My Little Pony: Lesbianism is Magic

If you’ve been reading the likes of Jezebel and Wired over the past year or so, you’ve probably heard about the “brony” phenomenon: adults, particularly adult men, who love the latest incarnation of My Little Pony, called Friendship is Magic (which wrapped up its second season April 21st, but you can find the episodes on Netflix and iTunes). It’s not every day that you hear that a bunch of straight men are fascinated by a show with female protagonists, but especially one aimed at prepubescent girls and that has a reputation as the height of the sugary-pink, sparkly kind of femininity. Heck, it’s hard to find a show like that with adult women watching.

So, what makes the new My Little Pony so compelling to fanboys (and fangirls)? Well, for starters, unlike some previous incarnations of the franchise (such as the infamous “third generation”), the characters aren’t prissy flibbertigibbets who care for nothing but tea parties and pretty clothes. The show’s six protagonists run the gamut in their interests and styles, showing that, as show creator Lauren Faust put it, “there are lots of different ways to be a girl.”

MLP features tomboy characters, fashionistas, and characters who fall somewhere in between; all of the characters are shown as having depth beyond initial stereotypes, and each has her own “passion” that drives her life and is reflected in her “cutie mark” (a symbol that appears on each pony’s flank when s/he “comes of age”). Even Rarity is portrayed not as a shopaholic trend-follower, but as an artist who creates her own clothes and aspires toward a career as a designer; many of her focus episodes hinge on her running her boutique and how her designs are received by the Equestrian fashion elite (winding up in some hilarious jabs at fashion icons like Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld –- in pony form, of course). Another episode has Applejack and Rarity fighting over what to do at Twilight’s slumber party; the lesson ends up being that both extreme tomboys and hard-core girly-girls can find common ground and be friends.

via listal.com

Clockwise from center: Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Rainbow Dash.

The show also has real conflict, you guys! And real villains. Among the biggest ones are Nightmare Moon, a former princess turned evil, and Discord, a chaos-loving chimera based on Star Trek’s Q (and voiced by the same actor, John De Lancie). With so much going on, it’s no wonder that the show has developed such a huge adult fanbase, even without the sexual innuendos, constant celebrity references, or trippy moments more typical of cartoons with crossover appeal. (Not that My Little Pony doesn’t have a few pop-culture refs, as seen here.)

And with any adult fanbase comes a whole world of fan works, from fanfiction to fanart to even fan music (which ranges from original works celebrating ponies to existing songs rewritten with pony lyrics, such as this YouTube channel full of “ponified” Beatles songs). The hub for that is Equestria Daily , a My Little Pony fan blog run by and targeted at teenage and adult fans of the show. If you take some time to browse through the fanfiction posts, especially the ones with “shipping” (fan-speak for focusing on romantic or sexual relationships), you might notice something interesting, and unusual: The majority of My Little Pony shipping centers around relationships between mares.

via: marikaefer.deviantart.com

Bronies have their own ways of talking about shipping, referring to mare/mare relationships as “fillyfooling” (and relationships between stallions as “coltcuddling”). The amount of fillyfooling equals or outnumbers the amount of heterosexual shipping on many fansites. What is also surprising is how non-fetishistic these stories are. While sexual fanfic – called “clop” in the brony fandom – certainly exists (it’s Rule 34, after all), the majority of sapphic pony fanfiction I found was fairly chaste, and more focused on romance than titillation. In many respects, it was basically just a gender-flipped version of a common fanfiction phenomenon known as “slash.” Slash refers to fanfiction that focuses on homosexual relationships, usually between men (the lesbian equivalent is often clarified as “femslash”). You can read more about it in this very informative article from Bitch magazine, about the evolution of slash over the decades, from its humble beginnings in print fanzines to its movement online. Compared to the often-fetishistic depictions of girl-on-girl make-out sessions we see aimed at men in the media, women’s depictions of male/male slash pairings in fanfiction tends to focus as much on the emotional side of those relationships as on the sexual side.

It’s interesting to ponder why My Little Pony lesbian fanfiction follows the same pattern, despite being mostly written by men. In order to investigate this, I took a survey of members of various “shipping” groups on FIMFiction to gauge their attitudes about fanfiction.

Of the 74 responses I got, 59 who responded were men, the majority of whom said they were attracted to women. One of the more interesting parts of the survey was where I asked them why they liked their favorite pairings so much. Most, again, focused on emotional attractions or compatibility between the characters.

About Fluttershy/Twilight Sparkle: “They’re both nerds. As a nerd myself it’s fun to identify with that, and as a socially awkward person myself it’s even more so.”

About Rainbow Dash/Twilight: “Opposites attract and complement each other’s personalities and provide work skills balance.” Another wrote: “One of the things I really like in this ship is the playful attitude of Rainbow Dash and Twilight’s reaction to it. She tends to be brash and insensitive maybe, but Twilight can take a lot of it. I don’t think it’s because she doesn’t care, but rather, doesn’t want to make a big deal out of it. Quite interesting if this gets elaborated on.”

About Fluttershy/Rarity: “I think they would simply make the best friends and romantic partners. Both of them are soft spoken and kind to everyone (element of kindness and element of generosity just go together so well), In addition, Fluttershy has a canon ‘freaky knowledge about sewing’ (said by Applejack in ‘Suited for Success’) so she would be able to help Rarity with her work. All in all, I just think they’re the best together.”

via whitediamondsltd.deviantart.com

That didn’t mean there weren’t some more, ahem, “predictable” responses from the guys in the survey, though, like one who wrote about his shipping of Rainbow Dash with Wonderbolt captain Spitfire: “Lesbians are awesome, they are a lot like each other, furacious and fast, and that’s how I like it, giggity.” Another one wrote that he liked the idea of “human x Rainbow Dash” because it was a “personal fantasy” of his.

The last one gets at one explanation for the less-fetishistic nature of many femslash fics in the My Little Pony fandom: A lot of fans are simply grossed out by the idea of the characters having sex, for obvious reasons: they’re horses, and, well, bestiality is one of the last big taboos for a reason. In addition to that, My Little Pony is a children’s show where only a handful of plots even focus on the kissing and holding-hands (er, hooves) type of romance, and a lot of people get upset at what they see as the “pollution” of a children’s show by fanfiction featuring graphic sex scenes. The fandom has a similar reaction to stories with violence and gore; take, for example, the widespread Internet outcry against “Cupcakes,” a well-known fanfic featuring Pinkie Pie brutally murdering Rainbow Dash. Lastly, “clop” is a weapon that many non-bronies use against the fandom – thinking the only reason a grown man could be into a little girls’ cartoon is because he finds the characters arousing, so it must be the case that all bronies like it. This will, naturally, lead bronies who aren’t into clop to go on the defensive.

That said, the majority of the survey respondents said they were at least somewhat open to read clop, including with same-sex pairings, though most were careful to say they didn’t actively seek it out so much as wouldn’t be opposed to reading an otherwise-good story that included a sex scene, and that they stayed away from stories with stuff like rape, pedophilia or human/horse sex.


One other factor may be that My Little Pony fans tend to be a group that is more open to LGBT relationships and rights than average. As a result, that might lead them to view lesbian relationships as more than just fetishes. The survey also included questions on how the respondents viewed gay rights issues. A majority supported same-sex marriage, even those who said they did not have any close LGBT friends or family members. A majority said they enjoyed TV shows and movies that included same-sex relationships. And a number of the respondents were LGBT themselves. While it’s hard to draw anything conclusive about the fandom as a whole from 74 respondents mostly culled from same-sex-shipping groups, it is what I have seen to be mostly the case from my own experience with the brony fandom. Bronies have taken the motto of “I’m going to love and tolerate the shit out of you” as their response to the sexist and homophobic abuse they frequently get from outsiders, in tune with the show’s message. This can be seen in the mostly-supportive response that popular pony musician Not A Clever Pony received from fans when she came out as trans on her deviantart account.

But I’ve also heard plenty of instances where people did not feel that the brony fandom was quite as accepting. Making the brony fandom a paragon of tolerance and open-mindedness is one response to homophobic outsider commenters, but others have responded in less-savory ways, feeling the need to reaffirm their masculinity by making their brony communities less friendly to women and queer people. One of my close friends who is active in brony groups offline says he’s heard plenty of homophobia from other bronies, and feels like the fandom often isn’t very welcoming of male homosexuality compared to female homosexuality. This is something I heard again and again from fans of “coltcuddling” fics (who tended to be a fairly even mix of queer men and straight women) who responded to my survey, that there was a “double standard” in the community where male homosexual fanfiction was automatically voted down by straight male bronies who hadn’t even read it (something even acknowledged by the staff of Equestria Daily in posts about M/M fics), while those same bronies would give enthusiastic thumbs-up to lesbian-themed fanfiction. The reactions go beyond simply stating their own dislike of M/M (which was common for the straight male bronies in my survey), to actively discouraging other brony sites from posting it.

One of the other topics I discussed in the survey was the issue of subtext. Children’s cartoons have a long history of sneaking potentially “objectionable” material past the censors through the use of subtle hints, the kind only those looking for them would see. But homosexuality is still one of the most taboo topics in kids’ media; anyone who is familiar with the history of American anime adaptations knows the lengths to which networks will go to cleanse them of queer elements. As a result, many shows are afraid to even hint at it. Yet, more than a few of the bronies whom I surveyed felt there was at least some deliberate lesbian subtext in My Little Pony, and given the evidence, it’s hard not to agree with them. For instance, in “Griffon the Brush Off,” Rainbow Dash’s friend from flight camp, Gilda, is irrationally jealous of Rainbow’s other friends, and many fans felt Gilda’s behavior more closely resembled that of an ex-girlfriend than an old friend. In other episodes, the relatively minor characters Lyra and Bon-Bon are often interpreted as a lesbian couple, because they’re never seen apart. The show has occasionally responded to the fandom’s interpretations in the past, and in the episode “Hearts and Hooves Day,” about the Equestrian version of Valentine’s Day, Lyra and Bon-Bon are seen walking together in a clip with other couples celebrating the holiday. Then, in “Putting Your Hoof Down,” Bon-Bon is seen carrying Lyra’s cutie-mark bag during a scene where the characters visit a farmer’s market. Later in that same episode, Lyra is seen sitting alone at a table, looking sad, but is instantly cheered up when she sees Bon-Bon approaching and pulling out a chair. Little things, sure, but the fans sure seemed to enjoy it.

via Friendship is Magic Wiki

But we can only take so much subtext, right? If you want to see some actual lesbian relationships playing out, then you’ll need to read some fanfiction. If you’re scared off by what you’ve heard about how terrible fanfiction is, don’t be; while there’s a lot of bad stuff there — like with any art form — when it’s good, it’s really good. Life-changing, even (as one of my friends recently discovered). And as Jarrah Hodge writes at the Bitch Magazine blog:

“If people are expecting Pulitzer-caliber writing, they don’t understand what fanfic is about. There are some really great fanfics and some not-so-great ones. The most important thing is the opportunity it gives people…to explore gender identities, build a sense of community, practice writing, and express themselves without fear of censorship.”

My fanfiction recommendations (heavily biased toward my favorite ships):
1. Following a Rainbow by malikvamp: Rainbow Dash confesses her love for Applejack, and then runs away. It is up to Applejack to find her friend, and on the way, examine her own feelings on the matter.

2. Swayback Mountain by butterscotchsundae: Applejack and Rarity begin to reevaluate their feelings for each other as they take shelter during a fierce storm.

3. Secret Admirer by Thecrazyrabbidfangirl: Rarity’s imagination runs wild after she receives a series of anonymous love letters.

4. How Lyra Met Bon-Bon by butterscotchsundae: What the title says, and it doubles as the story of how Lyra and Bon-Bon got their cutie marks.

5. The Prince and the Workhorse by fellstorm: While it’s not the main plot, there is a cute side-plot involving Rainbow Dash coming out as a lesbian and exploring her feelings for Fluttershy and then Applejack, and the larger story (about a body-switch between Applejack’s brother Big Macintosh and the snooty Prince Blueblood, and the hilarity that ensues) is definitely worth reading, too. Basically, it’s the most interesting fanfic I’m following right now, and I’d recommend it to anyone as a good introduction to My Little Pony fanworks.

And if even that isn’t enough? Check out the Fillyfoolers group on FIMFiction for all your femslash shipping needs.

Enjoy, everypony! And recommend some of your favorite fanfics in the comments!

Rose is a 25-year-old Detroit native currently living in Austin, TX, where she is working on her Ph.D. in musicology. Besides Autostraddle, she works as a streaming reviewer for Anime News Network.

Rose has written 69 articles for us.

199 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed reading this actually. I was thinking this would be some sort of hate article, honestly, and I was curious what you had to say. I liked the points you made and I do think it’s true about the fanfiction and how more bronies prefer girlxgirl pairings for this show. Now, I am a brony, or well, since I am a girl, a pegasister, and I’m not huge on pairings for this show but I would support Rainbow DashxFluttershy if the show decided to put them together. Another point I’d like to make too is that I am, more than anything else, in the Hetalia fandom(Axis Powers: Hetalia (APH) is a Japanese anime where there are just about 7 girls in the show compared to 20+ guys) and the main ships for it are yaoi(malexmale). In MLP:FiM, the mane six are girls and so are most of the background cast too, same with Hetalia but with guys. I think it’s just easier to ship yuri(fxf) pairings in MLP because there are more girls and it’s easier to find possible interests for them together. I am guilty when I say that I support the yaoi(mxm) pairings in APH and that I’d be fine with the yuri pairings in this show. But, at the same time, this show doesn’t focus on making the mane 6 into couples. Let the fans like what they like and love and tolerate :)

    Just, putting it out there, I am a 16 year old girl and my sexual orientation is lesbian. I DO support gay rights because it is, quite simply, right. My sexual orientation has nothing to do with the pairings I like, I just think it’s cute and if they have possible chemistry that can be backed up, sure, let’s ship it.

    Sorry for the long comment! D:

  2. I don’t write or read ‘clopfics’ or MlP: FiM fanfiction, but I enjoy the series. And I’m a heterosexual male, near 30.

    I’ll be honest: I peaked early, intellectually. Way back at the age of 4-8, I kid you not, I comprehended the disparity between the content of boy’s cartoons and girls. Boys had neat things like Transformers, Thundercats, Ninja Turtles, G.I. Joe, the list goes on. We dominated the entertaining cartoons with sugary sweetly summarized ‘adult’ relationship stuffs. Doin’ things. Construction, morality, logic, even some way out there science fiction. It was mind expanding for little boy brains. Seriously. I can’t imagine a childhood without the animated drama and adventure. Dark humor, too.

    And then.. we young boys saw what the little girls had, and it only tore the curtain away from the fact for all we liked about our cartoons, they were just to sell toys. Because for the girls, it was just so blatant and obvious. It’s like they took everything they thought little girls liked, and then added a mix of 1:5 of everything they WANTED little girls to like, emphasize and think about, and made them cartoons. I mean, no woman walking the earth that crawled or toddled in the mid to late 80s would say G1 MLP negatively impacted their childhoods, because it was just something to be entertained by at that level of immaturity.

    So for decades after, we boys learned to bear grudges against ‘saccharine sweet’ girls entertainment. And then added things like soap operas, romance novels and other traditionally ‘feminine’ things into the pile of sour, shallow stuff that women liked, but we loved them for it anyway. Every so often, a boy might say, “You know what? Little girls get the short end of the stick when it comes to good, quality, mind expanding entertainment. Stuff that’ll do for the social brain matter of girls what sci-fi and fantasy conflict shows did for the analytical minds of young boys.” And then some of us might set off to do just that. Only to realize later, that adult men can’t produce such heartfelt, soulful things. Because women would reject them, citing a grown man that would do that would be weird, potentially dangerous, or ‘speaking down’ to young girls by patronizing and condescending. Or just subconsciously producing things we’d think girls would like, but are actually nonplussed by. So we sulk about this catch22 and just tolerate how it seemed like young girls would always just have to choose between glittery giggly teaparty princesses or graduate to catty, drama-llama teen girl TV shows.

    We knew what it’d take were female creators and heads of projects to get anywhere with this sort of thing. But it had to be organic. Somebody with XX chromosomes, a whole bunch of talent and experience, passion, and a depth of maturity would just kind of have to appear out of the ether and want to produce something healthy and entertaining for the female side of things. We knew the likelihood they had of producing anything was smaller still, because toy companies don’t care about shows for little girls. Little girls will either buy lots of pretty plastic, or jump rope outside. Plot and writing not important. And then, here it came. She’s moved on to other things now, but outside my appreciation of her product, I’ll always respect what she and the staff behind it did. The right women with the right stuff and the right philosophy just don’t seem to step up and do what needs to be done, sometimes. We don’t know why. But we can’t do it for them.

    FiM plunked out of nowhere as an answer to all the Barbie Horse Adventure and Disney Princess stuff. And it’s good. The Mane 6 are all healthy archtypes without being archetypes, labels without necessitating or being limited by the labels or ‘kinds’ of girl. The male characters aren’t limited to being dopey, deriding boogymen or bullies, the dialog feels like they actually try instead of giving it to an intern to phone the effort in and patronize to the kids with baby talk. There are little nods and winks and cameos of things those girls that bother getting into more standard ‘guy things’ will rediscover in coming decades (the ‘thumbs out’ dance Twilight did from Seinfeld, Yakkety Sax with the phoenix.)

    I’m single, without daughters (or sons, either) but I have feelings and opinions. And in my opinion, we need more things like FiM in our culture. Nothing feels tacked on or preachy, everything feels organic and healthy. It’s a girl’s cartoon that I wouldn’t feel assaulted by diabetic coma were it to turn on on a sunny saturday morning. My only disappointment is Faust was even MORE ambitious than Hsbro let her see through! The show was supposed to get more recurring villains and a few multi-part adventures.

    As for the stuff about homosexuality? I don’t see it. If you’re looking for it, you might see it. If you’re not, you may not. But I do know the fact people are so quick to jump all over a hug you give to another man as, “EEEE! A SIGN YOU MIGHT BE GAAAAY!” that it just makes the prospect uncomfortable and conspicuous where anyone can see. It kind of annoys me as a straight man that a go-getter like Rainbow Dash gets pigeonholed into the position of ‘the lesbian’ just because she’s sporty and hasn’t been written to have a male friend yet. But people, particularly people with marginalized sexualities, want somebody to represent them in media. If only to validate who and what they are. I’m not adverse to adding alternative sexualities in media for children, but I admit annoyance at people foisting it on Rainbow just because she’s competitive and athletic. That doesn’t mean I have anything against homosexuals, but it does mean I’m disappointed in how athletic girls either have to be dykes or hyper-culturally-feminine. That ultimatum hurts female athleticism.

  3. I realize that this article is quite old at this point, but nevertheless as the artist of the Rarity/Applejack image you linked to above, and as a very avid supporter of LGBT rights and representation in the media I just wanted to express how much I enjoyed this article, as well as to thank you for writing it. Although it is obviously incredibly unlikely (though not entirely impossible) that we shall ever actually see any homosexual relationships realized or even seriously implied in this series (beyond what appears to be the occasional tease done for laughs), the fact that such a large percentage of the fandom seemingly embraces or in any case does not oppose the idea in fanworks is extremely encouraging to me, and gives me hope that someday soon enough we may well see such a thing cease to be a taboo subject in children’s media. In any event, cheers once again on a great informative article, and many thanks for featuring my work.

    • I still check this periodically and I wanted to let you know I saw your comment and I really appreciate that you liked this article!

      “the fact that such a large percentage of the fandom seemingly embraces or in any case does not oppose the idea in fanworks is extremely encouraging to me, and gives me hope that someday soon enough we may well see such a thing cease to be a taboo subject in children’s media”

      This and the embrace of homosexuality in other fandoms of children’s media makes me very hopeful as well. I’m less about the optimistic about the brony fandom these days than I was when I wrote this, but I do think that it won’t be long until we see an at least very implicitly, if not explicitly, LGBT character in Western children’s media.

  4. This is very old. I’m just commenting, because it was very rarly mentioned, but sence season 2 began. He was probably the most flouresed out side character. Dr. Whooves as known by the fandom or finally recognized by Hasbro as Dr. Hooves he is very rarely talked about, and he is not fisicaly shipped he is intertwined. He also is romantically a little one sided at times but Romanticlly involved and even has a foal and adopted young mare. Derpy is his Assistant and later love.There filly/foal Dinky is a Unicorn. Derpy is the mailmare.There is many incarnations but the one who loves derpy is my favorite.Look up Doctor whooves and assistant and be inthraled.He may be a copy of Dr. Who but that just gits me interested in another show and shows how the references in MLP:FIM git you to broden your horizons Look it up on youtube There’s many caracters in the show Roseluck, Master even other Doctors you just have to look. Remember Me As I Was is another good one a little sad but good.He is the most Beleavable M/F relationship character I know.

    sorry it’s long and most of it sounds like rembling.just my first post on the net in a long long time

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  6. Somehow, I missed this posting on its debut, and have only just discovered it (and duly passed it on!). It makes me happy to see this here, as MLP:FiM’s proven to be such a joy, upending so many common perceptions of what we’re “meant” to like, regardless of age or gender; I’m delighted to see some folk indeed gave it a try, having read the article. ^_^

    I doubt anyone will see this, given the posting’s three years old now, but I’ll add a couple video recommendations:

    “Glittershell”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zt51V41_Fk
    Non-canon, but.. it takes one of the minor characters, Snails, and casts them in the position of questioning their gender (adorably).

    “Love Me Like You Do”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45EPBsd81K0
    So many adorable couples in this wonderful shipfest. ^_^

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