On Moé, the Queer Female Gaze, and Representation

An article on The Mary Sue about moé caused a bit of a stir on my Twitter feed a few weeks ago, mostly because the author was constantly defending herself against asinine hate comments by people who either read the headline and nothing more or skimmed the article without comprehending its content or aims, or without the understanding that when you’re freelancing for a publication, you typically have word count limits that prevent you from going into extreme depth on a subject. Even if you don’t have a word count limit, you’re still writing content for the web, which means that pieces can’t run super long.

And I know you’re all rolling your eyes at me because I’m the queen of writing analytical blog posts over 1000 words. Anyway, word count limits and other editorial boundaries aren’t things that folks who are just fans or readers would necessarily consider right off the bat, but I think it’s important that people keep it in mind so we can show some grace when criticizing pieces.

Personally, I liked the article. I thought it introduced an otherwise murky and nuanced conversation within anime fandoms in an accessible way to people who don’t know about it at all or don’t pay too much attention to it (like me–of course I’m aware of moé and all the talk about how it’s a great escape or it’s the death of anime, but I haven’t been an active participant in the discussion). Others weren’t so keen on it and resorted to harassing the author, which honestly just proves feminism’s general point that conducting a feminist analysis or critique on any sacred cow will inevitably draw visceral reactions from those who drink the milk of said cow. Thankfully, there’s been some mature critique of the article.

Even though I’m out of touch with recent anime, all of this discussion got me thinking about another angle to the conversation: the awkward space wlw occupy when we’re watching or experiencing moé.


I’ve talked about this a bit in the past with yuri anime and the tension with it being representation on one hand, but not necessarily for wlw on the other hand. Even so, I watched Sakura Trick and enjoyed it, meaning I was in the audience despite the creators’ alleged intentions. From my perspective, what’s not to like? The main characters are girls. The series focuses on the development of their relationship in addition to some racy scenes. Some of those scenes broke my engagement with the show, but not all of them. Yet sometimes the discourse around critiquing the male gaze also insists that the presence of queer women kissing or otherwise expressing their sexuality on screen is clearly catering to straight male audience members. Maybe this is true in terms of authorial intent, but queer women become an audience in spite of this intent.

I go back to something a coworker said to me many years ago when Orange is the New Black first came out. To her, the first few minutes of the first episode, which shows Piper and Alex having sex in the shower, was clearly for the male audience, as if it were totally inconceivable that a woman could possibly enjoy or relate to that scene.

I’ve noticed a similar dynamic, similar assumptions when talking about moé (and yuri–there’s a lot of crossover). Lots of people categorize plain old moé as those series with a cast of cute girls doing cute things which cater to straight men’s fantasies. When talking about “moé for women,” people point to BL or implied BL like Free! Yet neither of these categories fits my own experience as an audience member.

I watch stuff like Sakura Trick and I’m like “cool, a cute tropey high school romance where the queerness isn’t subtext for once. Look at these goobers kiss.” At the same time, random boob shots in otherwise nonsexualized scenes appear and I’m like “okay can u not? I was trying to listen to what she’s saying.”

As an unintended audience member, I’m always in that awkward space where I can watch a moé or yuri series and dig it for the most part, yet certain things will pop up reminding me that I’m not a consideration. I’m not supposed to be in the theater, so to speak, but I’m here anyway.

And that’s where reader-response criticism lets us acknowledge the validity of audience reception and experience of a text. Authorial intent is important and the authorial intent for most yuri and moé series is to cater to straight men while the intent for many BL and yaoi series is straight women. However, authorial intent is not the end of a text’s message or impact.

So, I think any feminist critique of moé needs to acknowledge that queer women are this unintended audience and that our experience both aligns with and detracts from these fantasies intended for straight men. Otherwise, the critique will fall into the trap of continuing the legacy of feminism being a cishet woman’s movement.


Transcendence and Subtlety in Queer Ships

Queer erasure and censorship in media isn’t a new problem. Although things have certainly changed in recent years, overt representation of queer women in cartoons (and anime to a lesser extent) is still pretty sparse. Where it does occur, it’s sometimes embedded in some type of spiritual or transcendent narrative in which the transcendence of one or both partners acts as an ambiguous confirmation of their relationship. At the same time, transcendent narratives present profound themes that tie to larger ideas in the show. Korrasami and Utena x Anthy are two examples of queer lady ships in which transcendence or connection with the spiritual exists in tension with the ambiguity of their relationships.

Korrasami: Nonphysicality and the Spirit World

An image shows Korra and Asami facing each other in the glow of a spirit portal while holding hands.

Over a year ago, I joined with the rest of the Internet gushing over the Legend of Korra series finale. Subsequent Tumblr posts from Mike and Bryan confirmed Korrasami, which fueled ongoing debates about Korrasami’s value as queer representation. Did Bryke do their best in the face of network censorship, or should the queer community reject Korrasami for being barely more than breadcrumbs (as portrayed just in the series itself)? Does good queer representation mean that there cannot be any ambiguity about the relationship by the time a series ends, especially in light of people who stress that they’re just “gal pals”?

There may not be a straight answer.

Puns aside, I do think we can glean some good meaning from what we see of Korrasami’s relationship in those last moments as they hold hands and enter the portal to the Spirit World. To start, we need to compare Korra and Asami’s relationship with the relationships they have with Mako.

Because overt heterosexuality is permissible (and assumed) in children’s animation, Korra and Asami’s respective relationships with Mako contain that physical element. Both Masami and Makorra happened fast. One minute, Asami runs into Mako with her moped and does a hair flip. The next minute, they’re dating. Though Makorra happens a little slower than that, it’s still canon by the end of season one. Compare that to the three seasons it took for Katara and Aang to get together. Physical attraction or infatuation likely cause these quick hookups. Neither Korra nor Asami has much time at all to get to know Mako before dating him (and being physical with kisses and such). Mako and Korra do know each other a little bit better before they officially start dating, but Korra spends most of Book 1 with “Mako blinders” on, so to speak. He’s cool and charming and great, but Korra doesn’t actually know if they’re compatible. Both of them rush into their relationship and it’s clear by Book 2 that that they have no clue how to be with or support each other. It’s the same with Mako and Asami. In Book 3, Korra and Asami place the issue squarely on Mako’s inability to understand his own feelings or what he wants.

But during this Makorra and Masami dance, Korra and Asami begin their friendship. Korra is the reluctant one. In her brash judgments, she decides that Asami is her competition for Mako and is nothing more than a prissy heiress. Asami, however, shows nothing but respect and kindness for Korra. So as their friendship really starts to grow in Book 3, both could very well be attracted to each other in the same way that they were attracted to Mako. However, their history with him may compel them to actively and intentionally deny physicality. They both remember what happened the last time they rushed their feelings for someone they liked and they don’t want another burnout. So, they choose nonphysicality and spirituality becomes entwined with it. Asami is the one who requests the vacation to the Spirit World, of all places, so whatever is starting between her and Korra is intimately connected with the spiritual.

Now, technically speaking, holding hands is a physical act, but when we think of “physical” in terms of romantic relationships, we typically mean more than hand-holding. The absence of kissing or the types of touch one would usually have only in the context of a romantic relationship is what makes Korrasami “nonphysical.” However, their relationship is still deeply affectionate and there are plenty of examples, especially throughout Books 3 and 4, of the care they extend to each other.

Abstaining from physicality has some precedence in the Avatarverse. During Aang’s training with Guru Pathik, he’s encouraged to let all earthly attachments go when opening his chakras, which include the physical needs of his body and emotional ties, particularly his love for Katara. There’s this notion that being free of all tethers to the world will lead to a greater connection with the divine. Aang is ultimately unable to renounce his attachment to Katara and that’s the end of that.

Korra and Asami do have an attachment to each other, yet they are easily able to enter a spiritual realm. Part of this is because the plot of Legend of Korra allows for this, but I think another way to look at it is as an affirmation that earthly relationships can be windows into spirituality if they’re built on foundations other than physical gratification. This doesn’t mean physicality is bad. It just means that it isn’t a lasting foundation and Korra and Asami have learned that through their relationships with Mako.

Yet doesn’t Korrasami’s ambiguity as shown in the series make it too easy to dismiss them as “just gal pals”? That’s the constant tension of transcendent queer relationships. Because their affections are not or cannot be explicitly shown, these relationships take on many metaphorical elements. When relationships are up for interpretation, fans tend to categorize them on one end of a binary or another. They’re either just friends or they’re dating.

I don’t think this binary is particularly helpful in talking about Korrasami because I see both strong friendship and romantic love between them, which I’ve expounded on in other pieces on this blog. Moreover, their relationship suggests more of a spectrum than a binary. This quote sums it up nicely:

“Friendships include love and power, embodiment and spirituality. . . .Women experience these dynamics to various degrees in everyday friendship. . .sexuality, as most women see it, is an integrated part of everyday human interaction–whether touch, embrace, caress, or more intimacy. The prioritization of friendship based on women’s experiences offers a different starting point for sexual choices. Friendship becomes the bedrock of all love relationships. It is a good foundation” (Hunt, “Love Your Friends: Learning from the Ethics of Relationships,” Queer Christianities, 140).

Being friends doesn’t exclude the possibility of romantic relationship. Friendship is the substance on which relationships thrive. Korra and Asami spend Books 3 and 4 making that foundation solid. Their friendship shouldn’t be used to discount or eliminate romantic attraction because doing so results in lesbian and bisexual erasure. Instead, their friendship ought to be seen as the grounding of their relationship–whatever it may be when they disappear through the spirit portal. Who knows what the comics will bring to their relationship? If we get lots of scenes of their vacation in the spirit world, there could be more to say about how their relationship connects to the divine.

Utena x Anthy: Someday, Together


Everything about Revolutionary Girl Utena is a metaphor and that includes Utena and Anthy’s relationship. So, it makes sense that their relationship has this ambiguous, transcendent element. Utena and Anthy’s ambiguity fits with what the rest of the show presents. In a way, defining the relationship as anything would almost take away from its compelling mystery.

In the past, I’ve framed Utena as a Christ figure and the events of the last couple of episodes in the series as a salvation narrative. Utena’s death/transcendence and Anthy’s possible immortality makes their relationship go beyond the physical world, which therefore places them in a space where logic and clear definitions can’t fully grasp what’s going on. And as someone who talks about “divine illogic,” that’s totally cool with me–profound, even. Utena now exists in some intangible world outside of Ohtori Academy and Anthy, having been given a way out of the same cycle through Utena’s “death,” follows her on that journey, hoping to reunite with her someday. It’s subtly romantic in the context of other moments they have throughout the series, but it’s also quite spiritual because of this sense of passing and breaking through a seemingly unbreakable cycle. It’s not as blissful and Korra and Asami walking into the spirit portal together, both clearly alive, but it still has that element of a relationship carrying over into another world.

For me, if queer relationships must be subtle or undefined, they should be so in connection to the divine because at least it serves some greater narrative purpose and contributes to interesting themes. Many may disagree, especially those who are not particularly religious. But should ambiguous and transcendent queer relationships be the new norm? Are they merely a convenient way to avoid explicit representation so that heteronormativity can remain comfortably unchallenged?

Steven Universe, among many things, is showing both overt queerness and a connection at least to the illogical. I’d expect this given its several homages to Revolutionary Girl Utena. There isn’t yet any sort of divine realm in Steven Universe (the diamond matriarchs could be the closest the show will get to divine figures), but there’s certainly a narrative of queer love and transcendence.


Rose Quartz and Pearl encompass several Revolutionary Girl Utena references. The most obvious is the connection between Rose and “the Rose Bride.” In this sense, Rose is more of an Anthy figure. She’s always depicted in a white gown and she’s the one Pearl is always fighting for. Pearl, then, is Utena because she fights with a sword and some of her fight scenes parallel those in Utena. On the other hand, Rose is most like Utena because she’s the one who dies/takes on another form in Steven. This makes Pearl Anthy, as she’s trying to live on in Rose’s legacy.

Either way, the show makes it very clear that Rose and Pearl had feelings for each other. Plus, Rose at least has this transcendent/illogical element to her nature. There’s still a lot we don’t know, but Rose and Pearl show that telling a transcendent story doesn’t necessarily mean that queerness must be so vague that it’s easy to dismiss.

Garnet is especially illogical. She’s a fusion of two different gems, which was unheard of before Ruby and Sapphire accidentally fused. Garnet is the result of a relationship filled with such a deep love that she’s not only stable and very powerful, but she also confounds other characters just by existing (especially Peridot). Additionally, there’s nothing hidden or censored about Ruby and Sapphire’s relationship.

Steven Universe is breaking many molds while maintaining its popularity. It just may set a precedent for future stories that explore themes of transcendence and queerness. They do not have to be so subtle that they leave room for dismissal, but we can still find things worth analyzing in those subtle stories.

I’m On Goodreads!

I know, it only took me 600 years to get an account.

Feel free to add me!

Also, I think the time has finally come for me to get a Kindle. I still love print books, but I don’t have room for all of them. Mostly, I want to buy ebooks of my used books (because buying used books does not directly support authors) and buy nonfiction books that are otherwise huge tomes, or expensive.

A lot of the used nonfiction books I have actually aren’t available on Kindle, so I’m stuck there, but I still have a list of 15 ebooks that I’m gonna buy to replace the print versions and/or buy to pay the author.

I’m leaning hard toward the Paperwhite since I don’t want a tablet. Theoretically, I could just read on my phone and that’s what I’m doing for now, but the phone screen is a bit too small.

I absolutely still have print books and will continue to read them, but I know a lot of theology is in my future and I don’t necessarily want to have a 600 page book about Dietrich Bonhoeffer sitting in a stack on my already full bookcase. Plus, I should be able to sync everything to my desktop and that’ll be super helpful when I’m looking to cite something in a blog post.

I’m gonna attempt to keep to a biweekly schedule here. Between work, kung fu, and church commitments, I have a lot going on every day of the week and need to reconfigure my writing time.

Over on Tumblr, I’m taking fiction prompts to celebrate 100 followers. Send me one! Otherwise, I’ll just keep finding prompts on my own.

Finally, I need to plug this Sailor Moon book called Her Eternal Moonlight. It examines the impact Sailor Moon has had on women in North America and is a great nostalgia trip for all of us 90s kids. I’m one of the many interviewees and plan on writing up more detailed thoughts once I read it. On my Kindle. That I’m gonna buy.

Anyway, be my friend on Goodreads, send me fiction prompts, and check out the Sailor Moon book. Good talk, team.

Some Love for The Get Down

In this era of Netflix, stories that wouldn’t have had much of a chance on TV 15 years ago now get their own spotlight and can spawn fandoms overnight. We’ve seen this with Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, Sense8, and Stranger Things. My question is: where’s the love for The Get Down?


The Get Down takes place in the late ’70s during one of the worst periods for those living in the Bronx. Featuring a cast that is almost entirely black and/or latinx, The Get Down tells the story of the birth of hip-hop and rap in the age of disco despite the depraved conditions of neglected neighborhoods and the unsavory business people get into just to make enough money to pay for rent and food. It has a cheesy love story, a fantastic soundtrack, and hints of upturning the homophobia it has to portray given the time period.

Fans of Hamilton should find plenty to like in this series. Revolution and hip-hop and possibly bisexual characters? You’ve got that here. Supporters of diversity in fiction will find representation that is varied and dynamic. The show touches on racism, on finding a way out of poverty while still trying to maintain a sense of your roots, and on the blossoming of new art despite all the surrounding destruction. In their own respective ways, two of the main characters, Mylene and Zeke, turn to music to make something of themselves. For Mylene, it’s disco and she’s often chastised for all that “white singing.” For Zeke, it’s the emerging underground hip-hop scene, which conflicts with opportunities he receives to succeed in the white world.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the series for me is how Mylene ends up adding a disco flair to a worship song and that single goes from the sanctuary of a church to the sanctuary of a gay club, becoming an anthem for the gay community and solidifying Mylene’s single as a hit. And yes, gay clubs were and still are sanctuaries for many people. They had to be, especially when the church did not allow gay people in their own sanctuaries. Rare was the gay person who heard a message of liberation and freedom for them in a church sanctuary in the 1970s, yet The Get Down has that message reach them anyway. Although gayness only starts to come to the forefront near the end of the first season, I see and hope that the series will explore it more in depth. 1977 is not even ten years after Stonewall. If Dizzee and Thor get a story line that’s just as campy as Zeke and Mylene’s, while also confronting the realities of trying to exist as queer people in the 1970s, then that’ll be yet another untold story brought to life.

I also hope, but won’t necessarily hold my breath, that religion will get a more dynamic portrayal. Yes, the ultra-fundamentalist Christian pastor father narrative creates a lot of drama and tension, but I’m quite tired of that being the only type of Christianity I ever see in media (which is why I use progressive Christianity in my own writing). The show’s creators have some alternative religious narratives to choose from, such as the United Church of Christ’s growing acceptance of and compassion toward LGBT people in the 70s. Of course, as I’ve expressed several times in the past, the comfortable narrative to go with is the conservative one.

Even so, The Get Down is just a fantastic story. It’s a bit over-the-top at times, which is fine by me as an anime fan, but it totally deserves just as much love and fandom as so many other series have right now. Part of it is that the show was only released a month ago, but I do hope the love picks up some steam.

On Loving Rarity and Unlearning Internalized Misogyny

I fully realized/accepted during BronyCon 2016 that Rarity is my favorite pony.


Technically, I more or less knew this last year and it should be obvious given that I spent a good five minutes talking about her in my 2015 panel. However, I still maintained that I didn’t really have a favorite pony.

At first, this choice seems a bit strange. After all, I’m not particularly feminine in my daily life nor do I aspire to be. I’m not a seamstress. I don’t care about the latest fashion trends. I don’t have a posh accent.

No, I’m nothing like Rarity unless perhaps we’re talking about generosity and loyalty to friends.

So how the hecky is she my favorite pony? Those who know me best would expect Applejack or Rainbow Dash or Twilight Sparkle to be my pick because I’m more like them than any of the others.

But for me, this turned out not to be about who I most identify with, but rather who is the hardest to love and who helps me unlearn internalized misogyny. The answer is Rarity.

According to survey results from the Brony Study team in 2014, Rarity is in last place as a fan favorite. I understand why. Her character design screams femme fatale and she certainly has her moments of being utterly insufferable.

I mean, I think she’s adorable and charming, but I digress.

Growing up, I dissociated myself from anything extremely feminine whenever I had the choice and whenever I wasn’t trying to be semi-attractive in a vain attempt to have my life follow the promises of compulsory heterosexuality. I thought Barbies were cool for a second, but most of the time I hated them and instead chose to play with Legos, Pokemon, dinosaurs, race cars, and stuffed animals. I created epics where any female characters who were like Rarity were villains, homewreckers, or stupid because that’s the message I internalized early on.

I hated girly things. Hated them. I knew that I wasn’t stupid or rude or bad, so I didn’t want to look like someone who was. When it came to the dichotomy between girl next door and femme fatale, I wanted to be on the protagonist’s side.

As I got older, I started adopting some aspects of traditional femininity because I chilled out a bit and because I really, truly believed that my life would become the youth group dream: meeting a nice, Christian man and having 2.5 kids raised in a strong, Christian home.

That dream unraveled in many ways, but stayed the same in some others. I’m not gonna get into that now. The point is that feminine expression became something that I just grew used to and accepted as something I just had to do eventually. A lot of it wasn’t so bad when I tried it.

But I don’t think I ever dealt with that internalized hatred against all things feminine.

Then along came My Little Pony, which my childhood self would never have touched with a ten foot pole. All it took was my roommate showing me the first episode of the pilot and I was hooked. This show had a story! It reminded me of Sailor Moon!

And it had a squad member who was extremely girly.


However, I realized that Rarity carries herself differently than most characters like her. In fact, everything about Rarity is nuanced and it’s easy to miss those nuances if we dismiss her too quickly.

In the season 1 pilot, Rarity is confirmed as the element of generosity when she gives Steven Magnet her tail to replace the side of his mustache that had been torn off. At first glance, this seems like a pretty weak way to show generosity since it’s so grounded in fretting over outward appearance. However, I don’t think Rarity or Steven Magnet’s particularities about their appearance comes from being insecure or having self-esteem issues. Instead, I see their particularities as specific expressions of identities that they are quite comfortable with. Rarity knows who she is as an artist and an individual. Her fabulousness on the outside is an outpouring of the fabulousness on the inside. She gets upset when her mane isn’t coiffed because the outer self is not accurately representing the inner self.

How do we know that Rarity has such a strong sense of self and that the dresses and makeup are not impermanent ways of creating self-confidence where none exists?

Well, I think the answer is that Rarity is posh despite her family.


Neither her parents nor Sweetie Belle are as flamboyant in their dress or mannerisms as Rarity is. The family isn’t at the top of Equestrian society nor do any of them show signs of wanting that life, so where did Rarity get it from? Perhaps she’s rebelling against an uncouth and mediocre upbringing. This could be why she and Applejack clash so much at first. Yet to distinguish oneself so much from one’s family suggests a powerful and secure sense of identity.

So I think Rarity very much knows who she is and she has very specific ways of declaring that to the world. This doesn’t mean that she never struggles with confidence issues–look at that whole Trenderhoof thing.

What’s refreshing about that episode, at least, is that the “desirable” version of femininity is the practical, worker type that Applejack exhibits. Many other times, when a girl in the TV show or movie is changing how she looks to impress a boy, she does so by becoming more traditionally feminine. Rarity tries (terribly) to become the opposite of herself for someone besides herself. That is among many reasons why her attempts are so laughably bad. Another is that her self as a fashionista is too strong to be contained. That inner fabulousness will always exert itself.

That inner fabulousness may also be why Rarity does things like choose the perfect hat for a stranger without being asked. On one level, it could be an intrusion (no one asked you, Rarity!). On another, it could be that Rarity perceives and inner fabulousness in everyone and constantly looks for ways to bring that out. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes she gets too caught up in playing by the rules of Equestrian high society (or helping others to play by those rules) that she forgets to focus on inner fabulousness.

Maybe all of this only makes sense to me, but that’s okay. I’m still not that feminine in my gender expression and probably won’t be for a lot of reasons (unless it’s 100 degrees outside or I’m in a wedding party), but I love this idea of not being particularly feminine myself and yet loving a very feminine character. It compels me to reject the tendency to roll my eyes and dismiss those girly girls.

The Gospel of Bronycon

This past weekend, I attended my second Bronycon as a panelist. I reunited with my teammates from last year and we presented a panel called “Cutie Marks and Branding: The Importance of Social and Mythological Identity Formation Among Friends.” The turnout was great and we got overwhelmingly positive feedback on our presentation! One person even said ours was the best panel they’d been to at the con up to that point.


The panel covered the very, very broad topic of identity. Brian Newby began with providing basic definitions of identity and of “normal” vs. “deviant.” Bill Ellis then explored identity in a mythological sense, particularly with the heroes and villains of MLP. I grounded these ideas in cutie marks as an exploration of identity within the show itself (in other words, basically using a New Criticism approach) and then looked at what happens when we fans bring our own understandings of identity to the show as we watch it (i.e., Reader Response Criticism), specifically in the case of “Brotherhooves Social” and the discussions around it being helpful/harmful trans representation. I’ll add a link to the video recording once it’s available.

During the panel, Purple Tinker, who founded Bronycon, got word of the discussion and she started giving away pride flags at her booth in the vendor’s hall. Stay tuned for a guest post from her about this topic!

I did a couple last-minute things as I finalized my portion of the panel and the result is that I lowkey took y’all to church. First, I included this slide:

A Powerpoint slide says, "No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you are loved."

This is a slight modification of a common refrain in the United Church of Christ, which goes, “No matter you you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”

I felt that this message was in line with all of the affirmations I heard throughout the weekend. “You are important. You matter. You have a community here. You are not alone.” All of these were spoken in the face of struggling with suicidal tendencies, recovering from addictions, healing from bullying, and so many other hurts.

The second way I lowkey took y’all to church was by leading the audience in singing a modified version of “This Little Light of Mine.” We sang “This Cutie Mark of Mine,” which makes perfect sense for the panel topic and the MLP fandom as a whole.

If only we had a Hammond! The closest we got was the neat Gothic choir music they played before the panel began (if it were up to me, I’d have gone with Kyrie Eleison).

However, I saw so many other examples of the gospel at work over the weekend and it honestly seems like another instance of God working with and through the least likely and least “qualified” communities.

We all know that My Little Pony has a bad reputation specifically because of bronies. Sometimes, there’s this sense that no upstanding feminist would bother with the series or the fandom because there’s always a brony who’s misogynistic and/or creepy and the most feminists ought to do is point out the fact that he’s a brony to explain that he’s a misogynist.

I’m not dismissing criticisms of misogyny within the fandom or ignoring the problems folks have with giving more attention to the shock value/transgression of men liking ponies than to all the awesome female empowerment the show has to offer. In fact, this is why I talk about this series through my experience as a woman and focus more on what it does for girls/women. Plenty of folks talk about bronies redefining masculinity and while I have no problem with that discussion, I do feel like people often stop the conversation at what the show does for bronies and what bronies do for the show. And I get it. It’s not as weird for me to like My Little Pony because I’m a girl, hence why the whole girl empowerment aspect isn’t as sensational.

As with any fandom, there’s a lot of crap that makes people say, “why would you associate yourself with these people?” That’s a big reason why I typically don’t get deep into fandom drama. Yet as a Christian, I’m quite used to loving and being involved in something with a terrible reputation. Yes, there are unsavory aspects of the MLP fandom. Maybe some unsavory things happened to some people at Bronycon. I can’t dismiss that possibility, but this is what I saw:

I saw Tara Strong, who voiced your entire childhood, give a signed Derpy plushie to a girl who flew in all the way from Belgium and had been struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts due to bullying–to the point of needing professional help. Tara invited the girl and her sister on stage and told her she was beautiful, loved, cherished–all of these affirming things. When she handed over the Derpy plushie, she said she chose Derpy because Derpy isn’t perfect, but everyone loves her anyway.

I saw a young man crying while standing in line for the microphone at the bullying Q&A panel. Another young man standing in front of him held him for the longest time. A middle-aged woman rubbed his back. A Princess Celestia cosplayer rose from her seat to give him a hug.

I saw a panelist pause and try to gather himself while sharing his experiences with alcohol addiction and how My Little Pony approaches the topic of recovery.

I saw over $27,000 raised for charity.

I saw a teary-eyed vice con chair describe attendees who had gathered in the main lobby to prepare care packages for the homeless around the convention center. I’ve seen this happen at church conferences, but never fandom conventions.

I saw the last few minutes of an accessibility panel where people shared creative ideas on how to make even loud events like the rave party more accessible to attendees with noise sensitivities. I’m sure there were many other great ideas as well.


I saw a Princess Celestia and a Princess Luna cosplayer read letters written to their characters over the course of the weekend. Some letters rehashed hilarious memes. Others told the saddest stories.

“Dear Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, my best friend died five years ago. I was at a pony convention when I found out. I still struggle with feeling alone.”

“Dear Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, this world is full of scary things. Cops killing people. People killing cops. I wish you could come to our world to teach us more about friendship. Signed, nobody important.”

To which the Princess Luna cosplayer emphatically replied, “You are very important. Every. single. one of you.”

For all of these reasons, I understand why so many people feel like the MLP community is their home and conventions like Bronycon their sanctuary. I know how freeing and healing it is to find that second family. I’ve found mine at my church, which makes me a rare case among people my age.

Even so, I strongly believe that all works like what I described above are God’s works. God is present through all things and meets us where we are. That includes people of little or no faith who also face constant misunderstandings about their views and yet have found a community in the MLP fandom.

What can the church learn from these happenings at Bronycon and vice versa? What would it look like for these two very different communities to work together? Joint service projects built into the con schedule that attendees could choose to sign up for?

It’s funny because while I was happy to be going to Bronycon this weekend, I was also bummed that I’d be missing church. Instead, God reiterated the theme of UCC General Synod 2015:

Grace in unexpected places.

On Narratives and Hate Crimes


Whenever systemic sins rear their ugly heads and people die, there are narratives that spin around in our minds and on social media. The stories we tell ourselves, more often than not, perpetuate fear and otherization. In the case of the Pulse shooting, they also revive age-old narratives of death as divine justification. They create narratives of feigned support from people who, on a regular day, don’t care about LGBTQ+ people or actively work to exclude them from churches, jobs, bathrooms, and other spaces we occupy in modern life. The difference between narratives calling this a terrorist attack and those calling it a hate crime are already implicit. We can sense where the dividing line falls.

But the complete narrative is much more complicated than that, isn’t it? What happened at Pulse was both a terrorist attack and a hate crime. Regardless of who the perpetrator is, I consider all mass shootings terrorist attacks.

Yet we have our narratives at the ready to respond to the aftermath of anything. As a writer, I understand the power of words, of narratives. It’s one reason why I enjoy analyzing fiction so much and why so many people care about diverse representation in media.

Some people now, in telling their narratives, would want me to hate Muslims. These folks are often the same ones who advocate for bathroom laws and misquote Scripture at me, my friends, and my church family. Others, in telling their narratives, are placing the bulk of the motive for this incident on homophobia as expressed through the Christian right. As more details come in, it’s clearer that the shooter had sympathies for a distorted view of Islam.

Whatever the specifics, this incident brewed from and is processed through warped religious ideologies that hate LGBTQ+ people. These ideologies have narratives of their own that rest deeply in the heart.

Even in times of relative calm, we repeat and absorb narratives. We get so good at processing them that we can make any incident fit into the same categories. And one overarching narrative through all of this tells of a permanent divide between faith and queerness.

The cover picture for this post is a juxtaposition of two magazines I bought at the grocery store one week. The headlines and layout on the Time magazine article suggest that there are two opposing sides: the religious and the queer. You’re either on one or the other–a simple narrative through which to process and navigate the world.

Even among more accepting folks, this narrative appears in innocent ways. A while back, I was talking with a coworker about relationships and stuff and I mentioned how I’d only date a Christian (I have several reasons for this that I won’t get into at the moment). She, in jest, replied “Oh, haha, you like ’em pure?” It’s hilarious because let’s just say that my love life is still a dream of youth group ethics.

So I had to explain that I was serious, but what had happened in her head was that this narrative of queer or religious embedded itself in her mind. She apologized profusely. A member at my church often notes that he found more acceptance of his gayness in church than acceptance of his Christianity in the gay community. Parsing these two deep sources of identity simply does not reflect the whole picture.

The second magazine details the life and ministry of Jesus, and does a pretty good job of explaining how he radically challenged the society of his day. Jesus is also often rendered into a simple narrative–conservatives and progressives do this in their own ways.

What happens when we settle on our simple narratives? Whether they’re about Jesus or marginalized peoples or any of the -archies and -isms we deal with on a daily basis, we often find ourselves turning to the same stories. This trickles from and stems to the fiction we consume and create. It’s all connected. It’s why Orphan Black fans are so invested in what happens to Delphine. It’s why Steven Universe fans love Garnet. It’s why Korrasami rendered so many viewers to tears.

LGBTQ+ people particularly can never neatly fit into establishes narratives. It’s been the nature of the movement in tacit and metaphorical ways to highlight undefinable existence. There will always be someone whose narrative diverges.

May we strive continuously toward diverse narratives that challenge the stories we tell ourselves in fiction and reality.

Donation link in support of Pulse victims.

Showbread is Showdead: Raw Rock Kills One Last Time

During my college days and ever after, three bands have had a tremendous impact on my theology: Showbread, Thrice, and mewithoutYou. Thrice bowed out for a while, but came back with another album recently. mewithoutYou shows no signs of slowing down. But Showbread has bid us all a radically fond farewell, killing us one last time with raw rock (amen).

This post is coming six months after the album’s release, largely because I stopped paying attention to or looking for updates. These guys had a phenomenal run and their later work became ever more explicit about their Christian anarchy. This final album makes these views as plain as can be in some respects, particularly in the track “Raw Rock Theology.”

burn down their gods

defy their king

no flag, no idols

one king of kings

In their vision of anarchy, the kingdom (or kin-dom) of God replaces the hierarchies and powers of nations and “kings” of all types who currently run the world. Jesus reigns above all of these and his ways, when truly followed, provide a glimpse into an eschatological future where oppression, despair, and suffering are no more.

Showbread’s final album tears down everything and ends, as expected, with a soft song that calls us to “follow Jesus with your heart and love Him every way.” Most of their albums since No, Sir, Nihilism is Not Practical have done this. Showbread dares to say that the only just system is God’s love. All other structures are born of sin, corruption, and idolatry.

Showbread is also critical of Christianity’s coziness with American patriotism. “I’m Afraid That I’m Me” from Cancer has some of the most powerful imagery in their discography regarding this issue.

lately i have found frustration among the incongruence
a movement of peasants and pacifists drowning in patriotic affluence
i feel as though i should do something but i’m staggered by the ramifications
they’ve baptized the empire into the church and heralded its sanctification

And a bit later in the song.

“blessed are the meek” succumbs to “might makes right”
“turn the other cheek” succumbs to pre-emptive strike
“love your enemies” is fossilized beneath the frozen tundra
and “blessed are the poor in spirit” is devoured by “God bless America”

you file the children into the classrooms, make them stand and say an oath
and when we ask “should i love God or my country?”
you smile and tell us “both.”
we’ve hidden the God we claim we serve and driven him beneath the floorboards
but i can still hear this still, small voice
and i can’t take it anymore

Showbread’s music is unapologetically critical and disturbing. It challenges listeners, especially those of Christian faith, to truly examine what it is we believe about God, country, following Jesus, and navigating through a chaotic world. Some could very well come to different conclusions, but these songs at the very least awaken people from complacency and prompt debate, discussion, and reflection–active faith, rather than passive faith.

Each album since The Fear of God has personally challenged me, especially since my introduction to Showbread was their poignant concept album Anorexia/Nervosa. The lyrics are uncomfortable and depressing. It often takes me several plays to unpack and understand what, exactly, they’re saying and how I answer their challenges.

Rather than explain my beliefs in light of what they raise (I don’t think I could fully do so anyway), I’ll just share my favorite songs from each album.

No, Sir, Nihilism is Not Practical (2004)


Age of Reptiles (2006)

Anorexia/Nervosa (2008)

These albums will always be my favorite of Showbread’s work and simply sharing the songs here doesn’t do them justice because there’s a story that you must read along with them. You’ll need to purchase physical copies to do that because I don’t think they come with lyric booklets on iTunes.

Anorexia was the first album I had ever listened to that made me cry.

The Fear of God (2009)

Who Can Know It? (2010)

Cancer (2012)

Showbread is Showdead (2016)

Never break. Never die.


Queer Life and Death in Cartoons and TV Shows

The Internet has been abuzz lately regarding the “Bury Your Gays” trope, escalated by several popular TV shows killing off queer characters, particularly women, and adding to this larger idea that relationships between queer women are unstable at best and tragic at worst.

A lot of people are currently criticizing The 100 and Orphan Black for killing off major queer characters and making their partners suffer. I know nothing about The 100 except for what I’ve read about that one character’s death and how it’s angered many viewers. However, I will say that I was previously a bit interested in watching the show. Now, I probably won’t because I’m quite tired of queer female relationships–when they’re shown at all–being tragic, petty, or unstable. I’m not keen on getting into a show already knowing that that’s what’ll happen. I’m sure The 100 is phenomenal in many other ways, but this turn of events makes me hesitant. Orphan Black is a different story for me because I’ve been a fan of the show from the very beginning, so I didn’t know going into it that there would be queer representation at all nor did I know what would happen to Delphine at the end of season 3 (however, I don’t think she’s really dead). I’m invested in the story for many other reasons besides Cosima and Delphine, but I can completely understand why some people have dropped the show and others who maybe hadn’t seen it yet might not be interested anymore.

When I reflect on queer representation that I’ve come across, I find that there are more positive examples in cartoons (and maybe anime) than in live action TV shows or movies, especially mainstream ones. Part of this is certainly differences in the type of audience. Cartoons in the West are generally aimed at younger audiences and along with that comes particular ideas of what’s appropriate and not appropriate for kids. Queerness for a long time has been deemed “not appropriate,” hence why there are only a handful of recent cartoons that make queer relationships more explicit. On the flip side, tragic death, drugs, and excessive blood and violence are also generally deemed not appropriate for children’s media.

This could be why queerness, when it’s clearly presented in cartoons, is much more positive than it is in live action shows, including those that explore queerness in depth.


I’m going to pick on The L Word, which for the longest time was touted as the quintessential lesbian show. Just about every queer woman under 40 has seen it or at least knows what it is. I watched the entire series several years ago and I enjoyed it, but all of the characters are so terrible to each other in their relationships. All of them. Every single one. They cheat on each other, they lie, they break promises, and some eventually set out to ruin others’ lives. All of this is the stuff of great drama, so The L Word is really just doing what its genre does best, but subsequent TV shows haven’t seemed to step away from this. Orange is the New Black is also pretty gay, but Alex and Piper, as cute as they are together, basically exhibit the same selfish toxicity that’s evident in The L Word. I had similar frustrations with the first season of Transparent. I generally liked the show, but hated every character except Ali and Maura. They’re all selfish, terrible people, including the token lesbian couple that comes into being through breaking up marriages.

I see almost the opposite in cartoons. I’ve discussed Korrasami at length on this blog and noted many ways in which they have a stable, supportive relationship. Marceline and Bubblegum from Adventure Time are also getting back to that level (though they have a lot to work through and Marceline is also the Angst Queen). Ruby and Sapphire from Steven Universe are a great example of a committed couple that works through their problems. Sure, they have conflict, but they would never cheat on each other or hurt each other in ways that I’ve seen queer women do in live action TV shows.

Of course, presenting cartoons as full of entirely positive queer representation and live action shows as full of entirely negative ones reduces the issue too much and is inaccurate. Carmilla mostly shows Hollstein as happy together, but even when they’re not, it’s not because Laura or Carmilla cheat or hurt each other on purpose. Their conflicts typically come from Laura’s hero complex and Carmilla’s survivalist instincts. On the other hand, most queerness I’ve seen in anime is subtle, stated but not explored much, or tragic (Kill la Kill and Revolutionary Girl Utena come to mind).

Why is any of this a problem? Isn’t drama and death just part of good storytelling? Of course it is, but we have to remember how influential media is. Someone who’s never met queer women before can watch all of these shows and come away with an ill-informed notion about how these relationships work in real life. I know so many people who live and love nothing like the women in The L Word or other shows (at the same time, I know people who relish in that exact sort of drama, which gets into a different issue of how much queer media affects our actual behavior).

Fiction is powerful. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be a writer. Therefore, it’s always a good exercise to examine these sorts of tropes and trends and ask if the story must always play out this way. I don’t believe it does. I think there are so many other ways to tell stories about queer relationships, but it’s easy to get stuck in the same patterns.

The Passion’s Surface-Level Treatment of Holy Week



Over the past few months, NBC and Fox have experimented with airing live theater performances. First came The Wiz Live, then Grease, and now The Passion, a copy-paste of the Holy Week story into the 21st century.

The Passion narratives in the gospels recount Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem through all the well-known scenes of his last days–the Last Supper, the garden of Gethsemane, Judas’ betrayal, the trial by Pilate, Jesus’ death, and the Resurrection. It has all the elements of great drama and has been put to stage and film for almost as long as those mediums have existed.

The last Passion adaptation to gain widespread cultural attention was Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, so I was intrigued when I first saw the commercials for a new adaptation in this “live” format. Unfortunately, The Passion is a disjointed mess. There’s more MCing and interviewing than actual story. I found it difficult to be fully engrossed in the story when we kept cutting in and out of the narrative to Tyler Perry on stage and the person-on-the-street interviews. Both aspects, for me, disrupted the flow and suspension of disbelief. Sure, you can make the argument that the story is Holy Week in today’s world, meaning the news media would be all over it, but that aspect would’ve been more effective if these interviews actually expounded on what’s going on with Jesus and the disciples.

For example, they could’ve set it up so that the interviewer asked questions of the “multitudes” gathered in the city about the things that Jesus preached. You’d have some interviewees who heard the Sermon on the Mount and give their accounts of that. Obviously, it would have to be scripted and worked into the larger story, but such an approach could’ve made that interview part work better with the rest of the show.

What we do get of the story–scenes of Jesus with his apostles or the apostles alone–are little more than music videos of great singers doing great covers of popular songs. I laughed when Judas started singing “Bring Me to Life,” if only because Internet jokes about MySpace and the 2000s are never far from my mind. Other than that, the characters weren’t well-developed at all and I feel like if I didn’t already know the gospels, I wouldn’t have understood the characters. We never see Jesus preach before a crowd or do any of the things that pissed off the police enough to arrest him.

The musical selection is among many creative choices that I disagree with. I understand wanting to make a Christian story as appealing as possible to a mass audience, but I think making the soundtrack covers of songs, some with vaguely religious language, obscures the message more than amplifies it. It also adds more fuel to the whole “Jesus is my boyfriend” criticism of contemporary-styled Christianity given that many of the songs covered are love songs. The Imagine Dragons number between Judas and Jesus is one exception. I thought that was fitting because the song has lots of relevant imagery and making it a duet added a new meaning to it.

Just because I love me my hymns and organs doesn’t mean my issue with the music is a mere traditional vs. contemporary criticism. I just don’t think most of the songs the production team chose help to expound on what’s going on theologically or interpersonally. Sure, some numbers definitely flip the usual meaning of the song, especially when Peter covers Hoobastank (which certainly creates space for “Jesus is my boyfriend” headcannons). However, most of the time I thought the songs were a stretch or a distraction. Jesus “calling all angels” in the garden doesn’t make much sense to me because the garden scene is so focused on Jesus crying out to God, specifically, not angels. That song would’ve fit better coming from one of the disciples, probably after Jesus’ death.

In all honesty, I think the show would’ve been much, much better if they just did original music. Hymns done in the style of contemporary music also could’ve presented some theological ideas or reactions, but they could’ve been more alienating to an unchurched mass audience.

My other large criticism is the social commentary or lack thereof. Again, without the narrative context of why and how Jesus pissed off the authorities, viewers of The Passion entirely miss the political subversion that Jesus enacted. For example, Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey through a back gate was a direct affront to the Roman state and that level of understanding just isn’t present in this modern rendition of the story. The message of the Gospel is radical, both personally and systemically. The Passion seemed to play it safe, sticking to a very surface-level presentation focused on the personal aspect of Jesus, sin, and everything that happened during Holy Week.

Despite all my criticisms, The Passion obviously reached and blessed thousands of people. God speaks in many ways and just because this particular way didn’t jive with me doesn’t mean that it’s terrible from a presenting-the-basic-tenets-of-Christianity perspective. There are certainly people out there who can’t even begin to hear anything religious unless they perceive it as non-threatening. For such people, the musical decisions may make perfect sense and the lack of political overtones may have made the story easier to grasp. They’re a way to connect “safe” pop culture or individual experiences to something they see as unsafe, exclusive, or even abusive. So if this prompts people to contemplate God, then it’s done its job as an icon. And like every icon, its effectiveness is up for interpretation.

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