Confessions of a bisexual cosplayer — and DFW’s growing cos-munity
CHAKA CUMBERBATCH | Special Contributor
Seriously — if there was ever a parody musical inspired by my life, it would undoubtedly be titled Chaka and the Ridiculous Technicolor Nightmare Closet. Getting dressed for work each morning is a feat that involves maneuvering around billowing superhero capes, neon-hued wigs, chainmail bikinis, beaded headdresses, prosthetic wounds covered in synthetic blood and death-defying heels of varying widths and heights. I’m at the point where my costumes are starting to outnumber my actual clothing, and I can’t decide if I need more space, a trip to Ikea or just a hobby that doesn’t involve melting plastic or sanding gesso on the weekends.
I’m leaning towards more space.
My hobby is commonly called “cosplay,” a mashup of “costume play.” It’s defined as the act of constructing costumes and dressing up as your favorite comic book, video game, anime or sci-fi characters — put simply, it’s like celebrating Halloween year-round. Those have succumbed to the madness — and I number myself one — refer to ourselves as “cosplayers,” and can usually be found posing for pictures at pop culture conventions that celebrate geekery in its many forms.
There’s a lot of time, money and hot glue involved in taking a costume from two-dimensional concept to three-dimensional creation, and the actual process isn’t always easy. But to me, cosplay is a walking performance art of passion that necessitates a level of devotion that you’d be hard pressed to find in any other subculture. Except for maybe live-action role playing (LARP) … which is exactly what it sounds like, and trust me — it’s doing the most.
LARPing aside, the celebration of creative expression inherent to cosplay culture is what makes it so attractive to geeks and nerds who identify as LGBT. It was at Dallas’ A-Kon 2010 that I — emboldened by a weekend filled with photo-booth-style costume changes met with praise from my fellow con-going constituents — first came out as bisexual to my (entirely unsurprised) best friend. Surrounded by thousands of like-minded nerds who were proud of the qualities that made them different, I found myself brimming over with Pride as well … and finally ready to openly accept a part of myself I’d secretly been aware of for years.
When I moved to Dallas-Fort Worth from Little Rock two years later, one of my first orders of business — second only to buying a mattress, and just barely — was to infiltrate the local cosplay scene, in search of queer, black, female geeks like me.
One of the first cosplayers I got to know after settling in was 26-year-old Ty Larson, known around the local circuit as Post-It Ninja. I hadn’t even unpacked all of my boxes when Ty had me embark on my inaugural trip to the strip for Gaybingo. It was my introduction to the Dallas gay community, which was much larger and more vibrant than what I was used to back home in Little Rock. A few weeks later, Ty and I were cosplaying together at Dallas Sci-Fi Expo in Irving.
For many local cosplayers, Sci-Fi Expo is regarded as the con season opener, where everyone wears new costumes they’ve been working on all winter, effectively transforming the Irving Convention Center into the super-powered equivalent of New York Fashion Week. Again, I was impressed by the size and vibrancy of the community I’d moved into, and began to wonder about the gay to geek conversion rate in DFW. I mean, in Central Arkansas, you couldn’t throw a stone in a comic book store without hitting a queer geek (or a derby girl, God bless ’em); would it be the same in North Texas?
Ty certainly seemed to think so. “The convention scene actually has a very strong showing of LGBT people working behind the scenes,” Larson says. “There isn’t a convention in Dallas that doesn’t have several members of the [LGBT] community helping to run the show — this has really helped create a safer environment.”
Larson, who identifies as “the G in LGBT,” has participated in numerous contests and performances across the state with his cosplay group, Detail to Perfect Cosplay. “I think there are still a few conventions where a same-sex kiss onstage will get you kicked out of a competition under some ‘family-friendly’ rule clause,” he says, “but those occurrences are becoming few and far between.”
Curious, I started asking around to see how other LGBT cosplayers felt about the North Texas cosplay scene. Maya FH, a 17-year-old lesbian cosplayer known as Classic-Maya with Puku Cosplay Productions, had some interesting insight on navigating conventions in the area as a younger fan.
“Anime conventions — specifically A-Kon in North Texas — tend to be more welcoming than the Comic arena,” says Maya, who bought her first Pride poster at A-Kon. “This may be because anime cons have more of a unique, tight-knit community than comic conventions or because of the younger crowd. My love of comics is a strong one, but I enjoy my time more at anime conventions in North Texas.”
Finding acceptance came a bit easier to Lady Tezra, aka 29-year-old Angelyn O’Brien of Dallas, who identifies as a “bigender, post-operative male-to-female transsexual lesbian.” The stage manager of Amber Does Dallas, a live-performance “shadowcast,” O’Brien has a different take on the situation. “I haven’t noticed any cons or groups in the North Texas area being any less — or more — welcoming than any other,” she says. “I feel that the cosplay community remains fairly constant regardless of convention. Many people have found acceptance in the cosplay community, whether it be for their ‘nerdy’ obsessions, ‘crazy’ hobbies or LGBT identity, and that often creates a pay-it-forward mentality. The cosplay community often looks out for its own and becomes quite intolerant of those who would mar its reputation as being accepting.”
With California-based LGBT-centric conventions GaymerX and Bent-Con paving the way for similar events across the nation, it was encouraging to find that the queer geeks in North Texas are not only out in full force, but are working both on the main floor and behind the scenes to make conventions in Dallas more welcoming and accepting to those who identify as part of our community. However, I was interested to know whether or not local cosplayers felt a specific need for more LGBT-specific groups, gatherings or representation throughout the local cosplay scene.
For Maya, the need for LGBT visibility and inclusion was crucial for younger fans who may be in the early stages of coming to accept their identity. “I think it is extraordinarily important,” Maya says. “Many LGBT kids turn towards the nerd community for support and escapism and cosplay is a big part of nerd culture. It’s very important that those kids see their sexuality represented in a community they can relate with. “
“LGBT visibility is important in general,” Ty concurs. “In the cosplay community, it gives us a chance to interact with young members of fandom and show them that no matter who you are, or who you love, you can still lead a wonderfully fulfilling life doing the things you enjoy most.”
O’Brien agrees, but cautions against putting too much emphasis on it. “I do feel that open and visible representation for LGBT cosplayers is important, but that does not mean that it needs to be over-emphasized,” she says. “If the cosplay community reflects a world of natural friendship and coexistence between people of different orientations and identities, then it seems we’re on the right path as it is.”
All of the cosplayers I spoke to, however, agree that a more organized presence of LGBT cosplayers — similar to Dallas Gay Geeks or DFW Gaymers — would benefit the community.
“In Dallas, the majority of LGBT events are for adults,” Maya observes, giving me pause to wonder about the last time I attended — or even heard about — an LGBT event that focused on or even allowed in people under the age of 18. “The teen and youth events generally have to do with counseling, outreach programs, or are for families with gay parents. There are not many opportunities for LGBT teens to just have fun within the LGBT community. Because people can enjoy cosplay at all ages, I think a cosplay group targeted towards the LGBT community is a great step.”
From Larson’s perspective, the reason we don’t already have a dedicated group might have more to do with the fact that LGBT cosplayers haven’t felt persecuted or excluded enough to form one — which is a good thing.
“LGBT cosplayers seem to be so integrated into the cosplay community here already that there hasn’t been much of a fight or cause to rally behind,” he says. “I’m not saying that I wouldn’t be one of the first to join if I ever heard of an LGBT cosplay group for North Texas popping up, we’d need somebody with the time and energy available to organize it.”
O’Brien is on the same wavelength. “Those who identify as LGBT don’t feel the need for one; they have found friends through this community that accept them and even found a community as a whole that accepts them for who they are,” she says. “When you feel such inclusion, I believe there is less of a need to band together.”
As the convention season starts to wind down for the year — Dallas Fan Days in October is the last sizable con of the year for North Texas — I’ve started reflecting on the people I’ve met, the things I’ve learned, and the closet I’ve been unable to tame since moving to Dallas-Fort
Worth. While the North Texas LGBT cosplay scene isn’t 100 percent comparable to the barely contained disaster area currently smoldering in the corner of my bedroom, it does have the same quirky, unpredictable, multi-colored glitter explosion qualities that makes venturing into the closet every morning an adventure unlike the day before. And I suspect that the deeper I delve into it, the more hidden gems I’ll uncover. Like the Nowhere Men comic book shirt I bought at San Diego Comic Con last year and only just dug up yesterday after not having seen it anywhere for the better part of eight months. Magic. And the Jessica Simpson pumps I’d assumed were gone forever.
Carrie Bradshaw would definitely have a panic attack in my closet.
Where to play at cos
Although there’s no official cosplay “season,” the number of events where you’ll likely find cosplayers until the end of the year is dwindling … though one of the big ones will arrive next month. Here’s a rundown of some of the events you can attend to explore cosplay.
Retropalooza, Arlington Convention Center, Arlington.
Sept. 20-21. Retropalooza.net.
Dallas Comic Con FanDays, Irving Convention Center, Irving. Oct. 17-19. DallasComicCon.com.
Burleson Anime and Manga Festival, Burleson Public Library, Burleson. Nov. 8. Find it on Facebook.
Anime North Texas, Radisson Hotel Fort Worth North,
Fort Worth. Nov. 14-16. AnimeNorthTexas.com.
North Texas Comic Book Show, Doubletree Hotel Dallas
Market Center. Nov. 15. ComicBooksDallas.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 19, 2014.