For years, I have worn itchy synthetic wigs that consistently result in terrible headaches, ill-fitting costumes thrown together at my own home sewing machine, and fake, feathered angel wings that were later declared a small fire hazard. In every instance, however, I was having the time of my young life! I was meeting new friends from all over the world, bonding over a mutual comfort in cosplay—or, as it is more technically known, “costume play”. I traded the secrets of our mounting group of fictional-dress-up, learning new tricks of the trade and expanding my creative horizons. Yet, at the same time, I would also have small pangs of regret.
More often than not, masses from the outside, both young and old, would stare at me with disapproval and spew negative words in my direction. Freak, Loser, Geek, Retard, Psycho, Weirdo—a few of the more common names I have adopted over the years. Every insult cuts through my heart and shatters whatever confidence I have built up since the last costumed escapade. As I stand in a rushing crowd of judgment, I am left wondering about why I continue to indulge in the (apparently strange) hobby that I possess.
Yet, can I honestly say that my hobby is strange? Strangeness implies a severe lack of common practice and acceptance. There is a widespread community across the United States that finds dressing up as fictional characters from animated works and pop culture performances a calming and fun experience. There are clubs and conventions dedicated to gathering cosplayers together. In my personal case, I feel that cosplay has allowed me to have a strong connection with my more feminine side. It also allows me to meet others who share my passion for sewing garments, sculpting large art prop pieces out of clay and craft foam, and to perform in front of a large audience without feeling afraid.
So, if so many people feel that cosplay is natural, why do other people think that we are strange? What is so wrong about our self-expression—in any form, really? They do not know our backgrounds, or our reasons for doing the things that we do, but they almost instantly make negative assumptions about who we are as a people. Perhaps it is because of their closed-mindedness, or simply their total lack of understanding of the world of cosplay, which causes them to lash out and attack those of us who enjoy the world of fantasy. Do they see elaborate cardboard staffs and neon wigs worn out in the daytime as threats to their “normal” comprehension of the world around them? Do they feel that a wrong is being committed, that it is inappropriate and somehow illegal to look different?
If this is so, why hasn’t a bloody war begun in America—the land of freedom and diversity? Here, now, we have the wonderful constitutional right to dress and believe as we see fit. No one person looks exactly like their neighbor and the times are shifting to accommodate the more vibrant and unusual. Varied skin colors, curious hair styles, vivacious fashion senses, and contradictory religious practices—the United States is full of diversity and change! At one point, were all of these subjects not considered “strange” and thus shunned for being so? Did men not see women in pants as a sin against the natural order? Where tattoos not once thought of as disgusting war paints reserved only for the criminal and dangerous? Of course they were. Did the times change, and did the people eventually shift their personal views? Yes, they did!
So again, I ponder, why do a vast majority of Americans still feel the need to condemn that which they do not fully understand? What is so difficult about accepting that some things in our world are not necessarily going to be everyday occurrences? My greatest hope and wonder is that, maybe deep down, these outsiders who call us hurtful names actually want to join us—that they secretly believe that cosplay does indeed look fun, but are much too afraid of being seen as “strange” or different by their peers. In truth, I pity those who are trapped behind the iron bars of fear, wishing nothing more than to join the animated world before them and smile along with the rest of its occupants.
I pity them because cosplay is not a cult, or a gathering of psychopaths waiting to attack every person that passes by. It is, in the most basic terms, the spirit of Halloween during any day of the year. Cosplayers dress up as fictional characters in order to express their more artistic sides and to feel calm and excited about meeting new people. It is a social network, focusing on craftsmanship and theatre. Personally, I feel the most at home when I cosplay, as do all of the close cosplay companions I have made over the years. In my mind it is a rewarding interest, until a vulture from the outside world busts forth and rips that joy from me.
Maybe I will never understand why people shun that which is different. As human beings, we are blessed with free will, and thus have the ability to choose what to accept as right and wrong. Still, that free will does not change the fact that words cut deep. Can I say that my hobby is strange? I will gladly admit that to some, it simply does not make sense and never will. So, yes, perhaps cosplay is a strange hobby, but what gives anybody the right to call us freaks? Why do they have to glare in my direction, grimacing at my very image and crushing my equally human heart? Why can’t they just leave me be, twirling happily in my vibrant Victorian ball gown and spreading my fake feathered wings to the sky?