Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Fat Man's Thoughts on His First Crossplay. By John Garcia

A couple of weeks ago, I debuted a new costume for Wondercon.  I believe that cosplay is for everyone, and anyone can cosplay as whatever he or she wants to be, because it’s fun.  Being a big dude, I am relieved to live in an era when guys of my size can don a Superman or a Batman costume if they want to.  Still, despite this more accepting rhetoric of the geeky, convention-going community, there are a few trolls out there whose sharp tongue, or faceless message board posts tend to ruin my day despite what I believe to be the awesome thing about cosplay: just having fun.  This problem is slightly exacerbated by people who are not necessarily regular convention-goers (and a huge number of which will be at a popular convention like Wondercon). They tend to just see a “Fat Superman” and say “Eww, doesn’t he know Superman is skinny?” 
Heck, each year, my Two-Ton 21 costume, from the Venture Brothers, which gets seen on sites like the Cartoon Network, gets so many trolls mad at me for being a big guy.  The guy is, and lives up to his Two-Ton 21 name.  When I was Mortal Kombat’s Raiden or Kamen Rider Kabuki, you don’t even want to read the stuff that was said about me.  They don’t see that I am able to make the costume light up, or appreciate how much sculpting it takes to make those asymmetrical horns on Kabuki.  All they can see is my heavy self, and they use the, “he’s promoting an unhealthy lifestyle” or the, “it’s his choice, so I can make fun of him for it” reasons in addition to the above mentioned “but (insert character name) isn’t fat.”  I know all that.  They don’t know that I am working so hard to be much healthier.  They don’t know that I am healthier now (lost weight, low-to-normal blood pressure, and I've lowered my cholesterol) than last year because to their eyes, I’m not the ideal BMI yet.  
But still, it hurts, regardless of the geeky community’s more accepting tone and rhetoric.  Sometimes I feel empowered because of this, and I would be inspired to make a costume regardless of those sharp tongues and hurtful posts.  Sometimes, I take the path of least resistance - Ma Hunkel is one of those times.  

I started to brainstorm, and not necessarily just characters who are big.  If I found a character I really like, after all, I might not take the path of least resistance.  Then, I started watching Young Justice (YJ), since it was new on Netflix.  I also started to watch the newly-posted episodes of Batman: the Brave and the Bold (BBaB), also on Netflix.  Being a Golden Age/ JSA fan, I gravitated towards the episodes that explored past JSA members, and something did not quite sit right with me.  In both YJ and BBaB, the Red Tornado presented as the original was no longer my favorite Red Tornado.  The android Red Tornado took the place of the original, Golden Age Red Tornado, Abigail “Ma” Hunkel.  Despite being amazing shows, I was saddened that one of my favorite heroines’s heroic exploits were suddenly gone.  At least the JSA in Smallville had Ma Hunkel as their Red Tornado. I had found my character to cosplay, The Golden Age Red Tornado.  
The costume was easy enough to make, but the helmet I wore at Wondercon is my second try at it. The prototype was an ACTUAL aluminum bucket with eye holes cut on it.  That prototype was heavy, and it heated up like an oven under the California sun.  I did want to give the Silver Age, or as many people now refer to him, “the Young Justice” Red Tornado some credit, so I installed a microphone and voice modulator on my costume, so when I speak, I would have a cool , somewhat robotic voice.  
I went to the Saturday of Wondercon wearing my Golden Age Red Tornado, and I got mostly positive responses, but there were a few moments that were sadly, well, sad.  I got a couple of conversations that went like this.  The convention-goer would say, “You know that Red Tornado is a woman right?”  

Photo Credit: Victor Camba
I wanted to put that person on blast, so I turned the volume of my speakers up, and responded, “Yes, why are you telling me the obvious?”   A couple of people would turn around and see what’s up.  
 Most of the conversations ended with them just saying “Never mind” or “I’m just saying.” 

Other times, they would ask for a picture, I would nod, but afterwards, I would speak up.  The voice modulator did not hide my voice as well as I wanted to, so I had to result to nodding to see what people think.   Again, most of them would be great, but there are a few who would act flabbergasted and try to explain to me that the Original Red Tornado is a woman.  I would respond the same way.  They would end the conversation my just shutting up or with the worn out “I’m just saying.”

“I’m just saying.”  I know what they mean.  I saw some of these people approach a female Robin (who were dressed as original versions of Robin, at least not a Stephanie Brown or Carrie Kelly Robin), a couple of female Captain Americas (who are obviously Captain America, not American Dream), and a female Superman (who is not Supergirl).  They said nothing.  They did not try to say “Excuse me, you know Captain America/Superman/Robin are males and if you want to dress in your “correct” gender, they have female counterparts.”  I expected as much, or as little, I suppose.  

Why is it that one sided?  Perhaps, there is still that bit of male privilege (and as such, the privilege lets a lot of men be blissfully unaware of it) lingering.  How is it male privilege?  They can accept a woman wanting to take the place of a man, but when it comes to a man wanting to don the shoes and garb of a woman, they somehow find it disturbing, or at least noteworthy enough to make sure that I was aware of my genderbending faux pas.  

Despite the majority of people who saw my costume and cheered, I thought Wondercon, the convention that, a few years ago, had that amazing Genderbent Justice League group, would be normalized by now.  Those few people are reminders of how much we, as a fandom, still have a long way to go about understanding and accepting a lot of things.    

John Garcia is a Professor of English, specializing in popular culture, comparative literature, and postcolonial studies. He is also an artist and character designer for Smorgasbord Productions.
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1 comment:

  1. You're awesome; you're cosplay's awesome. Keep doing what you're doing.