one who brought up MLP. I didn’t say anything until he said he tried watching a clip and wondered “Why the rainbow one talks like Zsa Zsa Gabor?” For whatever reason, I couldn’t let this nitpick go and ask if he watched the right clip as he was simultaneously describing Rarity and Rainbow Dash, making me think that instead he had watched a G3 clip. This got me a “Freaking Brony” and a head shake, before we moved on in the conversation.

    Yeah, even after two and a half years (I got into the show in July 2011 between Seasons 1 and 2), admitting it out loud is still kind of embarrassing. I went to three Brony meet-ups, but didn’t tell my parents what they particularly were for, so I made something up. I even did the same when I left the house early one morning to catch the last showing of “Equestria Girls” in my local theatre. I didn’t want to bring up my love of the show. Although, I’m pretty sure it’s an open secret because one can somewhat see me browsing the sites on the computer. I try to move to a different tab online when I hear someone approaching, but sometimes I’m not too sure. Nothing’s been said though.

    Real cringe worthy moment came when I was driving with my brothers and they were in control of my music player and found some of my pony music on there, specifically the Beatle Bronies, a group that parodies Beatles songs with pony related lyrics. When I explained what they were, I got the near disgusted response of “Is that even legal?” and we had to listen to one of their songs.

    I think I may have tried to get another one of my friends into it, as she found some fanart and was just familiar with the fandom via general internet use. She said that she’d give the show a shot, but I never followed up and she never informed me if she had. But I believe that even if she did start to watch an episode, she still couldn’t get into it.

    Currently, it’s one of the few shows that I take the time out to watch on TV (or via livestream usually), yet I still feel incredibly self-conscious about liking it, even though I’ve been into it for years. It’s not a gender thing for me, but more of an age thing. I’m 24, yet I love a show for 6-12 year olds. That’s usually the case with most shows I watched. My sister tried to use it against me by saying that I wasn’t allowed to criticize her love of TLC’s trash TV because I “watch Ponies and Gravity Falls”. My brother is also more on the age thing. He can’t comprehend why I’d like a show that should be beneath me. But then, he can’t comprehend why I like a lot of the things I do.

    So yeah. I’m very proud to call myself a “Brony” in private, but even if I wear one of my Pony t-shirts, I feel the need to have it underneath a zipped up hoodie or button up shirt, as well as not mix it in with the regular laundry (I did that with one of my shirts and I haven’t seen it since. This was back in May). If I want to wear the shirt, I have to wash it myself separately. I don’t have many of the toys or other collectables and I keep my collection of the comics in an unlabeled covered box in my bedroom whose door is close constantly.

    Yeah, I’m just not very open about my whole love of the show.

  2. I’m completely open about being a brony. As an introvert, I don’t go talking about it (or anything else) with strangers, but all my friends, family, and coworkers know, I wear the t-shirts in public, have posters over my desk at work, etc.

    There are a lot of reasons why, even as an introvert, I don’t really mind standing out, even for something many people see as negative. They’re all kind of interrelated, but I’ll try to at least list them and maybe make some sort of sense in how I do so….

    One, I’m a life-long geek: Star Trek, Dungeons & Dragons, anime, computers, all sorts of stuff. Like many geeks, I’ve learned to respond to people looking down on me for liking those things by looking down on them for liking “normal” things. “Oh, there’s something wrong with me for watching My Little Pony? What do you watch, Jersey Shore? Pff.” It works, at least with random people on the street….

    As for people whose opinions I really do care about, they’re all very accepting. My friends and wife are all geeks, too, so of course they’re down with it (even those who don’t like MLP specifically). My coworkers respect me for my software engineering skills, and that matters to me, but what they think of my TV habits or how I dress really doesn’t (though any ribbing has been generally good-natured, because no one I work with is a jerk). Most of my family might find me odd and not quite get me, but they still love me, and it shows.

    Speaking of family, my mom has always encouraged me, since I was a little kid, to be myself and not worry what people think. So that feeds back into the first thing I mentioned and makes it even easier for me to ignore haters.

    Finally, I’m older than most bronies, and additional confidence comes with the stage of life that I’m in. I’m in my mid-30s – no, not OLD yet, but old enough to have some perspective on what matters. Calling me “immature” because I watch a kids’ show…and have built a great career, and pay my mortgage on time, and save for retirement, and take care of my family, and all the rest…is just stupid. I can’t take that seriously. The other thing that comes with this stage of life is that career success, and happy marriage, and decades-old friendships, which all mean I don’t need to worry about impressing anyone. If someone likes me for me, I may have new friend and that’s awesome – but if they’d only like some fake version of me, I really don’t have the time, energy, or need for them. (Being an introvert probably helps here, too.)

    So yes, I wear my plushy pony scarves from WeLoveFine (sooo cute!) proudly. And if someone passing me in the subway who I’ll never see again in my life yells, “Hey, nice scarf!” I smile, and don’t worry about whether it was sincere or sarcastic. Because it just doesn’t matter.

  3. In my case, I categorize my “Brony” status just something I don’t publicize. Which is odd because I have no qualms about publicizing everything else about my interests. I’m definitely an introvert which oddly enough I only started acknowledging after realizing my love of the show. It brought me some piece of mind when I really needed it.

    Getting on topic, I test the waters every so often, but so far it always leads to awkward silence. Exploring further I find myself surrounded on all sides by different collections of people buying into various hyper masculine mindsets. Even the groups that share one or two of my nerdy interests just flat out reject MLP and anyone professing an interest in the show. That’s not really the problem though. The real problem is that 99% of the people in my area are quick to judge any interest in the show as “gay” and that’s something that’s just barely quietly tolerated until you get too near a church or a bar. For the record, I work next to an Irish Pub and the church is a few doors down. One loud pony song played during a late night nearly landed me in a fight with 2 drunken goons when I finally left the office.

    So far I’ve managed to avoid trouble but I’ve more then once witnessed several gentlemen and ladies get drunk, hop into a car, and scream off into the night looking for the first person they can label with the 3 letter homosexual slur and do God knows what.

    Honestly, I’ve lived the bulk of my life surrounded by people who do not understand me and feel like it is their mission to turn me into a chest pounding drunken football fan because according to them something is wrong with me. This includes my parents and all but one of my siblings. Summed up nobody wants to see or hear anything about it. Except…

    That one sibling… my twin sister in fact… gave birth to the sweetest little girl I’ve ever met and I don’t care what anyone thinks or says. She wants to watch and talk about My Little Pony with me, and that is the best thing in the world. I love showing her new songs, artwork, and just plain having fun. Her face lights up like no other and I just know by being there and being that one oddball adult who still enjoys these things she experiences true joy. It’s moments like these that I call myself a Brony and I do it in front of the whole world.

    1. Sorry, new interface to get used to…but the question still stands; “…why?” Because its “Star Trek”… Seriously, FIM is what made the original series what it was, and why it had such strong appeal; individuals coming together, becoming friends and comrades…a team… I was a big fan of original “Star Trek”, and until recently when I found FIM, I’ve been looking for that same feeling I had when I watched those early shows. The girls don’t play the same parts that Kirk and the team do, but I get the same sense of just how strong these individuals are together; the same thing I did way back in those days when the Enterprise first started to travel.

      1. I read an interview – and I don’t remember if it was John de Lancie or someone else; I wish I could find the link to it again – where someone equated these two shows, and specifically talked about how both Equestria and the Federation were their creators’ visions of a more perfect world. I completely agree, and as someone who’s as big a trekkie as he is a brony, love both for it.

  4. When I first started watching the show I readily admit that I had serious reservations about the term brony. To me at that early stage it signified someone who was so down the rabbit hole they couldn’t recover. It was the label placed upon people who had “drunk the cool-aid” if you will. I saw it as signifying something “other” and excluded myself more out of self preservation than anything else. At the time, I enjoyed the show but I had seen nothing of the community and I felt that the term referred only to those individuals.

    My definition has loosened considerably. Today I have absolutely no anxieties about applying the term to myself. In truth, I’m very proud to wear the mantle because my definition of the term has changed and grown along with my understanding of the community. After attending meetups and going to BronyCon 2013, I have a huge respect for bronies.

    I have never before met a group of people that are as open, accepting, welcoming, or generous as bronies. They are sometimes weird, often eccentric, but they are completely unashamed in loving the things they love and sharing that joy with one another. To me, bronies exemplify all the best qualities of humanity and being one means being a generous, welcoming, happy person who isn’t ashamed to be who you are, even when society may look at you askance.

    In the end, it comes dwn to how you define it. If you chose to accept the negative definition that the media has embraced, I can completely understand the reservations about the label. If, on the other hand, you apply the attributes of the community to the term, the picture begins to change in a substantial way.

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