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Let me just say now that I’m biased in that I have a horse in this race. I’m a straight guy, and I enjoy wearing skirts. It’s not a fetish thing for me, but I must say I look good in a mid-length skirt. It’s a comfort thing. Anyone who hasn’t worn a skirt before, take a few minutes and go try one on the next time you’re in a store. Tell me it’s not so much less miserable than wearing shorts, especially in the summer. The reason I bring this up is because while women breached the cultural taboo against wearing pants almost a century ago, men are still straggling along coddling their delicate sense of masculinity that some people seem to think can’t survive wearing a hoop of fabric. That is slowly changing, and I cannot help but think this isn’t a good thing, especially in geek culture.
Opening the Minds of Geek Culture
Geek culture has had something of a problem with being just as homophobic and misogynistic as everyone we swear up and down that we’re better than. Take a look at the comment sections for just about any cosplay community, and you’ll quickly realize we’re just as bad as a locker full of stereotypical 80s jocks. If that’s too much work for you, grab a few comics off your shelf and just look at the contortions we put female comic book characters through (spines don’t bend like that, folks). I have to wonder if some of it is a sad, residual fear of being called a wuss or a pussy. That fear or loathing or whatever you want to call it has for so long transferred over to what we as geek men are willing to do for our fandom. We’ll buy scantily clad figures and artwork of our favorite female heroines. We’ll ogle female cosplayers online. But until very recently, we would never dream of dressing as our favorite female characters.
I still think that has something to do with the inherent problems in geek culture. A lot of geek guys see women in media as there for us to look at or covet, not identify with. Identifying with them means identifying as a sex object. Even powerful heroines were seen that way. Go back not even 10 years, and the only time you’d ever catch a guy cosplaying a female character is as a joke. Almost every anime convention had at least one overweight bearded guy dressing as Sailor Moon. The joke was, of course, that Sailor Moon was hot, and here was an overweight bearded guy dressing up in her signature miniskirt and heels.
Thankfully, all of that is changing. Because of efforts by folks of an LGBT persuasion as well as (and I know I’m going to get flack for this, but I don’t care) feminists, gender and sexuality are considered more fluid. While things are by no means perfect, it’s more okay to not be straight. It’s okay to be gender non-binary. And it’s okay if you’re just like me and want to wear a skirt from time to time. It also means that there are slowly, ever so slowly, more and more examples of women in comics that don’t conform to the usual male fantasies. They’re fully fleshed out characters. Homestuck, for example, has more characters than you could imagine, and both genders contribute to the plot. No one sits by the sidelines; No one exists as a wallflower or a prize to be won. Combine that with a liberated new outlook on what is socially acceptable, it’s suddenly okay to identify with a woman.
Bronies and Adventure Time
I think the first time I really noticed this was bronies. For the first time in a really big way, guys were suddenly interested in something ostensibly marketed for girls. They watched the show, collected the toys, and even cosplayed the characters. That’s right. Guys dressed up as a bunch of girly ponies from a show for girls, and despite some screaming on the internet, no one cared. Sometimes, the cosplay would involve cross dressing as a human version of their favorite pony. Sometimes it would involve a completely gender bent version, and you might see a Rarity cosplayer dressed in a resplendent white suit or an Applejack very reminiscent of the Marlboro Man.
With that, the dam began to crack. Adventure Time is pretty much up canonically up for grabs as you can chose from cosplaying Finn and Marceline or the in-series fanfiction written by the Ice King featuring Fionna and Marshall, genderbent versions of the aforementioned Finn and Marceline. No one can complain because all four characters actually do appear in the show, forcing even the most obnoxious neckbeard to admit that it all checks out, not that it should matter. And if you look, you can find men dressing as Harley Quinn and women dressed as the Joker proving that slowly but surely, progress is being made even in the most mainstream bastions of geek culture.
None of this should be seen as weird or disgusting or wrong. Cosplay has always been about enjoying yourself and dressing as a character you love. Body type shouldn’t matter, and thankfully the geek fandom seems to be slowly waking up to that. It may take some time, but hopefully this little trend will continue, forming a circle where, because it’s okay to identify with female characters, more and more geeky media will feature women, and because more geeky media features women, it will become more acceptable to cosplay as a female character if you just so happen to be male.
Can Geeks Change the World?
Honestly, geeks have a really big chance to not only change their culture, but maybe even affect the larger world. Nerd culture is big right now. Superhero movies are everywhere, and two of the hottest shows around are based on a fantasy series and a comic book, respectively. And we, as nerds, have a unique opportunity. Conventions are something of a magical space where everyone is there celebrates their fandoms. We’re louder, more open minded, and less judgmental than we usually are. It’s why we’re okay dressing up in ridiculous, garish costumes in the first place. We feel safe because for three or four days, we’re among friends who just want to show off their nerd cred. And for those few days, we can push the boundaries of what’s acceptable socially. Suddenly it’s okay for a guy to show up as a gender bent version of Cruella de Vil dressed in a faux fur coat and a tailored waistcoat and slacks. Suddenly it’s okay if he wants to show up not in a suit but in the dress instead. Or maybe you see a male Maleficent looking like he could challenge Voldemort in a wizarding duel and win. And we’re okay with that. Why? Because that’s awesome and creative. These people put work into those costumes, possibly even more work than normal because not only to they have to figure out how to make it, they have to figure out a brand new angle on their costume, and you can’t help but congratulate them on it.
Breaking Down Barriers
I’m hoping that might just carry over just a little bit once the convention is done. If we can be okay with this for three or four days, why not the rest of the year? Even better, if we can be okay with it, maybe we can coax a few people who don’t usually go to conventions out of their rigid adherence to conventional gender norms. After all, if some guy can dress like Harley Quinn and come off looking like a pro wrestler carrying a giant mallet, maybe it shouldn’t matter all that much who dresses like what, so long as they’re happy. If dressing like Harley Quinn, the character DC has pretty much christened as their go-to for over-sexualized costuming, fanboy eye candy, and money grabbing spinoffs didn’t somehow rob him of all his precious, precious masculinity, it just might be okay to think outside the box in terms of what your next cosplay choice would be.
So think about it the next time you or one of your friends has a new favorite character in your fandom of choice. The world is growing around us, and just because the star of that awesome new show you found doesn’t match your gender, geek culture has matured enough that it doesn’t matter all that much. So gender bend or cross dress to your heart’s content. See what happens when you don’t treat it as a joke, and watch how many people take your picture because you did something they hadn’t even thought of. Oh, and after you’re done, do me a favor. If you found yourself wearing a skirt at some point because you decided to try some daring new cosplay, try it on again after the convention is over and all the noise and crowds have died down. Wear it around the house a bit, and tell me it isn’t surprisingly comfortable.