New York Comic Con was this past weekend, and I am still in recovery. One of the super-germs that get passed around from comic vendor to comic fan to comic pro to comic press and back again has taken my body over, Venom-style. But NYCC is always worth the unbearable crowds and confusing layouts just to talk to old friends again, meet internet allies in person, and to shake the hands of the people that give me so much entertainment every Wednesday (note to self: less hand-shaking, more Purell next year).
There is, however, something new that I experienced this year. This is something I’m somewhat ashamed to admit, but know that only in admittance can others take the steps towards recovery. This is the first year of NYCC where I didn’t look at cosplay through sexist eyes. Yep, I just accused myself of sexism. Ugh, I’m going to troll me so hard later for that one! But that trolling would be unfounded, because I have on numerous occasions in my past viewed attractive female cosplayers as less-than, as imposters, as unwelcome humans crowding into my nerd party. I was a total jerk for this.
Let me sum up the mindset I had this year as opposed to previous years. This year, when I saw an attractive woman cosplaying as any female superhero, I thought to myself, “She likes Catwoman,” not, “She’s just dressing like that to get attention.” I was able to see just how prejudiced my previous viewpoint was; last year, if I saw any man cosplaying as Blue Beetle, I naturally assumed they were a huge Ted Kord fan and had hardcovers of “Justice League International” on their bookshelf. Any woman cosplaying as Fire must surely be in it for the attention, because there’s no way women read comics!
And guys, I get how intimidating attractive women are. I’m gay, and I still have all sorts of baggage associated with attractiveness, piled on top of me after a childhood of being uncool and picked upon by those with better clothes and faces than me. But this isn’t high school anymore. We’re all adults. It’s hard to move past decades of internalized bad mojo, but suck it up and do it.
I don’t have that sexist viewpoint anymore, and if you have that viewpoint currently, then, you know: Check yourself. Comic books are fun. Fandom is fun. Fun things have no room for judgment, and fun things shouldn’t get tangled up with credibility and mountains of stories to memorize. Snobbily turning my nose up at a cosplayer, questioning their validity based upon the mere fact of their attractiveness did nothing but drop in a smidgen of discomfort and a whole ocean worth of ugly, detrimental dismissal and stereotyping into my previous convention experiences
Seriously, does someone have to have read every appearance of the character they are cosplaying as? If someone is cosplaying as Black Widow from the film, the only thing they should have seen is that film. And even then, who cares? If a woman wants to wear that costume out in public amongst the gathered geeky masses, more power to her. There is no written test before cosplaying, and it’s absolutely foolish to internally act as if one exists. Unless you are holding male cosplayers up to this amount of foolish scrutiny, cut it out. It’s damaging, sexist and will be the downfall of the comics industry.
“Whoah whoah whoah, the downfall of the comics industry?”
Oh, sorry, I meant society.
I’ve already written at length about how I feel passionate about the inclusion of women in superhero comics. I feel the exact same way about cosplaying, perhaps even more so because cosplaying is fandom pulled out of Tumblr and into real life. The ignorance and aggression women deal with online and in comics when they see themselves underrepresented and misrepresented can get incredibly personal and dangerous when it happens in real life.
This past weekend at NYCC, a woman cosplaying as Black Cat was sexually harassed on camera. Her story blew up on Tumblr and highlights the exact kind of perversion that comes from taking my previous line of sexist thought and taking it to an extreme. Instead of talking to the cosplayer about her absolutely amazing costuming, the interviewer turned the whole thing sexual, expecting this Black Cat to have the same level of obedience as the two-dimensional one the interviewer sees regularly. That’s not how this works. She’s a human being who chose to wear a costume. No matter what she’s wearing, she doesn’t deserve that kind of treatment. Like it or not, comic book pedigree or not, she’s a geek like us. I don’t care if she’s never even read a Black Cat comic book, she spent hours of time researching and executing a flawless costume; that is geeky. I say that’s enough to let her into the clubhouse, and it’s definitely enough to treat her with basic human dignity. She put on that Black Cat costume for herself, not for the horny, basement-dwelling mouth-breathers who don’t understand that women, no matter what they look like, are not toys.
Cosplayers aren’t doing this for you. They’re doing it for themselves. This is an art form that they are exploring and expressing, and the sheer fact that you get to see them in person is enough. Photographs, video interviews, any type of touching, that is not a right passers-by have just because they see someone in a costume. I have never cosplayed at a convention before, but I sure as hell do it up every Halloween. For a guy that has no idea how to sew, I sure put my all into every costume I make. I don’t do that for the benefit of anyone else but myself. I do it because I like the process and I like having an end result that I can be proud of. I do it because I like being the heroes I read about all year long. I don’t do it because I want strangers slapping my spandex-covered behind, and I don’t do it because I want catcalls or stares. What other people think about my costume means so little to me that I’m surprised it took me this long to realize the same can be said for cosplayers. And yes, I know that some cosplayers do pick costumes based on the attention it will bring them. That still doesn’t give anyone the right to cross the line, physically or verbally. They may be dressed like a psychic, mutant ninja, but they are still a person.
I had the pleasure of actually talking to an amazing cosplayer this past weekend while she stopped at my day job’s booth to regroup and eat some frozen yogurt. She was easily the best Wasp I had seen all weekend, and as a very amateur dabbler in costume-creation I was super ready to talk to her about the work that went into making her costume. Through the course of the conversation, I found out that she was a huge fan of the “Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” cartoon, where her costume came from. I also found out that she was a reader of DC Comics and had opinions about the New 52. I was having an actual comic book conversation with an attractive female cosplayer, who was disproving every stupid preconceived notion I had about them in the past. I was also watching her shoo off requests from people wanting photographs while she was eating, which led me to realize just how entitled convention goers are about the cosplayers surrounding them. Just because someone is in a costume does not mean you are owed a picture. A person requested a photo a millisecond after she was done eating and she happily obliged, striking a fists-up, ready-to-fight pose perfectly capturing Janet Van Dyne’s spunk in the cartoon. She was a cosplayer, a woman and a comic book fan — and she was back on the clock.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre show Left Handed Radio: The Sequel Machine. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).