BronyCon and Belonging

…in the end, performing arts, cosplay conventions, and liturgical churches all seem to have similar elements to me: dressing up, costuming to step into another character or role, and yards and yards of fabulous fabrics.

I’ve never been one for personality tests. When I was first introduced to the Myers-Briggs in college, I found the test ridiculously limiting. Either/or choices have never been my friend: Would you prefer nitrogen or oxygen in your air? Pick one.

My feelings haven’t changed much since then, even with the surge in popularity of the Enneagram. On the one hand, I understand the human need to categorize and label; but on the other hand, I’m resistant to the idea that my many complexities and incongruities could be reduced into a single number. Or even a number with wings. (My many Enneagram friends assure me that this quality is, in and of itself, indicative of an Enneagram number.) Perhaps the truest statement is that I feel like I get more than enough labels and categories and acronyms sitting through my children’s various IEP meetings with their special education teams. My family really doesn’t need any more.

Perhaps the truest statement is that I feel like I get more than enough labels and categories and acronyms sitting through my children’s various IEP meetings with their special education teams. My family really doesn’t need any more.

Despite not being a lover of personality tests (yes, I know, the Enneagram isn’t just a personality test) I consider myself an avid student of human nature. People, in general, fascinate me. I will never tire of watching them and wondering about the things that make them tick.

I thought a lot about different personalities this past weekend, at a BronyCon fan convention with my husband and five kids. For those who aren’t in the fandom, BronyCon is a fan convention (like Comic-Con or similar) devoted to all things My Little Pony. If you want to see thousands (yes, thousands) of people dressed up as colorful ponies or a dizzying variety of other types of characters from the ponyverse, BronyCon is the place to go.

What drives people—in most cases, adults—to dress up in costumes and attend fan conventions? I Googled “Myers-Briggs and cosplay” (“cosplay” being a portmanteau of “costume” and “play”) and found a website that suggested the INFP is most likely to dress up and attend fan conventions. I Googled “Enneagram and cosplay” and got very few results…unless, of course, you wish to cosplay as Nonette Enneagram.

Perhaps because I’m a dancer and have spent much of my life on the stage, the leap to cosplay doesn’t seem too great a jump. When my eldest daughter, then twelve, began begging me to take her to BronyCon a few years ago, I spent a lot of time on Google before I said yes. But in the end, performing arts, cosplay conventions, and liturgical churches all seem to have similar elements to me: dressing up, costuming to step into another character or role, and yards and yards of fabulous fabrics. So I signed us both up.

What I found at my first BronyCon was a space where everyone, even the quirky or the socially awkward or those with special needs, could fit in and be welcomed. A space where people like my children and I wouldn’t feel quite so different. Upon our arrival, we were given “social communication cards” to attach to our name badges: green cards meant anyone could come talk to us, yellow cards meant we preferred to only talk to people we already knew, and red cards meant we didn’t want to talk to anyone at all. I switched from green to yellow to red and back again throughout the convention, mostly to see if all the attendees would honor my color-coding, which they did. And I thought about my middle son, and how much easier his world would be if he could have a way to nonverbally communicate to the world around him whether or not he wanted to chat.

What I found at BronyCon was a space where everyone, even the quirky or the socially awkward or those with special needs, could fit in and be welcomed.

Walking through the halls of BronyCon was an experience like none I’d had before. The scope and creativity of costuming was dizzying. And in addition to expected panel topics like makeup design and script writing and sewing, I saw panels on learning social skills and developing friendships and overcoming addiction…all through the lens of My Little Pony.

When I walked past the “recharge rooms,” also coded by color, I nearly wept. In the “green” room, people chatted animatedly about all things pony. The “yellow” room was more quiet, like a library. And in the “red” room, the lights were dimmed and soft cushions covered the floor. If you needed a quiet space to rock or hum or fidget, or just be away from other people for a bit, BronyCon had a space for you. I stood in the silence of the “red” room and thought about the minds and hands that had prepared this place, creating a safe space for people like my son.

~

This year, after I looped sparkly ribbons around my pigtails and added an extra coat of glitter to my nails, my husband and I tied golden sashes and fixed unicorn horns and adjusted aviator goggles for our children. Too many days of costume preparations were about to pay off: we were ready for BronyCon. At the last minute, I slipped my “Watch for God” bracelet on my wrist, and we headed out the door.

Some people might say that a “Watch for God” bracelet is an incongruity at a fan convention, or maybe that I was cross-pollinating my fandoms. But as it turned out, I didn’t need a reminder to watch for God. Because I saw God everywhere.

I saw God in the e-mail from BronyCon registration when someone took the time, when I e-mailed them four days before the convention started, to tell me all the places in the convention center where my son could take a break if he needed to be absolutely people-free. They included maps and diagrams, too.

I saw God when a woman who had been waiting in line for an hour gave up her spot, unasked, so a young girl could attend a crafting workshop.

I saw God when all the able-bodied people moved as one to the stairs so someone with a mobility device could use the elevator.

I saw God when a cosplayer who was scarily good at Dance Dance Revolution moved over to share his dance pad with a five-year-old.

I saw God when cosplayers sang a karaoke song about family and inclusion, and had one of their group perform the piece in American Sign Language. And I cried.

No matter what our Myers-Briggs or Enneagram, we are all seeking a place where we feel like we can fit in, where we belong. And I’m thankful for places like BronyCon where people who often feel like outsiders can find just that, hooves and all.

Elrena Evans

Elrena Evans is Editor and Content Strategist for Evangelicals for Social Action, and holds an MFA in creative writing from Penn State. She is the author of a short story collection, This Crowded Night, and co-author of the essay collection Mama, PhD: Women Write About Motherhood and Academic Life. Her work has also appeared in Plough, Red Letter Christians, In Touch Magazine, Princeton Theological Seminary’s The Thread, and elsewhere. She enjoys spending time with her family, dancing, and making spreadsheets. Follow her on Instagram @elrenaevans.
Elrena Evans

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