It sucks to be made fun of. Let’s get that out the way right now.
It sucks to be put down by anyone for whatever reason, whether it’s coming from family, a close friend, or a stranger on the Internet. This is especially true in the cosplay community, where we come together to dress up as the fictional characters we love and spend countless hours putting together that costume—or saving up enough money to purchase it. The wigs, the make-up, the props—there’s so much work that gets put into our cosplays that when we get a snide comment, it can ruin the entire experience for us.
But that’s not the real reason why cosplay bullying sucks.
The real reason why cosplay bullying sucks is that we expect better out of this community. That might sound odd since the entire premise is to have fun with a bunch of geeks, but that’s the exact reason why we expect so much more from each other.
Here’s an example. The first time I got bullied online for cosplay there were a couple of thoughts swarming around in my mind. The first being, “Ow, what the hell did I ever do to you?” But the second and much louder thought was an exhausted “Really? This happens here, too?” And that’s what I mean when I say that we as cosplayers, we as geeks, expect better out of this community. We don’t expect bullying to happen here because, when you get right down to it, this community is full of people who know what it feels like to be the outcast. This is the place that’s supposed to be safe, because we all know what it feels like to be seen as different.
When those fat-shaming comments got hurled my way there was a huge part of me that was like, “Here we go again,” because I’d heard all of this before.
“You’re a whale,” my bully said.
“Animal comparison,” I muttered to myself. “How original. Let’s mark off pig while we’re at it.” Such insults have been said directly to my face since before I even knew what cosplay was. If they weren’t being said to my face, they were being said on some TV show that made the fat person the butt of all of its jokes. “She’s as big as a house,” or comments on how she loves to eat. It’s old. We get it. She’s fat. Please proceed with the rest of the program.
If you’re like me, when you entered into this community, you were already on your guard. That’s because you’ve built up this wall, this system within yourself that expects the worst out of people when it comes to looking at you. You’ve been picked on for being different, whether it’s weight related or race related or gender related, or because you rock a rainbow wristband or sit in a wheelchair. And if you’re like me, you’ve found groups that accept that . . . but don’t quite get the whole geek thing. Yes, I found the all-black, female college group on my predominantly white campus of Iowa State University . . . but I was still an outcast for spending my nights chatting online, writing fanfiction, watching copious amounts of Yu Yu Hakusho, and destroying my fingers trying to beat Guilty Gear X2 on its hardest difficulty setting. So my defenses were way, way up when I went to my first anime convention, but when I walked through those doors I found so many people who got it, because no matter what size they were or the color of their skin, they knew what it was like to be picked on for being yourself.
They’d heard it all before:
- “It’s not Halloween, why are you dressed up?”
- “You’re taking the day off just to play a video game?”
- “You spent your money on that?”
- “Why are you always on the computer?”
- “Why don’t you go outside?”
- “You’re weird.”
When you meet someone in this circle who gets it—who knows the importance of seeing the Dragon Ball Z movie in the theater, or understands why you have to stand in line at midnight when Kingdom Hearts III finally comes out—you are just delighted. You don’t care how big that person’s stomach is because, oh my god, they’re wearing a Triforce hat! They’re in line to get something signed by the same guest as you are! And the person behind you is wearing a red wig, red glasses, and fangs, and carrying a self-made chainsaw. Who cares if Grell isn’t black? The person behind you is dressed as Grell!
You’ve found your place. You’ve found where you belong.
So when the bullying happens here, it really sucks, because not only does it hurt but there’s a huge layer of disappointment with it. This was supposed to be the place that got it. This was supposed to be where all of the intolerance of the world took a back seat. No one was supposed to take a crack at a guy’s weight; they were supposed to be happy about his Zelda hat. No one was supposed to judge a girl for the size of her breasts; they were supposed to be happy that she was standing in the same line as them to meet Stan Lee. No one was supposed to belittle the Grell cosplayer for being black; they were supposed to be happy that she took the time to make the chainsaw.
There’s not supposed to be any hatred because we all know what hatred feels like.
We’re all geeks, and we all come from different backgrounds. We’re every color, every gender, every size, every sexuality, every age . . . we’re everything. And the geeks in the majority, even if they don’t know what discrimination based on their race, or what’s in between their legs, or how big or small they are is like—even if they haven’t experienced any of that, you expect them to know what it’s like to be cast aside as an anomaly because, well, they’re geeks. They’re geeks playing dress-up. You expect them to, at least, have a little bit of understanding in regard to being made to feel inferior.
They aren’t supposed to turn on you. You don’t expect them to criticize you for any reason because . . . haven’t they been criticized, too?
And you especially don’t expect it from geeks in the minority, because as minorities, we already have enough to deal with beyond those convention doors. Before conventions, I had already dealt with fat shaming. Before conventions, I had already dealt with people making assumptions based on my gender. Before conventions, I already knew about racism. Before conventions, I had already dealt with feeling like I wasn’t black enough because I was a geek. Before conventions, I had already dealt with the “You don’t look like a lesbian” and “It’s just a phase” crowd as I slowly stepped out of the closet.
So as much as the comments themselves hurt, it’s the fact that they’re being made in the first place—in this community—that really sucks.
However, I do believe that, compared to the rest of the world, the geek community comes together and gets the acceptance ball rolling faster. While I do see instances of intolerance, I see a lot more instances of people coming together to stamp out the hatred. When I was made fun of, or get made fun of today, whether it’s directly to my face or some random woman’s YouTube video addressing “all,” it’s amazing how quickly people will rally together to express how wrong it is. It’s amazing because a lot of these people are individuals I’ve never met face to face. They’re people who I’ve formed bonds with through sheer geekery alone, and even people who are just a name and an icon who I may never meet in this lifetime.
Mixed in among the hateful comments and the insults I see our geeky voices. I see a lot of instances where people are being called out for bad behavior. I see a lot of instances where people are having conversations about diversity, whether it’s online on someone’s page or at a convention in a panel or two. I see people making sure that conventions are safe places, and if they’re not, I see people working to fix it. I see the importance of “Cosplay is NOT Consent” spreading across the convention scene. I see people working to make conventions more accessible. I see page upon page promoting that cosplay is for everyone, and rallying behind hashtags like #28DaysofBlackCosplay. I see conventions that schedule “It Gets Better” panels. I see people discussing Black Lives Matter. I see people celebrating marriage equality. I see people clamoring against fat shaming whether a person dresses like Wonder Woman or wears a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. I see this community discussing real-world issues and the effects they have on us, because we’re people behind these costumes.
In the end, the most important thing is the thing we all have in common: we’re geeks. Yes, some people might question us. Some people might criticize us. But don’t ever forget that there are so many people rallying around and working together to show the importance of loving yourself, loving your fellow geek, and not shaming anyone for any reason. The bullying may be there and it may be off-putting, but there is still plenty of space in this community for you to be yourself. This is my place, our place. These are our people, and this is where we belong.
No matter what bullies may say, I, and countless others, will continue to stand up against them so that other geeks who come to these conventions in their cosplay can have that same feeling I did back in 2002: “I’ve found my place. I’ve found where I belong.” And so will you.