Tuesday, September 4, 2012
The final of 5 parts continuing my interview with Booster Gold cosplayer Nicole (Demyrie).
BOOSTERRIFIC: What statement do you think you are making about sexual politics by dressing as a gender-bent version of a male fictional character?
NICOLE: Haha! Wow, you opened a door. I have to say, this constant question is perfectly encapsulated by one guy at SDCC who saw us, did a double-take, crowed "AWESOME!", and then "... why?". Why, indeed, dress in a male superhero suit/persona with full intention of portraying the character… just, female?
First, it comes down to possible cosplay options. I don't like many female characters, therefore I don't spend the effort to cosplay Supergirl and Batgirl and so on. Also, if I'm going to strut around in public, I'd like to be dressed in a little more than a bikini and thigh-highs, so that eliminates most other super-females!
But it becomes a little bit more than simple process of elimination when you consider that I've been gender-bending since day one, and don't see it ending anytime soon. It's obvious that male heroes get the lions-share of characterization and compelling story-lines, so I sync with them completely and want to portray them in a way that tricks fans into believing they could exist for just a little while. If I were a dude, I would just do it, but as a girl I have a few problems. This conundrum would be a great deal easier in, say, Japan, where effeminate heroes make cross-playing (dressing up as a fictional character of the opposite gender; essentially "drag") both easy and widely-accepted, but the American ideal of hyper-masculinity really doesn't allow for a smooth or believable transition from female to male if we're talking comics.
I mean, can you imagine how much that muscle-suit would cost? And I like my chin, but Booster's was chiseled out of granite.
Therefore this interesting gender-queer middle-space is created by the virtue of alternate universes (which comics are so fond of), where a woman can essentially appropriate the history, authority, presence and strength of a male character, and the result is very, very excited fans. More often than not, the cosplayers of genderbent heroes appear far more approachable than cut-and-dry female heroes (Rogue, Wonder Woman, Black Canary) which I believe stems from the fact that it's the costume equivalent of a girl walking up to a shy guy and suggesting a night of beer and football. We aren't hyper-sexualized – we're more nerds than girls, because I'm NOT talking about the "prostitute She-Robin" Halloween costumes on Ebay – and we clearly know comics well enough to successfully translate one of YOUR favorite characters to Earth #11, preserving back-story, motivations, super-powers and that smug, smug smile.
So, you wanna talk about Chocos?
That said, I think that gendered polarization of cosplay in comics is a terrible thing. Especially because I respect the hell out of women who cosplay who they want, I hate that those who cosplay female heroes are reliably treated as sex-objects because objectification is built into the super-heroine design. Either that, or that it's assumed these women know nothing of comics and just want the male attention that only a leotard with a boob-window can afford. I don't want that kind of attention and I felt nauseated when I received it as Silk Spectre II: men touched me differently, talked to me differently and I swore never again. Guy nerds have long-since become suspicious that their sex-drives are being taken advantage of at places like Comic Con (the Booth Babe trend has absolutely no pretense on this) and frequently see cosplaying women as disembodied boobs when that fails, so gender-bending is a way of cutting through the ritual sexualization of women, escaping the Nerd Dismissal, and actually getting to talk with some damn fans about some damn comics.
Though gender-bending is my natural inclination, I honestly wish I didn't have to prove my nerd-dom like this. I dearly wish that more female characters were both respectably clothed and more developed akin to male characters. If you need any proof of the difference, just look at how many men genderbend to presumably just-as-awesome female characters (although Beetle and I are honorary members of the Genderbent Justice League and that saw some of the first serious MtF bends) and google "Women in Refrigerators". I may be ridiculously gender-queer and keep doing my weird thing regardless, but that imbalance just ain't right, which is why it found its way into my Honors thesis. And that was 50 pages!
I owe a huge thank you to Nicole for her participation in our Q&A. Follow these links to parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 of this interview.
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