After a brief hiatus, Beneath the Layers is back and ready to deliver more cosplayer interviews (I’m always looking for more candidates so contact me if you’re interested). This month, I talk to 23-year-old Dallas cosplayer, Cam. Some of you may know him as a cellist who covers video game themes. He considers himself as “Jack of All Arts” and also enjoys painting, writing, photography, modeling, and building computers. Cam gives us the scoop on what it’s like being a male cosplayer and a Trekkie at an anime convention.
NOTE: As this interview series aims to help banish harassment and bullying of cosplayers, any inappropriate comments made toward the interviewee or cosplayers in general will be deleted.
1. How long have you been cosplaying, and what is your favorite cosplay?
My first cosplay event was A-kon 20 (June 2009). I had been planning for nearly a year by that point but didn’t know of any other opportunities, excepting Halloween.
My primary cosplay is a Starfleet captain from the Star Trek: Voyager era. After that first convention, I accidentally started a fan fleet, and as our numbers and story grew, we became a rogue fleet, making odd modifications to our uniforms. Mine was eventually decked out with all manner of strange tactical gear.
2. What are the best and worst parts of being a cosplayer?
The best part of being a cosplayer is that singular moment when I recognize the look of respect in someone’s eyes for the amount of work that has gone into making the costume I’m wearing. That, or walking around town and seeing the looks of confusion from the general populace.
The worst part? When those looks of confusion become words of hate fed by fear of the unknown, or in a simpler case, when the costume is mistakenly recognized as something completely unrelated. For a lot of people, there are also worries that the costume might not survive the day, thanks to glomping or gross misuse of others’ props.
3. It sounds like you have had a bad experience with that.
I once had a costume ripped in the crotch because a disrespectful woman decided to swing a prop gun around that area. She never apologized or even acknowledged fault, and I had to retire the costume immediately.
4. Can you describe an incident in which you’ve been harassed, bullied, or discriminated against while in cosplay?
The vast majority of anime fans are unaware of the existence of Star Trek comics, manga, graphic novels, video games, or the animated series. As a result, for every anime convention I attend in uniform, I am told several times that I do not belong, that I’m at the wrong con, or that I’m not welcome there. In one instance, a trustworthy friend related to me the trash talk from several Fullmetal Alchemistcosplayers who had threatened to take a more physical action if they saw me in uniform again.
5. How does the treatment of cosplayers differ between anime and sci-fi conventions?
I suppose I should have already said that I’m pretty much the worst Trekkie of all time. It wasn’t until I had a fleet to command that I began to really watch the shows to learn more about it, and I’ve only been to one dedicated sci-fi convention. I did note a few differences from anime conventions. Photographers and interviewers were much more concerned with how I felt about their work and how it portrayed me. I received less random business cards and more actual conversation and genuine questions. I also noticed a lot lower rate of thrown-together costumes. There were people who had spent a great deal of time hammering out the finer details of their costumes (with the exception of a few cheap Star Trek uniform shirts). I heard no conversations about Han and Greedo; I heard nothing about a weapons check; and the atmosphere was very lighthearted and fun throughout.
6. How do you feel about the idea that people should dress up as characters of their race, size, and age?
I personally try to hold to that idea in order to make my own cosplay that much more convincing, but then again, I’m a skinny white guy. I have that option. Frankly, it doesn’t bother me when I see people dressing as characters who are a different race, size, age, or even gender. Quite the contrary, if the costume is well-made and clean cut, I find it all the better for their dedication and determination.
7. How can the relationship between cosplayers and photographers be improved?
I’ve heard wondrous stories of the respect given by photographers to cosplayers in Japan. Here, cosplay is apparently considered to be a much more casual hobby. In my observation, cosplayers who are stopped for photos are generally grateful for the recognition while photographers just want to get a quick snap and move on.
Cosplayers should be allowed to see the photos that are being taken, but it’s a very difficult thing to do when there are several cameras going off at the same time. With a few exceptions, I’ve seen very little rapport between cosplayers and photographers, despite the frequency of one person being both in the convention setting.
8. What makes a cosplay stand out in your eyes?
A good fit, a clean cut, and attention to the finer details. Does your character wield a sword with identifying features? Wear a suit of armor? Carry a certain stuffed animal or pet? I’m more likely to pay less attention to someone whose costume doesn’t fit, is the wrong color, or is missing a crucial piece.
9. When does a costume become inappropriate or in poor taste?
Guidelines can be hard to set for this question, but in general, I agree with the rule that “No costume is no costume.” If it’s painted on or the only thing you’re wearing is wedged up your backside, that’s not enough clothing.
I will not talk to someone wearing a costume that is clearly prejudiced or hateful background. In fact, I almost completely disowned a close friend for wearing a Nazi Waffen SS uniform, but he removed it when I and others expressed our feelings.
10. What can cosplayers do to protect themselves from harassment and bullying and to stop perpetuating such behaviors?
The only way to be 100% sure you won’t be bullied for cosplaying is not to cosplay, but where’s the fun in that? We could all stick to characters we already naturally look like, but there’s no fun in that either. We can push for acceptance by waiting for society to recognize cosplay as more than an aberrant hobby, but that will take time.
Perhaps the best answer is to prepare witty banter for the talker, or to travel in numbers to lessen physical threat. There’s really no good answer to this problem, or bullying might have been solved on a more general level by now.
11. What kinds of stereotypes do male cosplayers face?
I’ve found there are two dichotomous stereotypes at play for men. Like females, the “ideal” male cosplayers are expected to be in peak shape, but instead of having curves, they are expected to have defined muscle anywhere skin is showing. On the other end of the spectrum, the “expected” male cosplayers would ogle the girls at every opportunity (or worse) and care nothing for their appearance or smell.
12. Do you think “How to Talk to Girls” panels are necessary? What should guys (and girls) do if they wish to pursue a conversation with someone?
Yes, beyond a shadow of a doubt, those panels are necessary. The only problem is that the guys who really need it wouldn’t go.
The only way to pursue a conversation is to start one. Sadly, everything after this comes down to recognition of key words/phrases and body language, which the [stereotypical] “expected” male cosplayers would completely miss. That in turn gives rise to the need for these panels.
13. How has your life changed for the better as a result of cosplay?
I believe this is the easiest question you’ve asked. Most of my closest friends I’ve met through cosplay and conventions. I don’t really identify with most of my high school and college friends so it’s nice to know people who have interests similar to my own.
14. Any last words to fellow and aspiring cosplayers?
For pete’s sake, don’t make out with your Charizard plushy. I saw that the other day, and it was disgusting. To be a bit broader, have respect for yourself and your peers. Respect is what it all boils down to in this game.
Many thanks to Cam for taking the time to answer all my questions and for supplying all the photos except the last one.