I didn’t always like cosplay. In fact, for many, many years I thought people who did it were a bit odd. Then in September 2015, my friend Miriam encouraged my long-suffering husband Bruce and I to join her and her brother Mike that November for PopExpo ’15. She wanted us to cosplay as Doctor Who characters. Thinking myself a proper smartass, I said, “I refuse to go unless I can be a fashionista Dalek!” Miriam thought it was a great idea. Oh, crap, I inwardly lamented. Now I have to figure out how to be a fashionista Dalek!
My favourite part of this story is when my husband and I got lost at the end of the day at PopExpo, looking for Miriam and Mike. We ended up in a place in the exhibition hall that we hadn’t been to before and someone shouted, “Hey! I like your costume!” That was artist, author, and Renaissance publishing director, Caro Fréchette. I recognized the Renaissance logo and chatted with Caro and author Madona Skaff-Koren. Caro asked me to write them in 2016, and, long story short, Life in the ’Cosm was published that year.
Even though getting a publisher while dressed as a fashionista Dalek was a great thing, what happened earlier that day also blew my mind. Because I was new to cosplay, I didn’t realize how many people would be so thrilled to see me. Complete strangers smiled, laughed, squealed, and wanted to take my photo. At the time I used a cane to get around. No one noticed it. They just saw the Dalek in a red dress, with her silver glittery plunger.
I became hooked on the concept of cosplay. After all, it really was about crafting, and I loved doing that! I saw that the people who cosplayed were creative and amazing. My eyes were opened!
Now, Caro and I get on like a house on fire and we have cosplayed as a team. We were shockingly a hit at Ottawa Comiccon 2017, dressed as Wayne and Garth from Wayne’s World. Before the event, Caro and I felt a bit tired and I said, “Oh, let’s dress as them. We get to wear jeans and sneakers.” Thinking we weren’t terribly sci-fi or fantasy, we didn’t expect the reaction we received. “Party on, party on!” we heard over and over. At one point I was using my rollator, Noola, and even though I pushed it around as I was walking, tons of people shouted, “Party on, Garth!” They didn’t see the rollator. They saw the character.
A couple of months earlier, Caro and I cosplayed as Hannah and Braga from the comic, Rats Queens, at Ottawa Geek Market. I took an older cane and turned it into Hannah’s wand. A couple of teen boys picked it up, fascinated. I said to them, “That’s my walking stick. See, I’m disabled . . . and awesome.” They paused. Then they shouted, “YEAH!”
Disabled and awesome. I felt it, too.
Yesterday at the Fall Ottawa Geek Market, I decided to cosplay as a cartoon character from one of my favourite 80s shows: Jem from Jem and the Holograms. I had bought a long light-pink wig and the former hairdresser in me went to town on it. The big hair was the most important part for me. Because I’ve been low on spoons, I bought the rest of the costume, but I converted the clip-on earrings to studs. (I make jewellery, so I had the tools.) Five pounds of makeup later, I was Jem. Playing that character brought back fond memories of when I was a bass player in high school in the 80s. Even though I played songs by Rush and Max Webster back then, I couldn’t get enough of Jem.
What genuinely surprised me was how many women of different ages came up to me, thrilled to bits. Apparently I had triggered off happy memories of when they watched the cartoon. I got hugs and stories and one Wonder Woman even sang the theme song to me! I felt like these fans needed to share their joyful moments of the past with me, and I felt glad I could help and give them a hug. It was really special.
Again, everyone looked at my face, and not the mobility aid. Huh.
Oh yeah, and then this happened.
I am not ashamed that I need tools to help me get around and I love my cane and rollator. I’ve even put flame decals on them! But when I cosplay, I’ve noticed so far that many people’s fandoms often trump their other perceptions.
And because of how I get treated with either kid gloves or a door in the face on most days, it’s so nice that for several hours every few months, I get a holiday from being “the disabled one.” It’s like taking a vacation from the awkwardness that often follows me around. I’m not sure if anyone else experiences that, but it’s kind of my reality.
So, for me, the enthusiasm of cosplay and how it is received is a healing thing. I feel great in those moments. Cosplaying lifts me out of the mundane and gets me into my expressive extroverted place.
The hugs are nice, too. And the happy stories. I love them the most.