I wrote a piece about empowerment through cosplay, but I never really dove into my personal experiences at conventions. It has been five years and counting that I have attended cons, yet I felt my previous piece was missing an important aspect: conventions are fantastically tolerant places. It’s not just the bronies or the “free hugs” signs or the numerous, incredible gender-bender cosplays; it’s the way everyone seems to unwind. What fascinates me is that, like myself, I see many people transform when they cosplay and/or being around other geeks wherein they become empowered by their passion, both men, women and those that identify otherwise.
My very first experience involved the intake of all that was geek and Japanese fandom. At that point, I had only recently exploded with love for Japan, centered mainly on its music scene and incredible art. It was strange stepping into the merchandise room for the first time at No Brand Con in Eau Claire, seeing everyone else like me, happy to be basking in their geekdom with gadgets, posters, swords, and pins galore. I even got to hold a lightsaber, and that sucker was heavy! We got to experience a nice buffet of anime. It was also a blast watching the cosplay contest (Duct Tape boy, woo!). Then, to finish the night was the rave. While I was never one for dancing, raves made me let loose and have fun. While dancing can be a stage rife for harassment, I never once experienced an issue nor was witness to any issues.
When I moved back home, a friend convinced me to attend Detour. I had never been, but I had heard good things as I slowly learned about cosplay and how to nerd out Japanese style in America. At the time, I was unaware of the “sexy cosplay” phenomenon or the fake geek girl accusations. I never felt diminished in my geek-love and, in fact, felt more comfortable with myself by attending cons. The second year was when I began to take cosplay seriously and wanted more of a hand in making my costume. I made a Drossel Keinz costume, from Black Butler (Kuroshitsuji). This was also the first, and so far only, gender-bender costume I have done. I never felt awkward as I enjoyed the character and often identified with the male characters in my shows and games rather than the female characters.
Compared to No Brand Con, Detour was a whole new beast. The ante was upped on cosplay and the dealer’s room seemed gigantic. It was also the first time I participated in photoshoots. I, like many, struggled with my body image for some time. This was perhaps why I felt more comfortable in my Drossel costume and why I was always very camera shy. Being able to hide behind that character, though, made me feel more comfortable. So, the following year, when my friend approached me about doing the cosplay contest, it sounded like a fantastic plan. She is a brilliant seamstress and we worked together to create the Will of Abyss and Alice costumes from Pandora Hearts.
If Detour was a whole new beast, being in a contest was yet another new experience. I get anxious in front of crowds and so you can imagine being on a stage for me wasn’t the most appealing. Like the photoshoot, hiding behind the cosplay made it more feasible, though I was more exposed as a female character. Despite our hard work, we did not place though we earned Judge’s Choice awards. This was when I began to learn more about the number of women that seemed to find sexy cosplay empowering. The contest reaffirmed this as the winner had been a cosplay of Jessica Rabbit–not a very technically hard cosplay to create compared to the many other contestants whose cosplays were less sexy but obviously more difficult and equally well-made. A positive aspect, however, was that this was a year when I began to slowly overcome my body image issues through cosplay.
Last year we did a group cosplay on Borderlands 2 which was perhaps the most spectacular cosplay of which I have ever been a participant. We rarely got time to breath between the many people stopping us for photos! It was a great feeling to have your skill and dedication recognized by so many. Despite some of the group’s characters being sexualized in the game, none of us experienced any awkward or unwanted attention. Furthermore, playing a character like Lilith who was both sexy and badass gave me confidence and understanding in how different people celebrate their sexuality in different ways.
What I am learning from past years is that conventions can teach us about tolerance. Con-goers tolerate any type of love and any type of style. For a few days, they are able to embrace a uniqueness of themselves that the rest of society often refuses to see or comprehend, whether that be a different choice in sexuality, lifestyle or interest. For example, I rarely see a couple of guys hold hands while out in public. It was a beautiful thing to see that people were able to embrace love without fearing criticism at Detour. After all, people are there to have fun! They want to share their passions with others and are often eager to embrace a spectacular cosplay or gush about their favorite anime/game/manga or rave to their hearts content.
Conventions are not the paradigm of tolerance, I am not claiming they are some sort of utopia away from society. As with anything, they can have a seedy underbelly. They come with their problems, most often hidden under the surface of that “free-love” vibe. There are many aspects that conventions, including Detour, can improve upon in order to make the safest and best experience for everyone. Ultimately, I see conventions achieving that through embracing the tolerance already present in the majority of their attendees and celebrating it. We need more detours to tolerance in the world.
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