Of Bronies, Trekkies and Bullies

In my previous post, I promised I’d talk about what introduced me to MLP. I briefly touched on what it was like being a trekkie growing up. I glossed over the hard bits, but you probably get the point. In those days all you had to do to "prove” that you were "batting for the other team" was to prefer Star Trek, or indeed any show, over Football or Baseball. It was a much less tolerant age.

I had good reason to hate both. Whoever was in charge of network programming obviously had no clue how long those games typically ran. At least 70% of the time, the baseball game would run over, totally fubaring my attempts to record Star Trek with the VCR (midnight, every weeknight, on channel 11). The truth was I wasn't particularly interested in spectator sports even without the poor scheduling, I found the games interminable and boring.

My classmates knew there was a cure, of course. Enough threats of beatings or outright physical violence will set anyone “straight," won't it? Of course, the point is that being a trekkie didn’t really have anything to do with it. It was all about being different. The fact that I was already straight didn't really weigh into it. I was different. That was enough.

Things have changed, but unfortunately some things have stayed the same. Back at the beginning of the summer, the little guy informed me that he wasn’t going to watch My Little Pony any more. I realized that I hadn’t seen it on in a while, and had just figured it was because he'd binged on all the episodes and lost interest. Then he told me that a boy at school had told him that it was a "girl's show," and forbade him to watch it. What's more, he would “know" if my boy had watched and "make him a girl" through repeated kicks to the groin.

I was a bit stunned. It was one of those moments as a parent where you know that silence is better than the totally inappropriate words that want to come out of your mouth. There wasn't much I dared say about this “other boy.” Having survived bullies myself, I knew how powerless they can make you feel. I know first hand what happens when you put up with a bully for so long that you internalize their message: Don’t be different. Don’t be visible. Don’t stand out. It had an effect on me that I think explains a lot. I stopped trick-o-treating long before my friends did. My explanation at the time was that it started to “feel silly.” I think it was part of that fear of standing out in any way, doing anything out of the ordinary.

I stopped trick-o-treating long before my other friends because I started to “feel silly.”

As an adult, I’ve almost never felt fully entitled to express my preferences in books, TV shows, or movies, lest somebody ask “how can you like that stuff?” Even at times when I’ve been drawn out by an animated conversation about a great story, there’s always been a little voice in my head saying “That’s enough! You don’t want to be too enthusiastic. They’ll think it’s weird.” It’s even effected my health, as going to the gym when you’re not in great shape means feeling the imagined stares of those who are. The fact that my worst bully was a weight lifter has no doubt contributed to that.

As the grown up, I like to think I have at least a little bit of control over who my boy’s heroes are. I’ve been campaigning hard for Adam Savage. Adam's 10 Rules for Success is a must-read (or must watch for just about everyone.

But there’s one rule he missed.

I think he missed it because it’s become such an inborn part of his behavior, like the way we might forget “air” as a need. I’m not sure that there is an easy way to phrase it, but it comes down to not letting other people decide when you should be embarrassed. You like what you like. What you do for fun is because you find it fun and you don’t have to justify it to anybody. Adam has made a career out of doing things in front of a camera that sometimes failed spectacularly, or seemed stupid in retrospect (like feeding his lower lip to a vacuum cleaner blower). Did he ever get embarrassed? Probably. Did he let that stop him? No.

Each year, Adam dons a cosplay costume at SDCC and walks the floor. For this boy who sat home on Halloween, the thought of doing this makes me squirm. Yet I know it would be so fun if I could just silence the bullies within.

It might be too late for me, but it's not for my boy. I'll do whatever it takes to keep him from developing the inner bullies. I did my best to comfort him about the bully, and offered advice about talking to teachers and to us when there are threats or physical violence. We’ve also kept his current teacher informed of the situation.

The day after he told me, I sat down on the couch and started watching My Little Pony. This was Dad watching it. If he wanted to be in the same too, that was entirely up to him. Having Dad watch it with him seemed to say that it was OK, and he was allowed to enjoy it too. His enjoyment of the show returned as he explained the numerous characters to me.

There was just one side effect. I got hooked. I, a grown man, got hooked on “A show that was made for just little girls.”

I call BS, but I should probably save that for another post.