Of all the panels that graced this year’s Anime Expo, only a few focused on POC and LGBTQ+ communities. Chocolate Covered Cosplay (C3) and Queersplay met last year during the Cosplay Senpai program and decided to join forces at Anime Expo for the “C3 & Queersplay Open Discussion” panel, which took place on July 2. Panelists and attendees exchanged personal experiences on cosplaying as members from marginalized groups.
The panel began with the panelists’ introductions. Ginger is a member of C3 and often patrols the group’s Facebook page, banning people for being rude. She makes her own cosplays and uses the pronouns she/her. Kimber Brightheart is the collaborative and founding member of Queersplay and uses the pronouns they/them. Ashphord Jacoway is a member of C3 and works on cosplay design and theater productions. Jes Leigh is the newest member of Queersplay and advocates body positivity. She uses the pronouns they/them or she/her, but warned not to call her “lady” or “ma’am.” Lastly, Brittney Angel is a member of C3 and talks not only from a black woman’s perspective, but also a woman with skinny privilege.
Each panelist shared their cosplay origin stories and how society had internalized the idea that they couldn’t cosplay a character because of their gender, skin color, or body shape. Ash, for example, explained that her childhood consisted of not believing she could cosplay a lot of characters because she was black.
“I told myself that I could not be Sailor Moon because I was black and I knew that someone else was going to have a problem with it,” Ash said. “I didn’t look like the character so it wasn’t gonna be good enough. I had told myself I couldn’t do something because of how my world was around me.”
She then told the audience how C3 gave her a safe place to express herself freely. Angel jumped in to remind attendees that the panel was a safe space and the panelists wanted to hear what everyone else had to say.
Ginger was the next person to share her story about cosplaying as Princess Peach. One of her friends back then had tried to clarify, “So, a black Princess Peach?” Ginger had responded, “No, I’m going to be Princess Peach with a pink dress and blonde hair.” She explained to the panel that POC get called a “version” of something and are sometimes told to stick to black characters.
“I can be Storm but why do I have to be her?” Ginger said. “I just wanna be this character. People tear down black cosplayers for no reason. ‘Yeah, but they’re not Japanese.’ Why are you turning their costume into their ethnic background and skin color?”
An attendee raised an important question about whether or not the panelists have had people approach them with the “I don’t see how this is an issue in the cosplay community” remark.
Jes responded that it’s a matter of whether you want to be emotional or educational to people’s ignorance. Kimber followed up by explaining that people would come up to the Queersplay booth and say, “This is a Queer and Trans safe space. But there’s so much pride around here. Look at these people doing gender-bend stuff, look at these gender-neutral bathrooms. I didn’t even know this is still a problem.”
Kimber continued, “I address that by being like ‘Well, okay, you’re straight. Also, you’re white. And I’m assuming you’re probably cis-gender. These issues don’t impact you and you don’t see them. And if you want to see those issues, I’m telling you that they exist. And you can start trying to pay attention and take off your blinders and look at what’s happening around you and look at the resources you have including us who are right here to try and talk to you about those things while we have the emotional capacity to be able to do that in an educational way…we’re happy to do that in this space. But we can’t do all that work for you. You’ve gotta look around and pay attention yourself.’”
The panelists moved on to the topic of media representation. Jes said that there should be a big push for representation — POC, queer, different body types, and so on.
“I should still be able to be that person and not have anyone attack or question me,” she explained.
Both Kimber and Jes dove into the issue of queer-coding — how queer people are coded as villains and vice versa. They listed Hades from Hercules, HIM from Powerpuff Girls, and LeFou from Beauty and the Beast as queer-coded villains. Kimber expressed her frustration over the lack of positive representation for queer characters.
Jes said, “It takes effort, and people who come from privileged backgrounds don’t want to put forth that effort. Use your privilege to empower other people instead of speaking over them.”
An attendee asked the panelists when they felt the most themselves while cosplaying, and Ash was the first to respond. She confessed her love for Rilakkuma and said that she had finally worn the mascot at Anime Expo after 10 years of being obsessed with the Japanese bear character. Jes said her favorite cosplay was Roz from Monsters Inc. while Kimber said she cosplayed as the femme version of Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. Angel said that most of her cosplays are femme and naked, but the cosplay that was most affirming for her was Jan Valentine from Hellsing. Lastly, Ginger said she often cosplays characters that are strong and powerful because she is a shy person but when she becomes that character, she gains a lot of confidence. One such character that she cosplayed was Sindel from Mortal Kombat.
Another attendee raised the question of hair texture as part of the cosplay — for example, afros on a white person.
Angel replied, “That’s all a respect perspective. Understand why someone might be upset about that sort of thing.”
Jes added, “[It’s] not my privilege to have that [afro]. My privilege is having a skin tone that’s most represented, not that hairstyle from people who are marginalized. There’s no one answer. If someone were to cosplay you, would you have a problem with it? I don’t speak for every fat or queer person. [It] depends on what you decide…”
Angel then asked the panel, “How do people feel as being described as fat?”
Jes responded that she loves it and coding it otherwise is more offensive. “Until these women as human beings can do whatever costume they want without people saying you’re a version, until people don’t have to justify their existence in their daily lives, I would kind of want people to stay in their own lane,” she said.
As the panel neared the end, Ash and Angel both offered encouraging words, reminding attendees to do whatever they want and that they shouldn’t care about what others think. The C3 panelists stressed the importance of surrounding yourself with people who love and uplift you.
For the final question, an attendee asked, “Do you think that religious belief and being in the LGBTQ+ community can coincide in a positive light?”
“One hundred ten percent,” Ash said. “I think so because I’m a spiritual person… I’m able to love a higher people and love people around me. They just have to do it.”
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