Everybody is talking about wanting the D, that’s Diversity, in their comics. Its one thing to argue over a post online about a characters gender expression, orientation, or even race. The issues becomes a whole lot more personal when there are people face to face in cosplay and they are getting harassed for presenting a character how they envision them to be. This panel at New York Comic Con went into the aspects of the intersectionality of being Black and on the queer spectrum.
Moderating the panel was Kirya Traber, @kiryatraber; and the panel included Cleopatra, @cleopatrafromthebronx; Harly Lovegood, @whoisharley; Isake, @is_she_okay; Jay Justice, @thatjayjustice; Tony R. Ray, of Everybody Loves Tony Ray. Opening the panel it was made known that this is a safe space and for all those in the space should show dignity to one another. PGP’s, Preferred Gender Pronouns, were also given at this time so I will be addressing the panelist by their PGP’s throughout the article.
The first question posed to the panel by Kirya was “How do you see your experience cosplaying while being Black and Queer relating to the larger context of racism cis-sexism, patriarchy, ecetera.” The panelist spoke of a general idea of just existing in a space is resistance to the barrage of -isms set forth with-in the cosplay community. “For me cosplaying Wonder Woman, me cosplaying Supergirl, me cosplaying these iconic characters allows me to take up space in a way that is integral to continuing resistance…thats the way I can make the space for the people who come behind me.” spoke Isake. Continuing she says, “I feel the need to be visible in a way to make myself feel stronger in those spaces.” The ability to just be there is a profound complex experience.
For Tony Ray its about kids like his son for him its, “that moment of showing like YES your little brown babies can run around and be superheros too…and that is so powerful because as you dressed as Superman they aren’t gonna go ‘oh my god its Black Superman’ they’re gonna go ‘oh my god its Superman and if a child can see themselves represented as a hero there’s no limit to what they can do!”.
Harley recounts a moment just the day earlier where they were cosplaying as Aquaman and were verbally accosted for being wanting to present as a male Aquaman and not a rule 63 version.
“In the street I got so many like violent reactions from like Cis-men (as
in Cis-gender which is the correlation of ones self identity to that of their biological sex) about me NOT being Aquaman, I was a Mermaid, I was Aqualady, I was Mera, I couldn’t just be Aquaman.” Harley uses taking up space in cosplay as a way to help deal with life as it can be a powerful thing.
Moving on, Kirya directed the panel to analyze the importance and uniqueness of and having spaces where the venn diagram of Queer, Black, and Cosplay meet. Jay Justice speaks of the booth co-directed by herself and Tony, LGBT HQ, and it being a nexus of information including queer writer, artist, and a place you can come and seek out cosplay repair. Isake spoke about communal spaces and having the ability to not have to explain away your life for when shit just gets offensive, “you need to be in spaces where other people share your experience…you need to be in a place where other folk are like this shit is fucked up and they don’t have to explain why”, “you don’t have to explain the power of that thing to the folks that are in that space with you, they already know”, “having that little bit of power in [these spaces] allows me to transfer that to other spaces. Cause the world is a shitty place sometimes and you need to take power where you can push through.”
The idea of communal cerebral space as a form of mental health as Cleopatra points out throughout the panel, this is especially true when dealing with microaggressions, which are but are not limited to racial slights and behavior that are just used in everyday language as commonplace. The panel went in and talked about the unconscious little slights they go through being Black, Queer cosplayers. Jay Justice, “when I was colossus ‘I didn’t know they had Black people in Russia’ well like they do”. Tony, “there was a time I was dressed as the Pink Ranger and they’re like ‘oh you did this cause your gay right?’ and I’m like oh let me show you my full range of motion”, he says this as he looks like he’s about to bust somebody’s chops. Harley, “as I was leaving the car and I was walking down the street, this guy asked me who I was and I told him I was Aquaman and not only did he stop in the middle of the block to scream at me that I could not be Aquaman because I was not strong and because I have breast”, Cleopatra chimes in, “did he know men have breast?” The room explodes with laughter. Cleopatra then went on to vent her own microagression, “I don’t know if anyone has ever gotten this like only dykes read comics…you know if you are a woman and read comics your a dyke…well clearly, yeah I identify as a dyke SURELY so yes you are completely right”. Tony finishes off the question with, “the ever so classic ‘hey were doing a group [cosplay]’, do you want me to be the Black guy ‘yeah’, have I ever heard of the group, ‘I don’t think so’, then get the Hell out my face” another burst of laughter.
Lastly the panelist were given a chance to share a fan space or creator as resources to the audience. Jay Justice mentions, Regine L. Sawyer of Women In Comics NYC. Tony Ray mentioned something I haven’t heard about yet, Blerd Con, which is a new con that is due to happen next summer in Washington, D.C. I’ll be keeping an eye out for it.
So to wrap it Kirya summed up all the info of the panel,”finding community online and off, making intentional plans, being honest with yourself about the fact that your experiencing racism, sexism, cis-sexism, heterosexism and having somebody to talk about that honestly and openly.” This panel was a schooling of gender politics. Hopefully this panel gets picked up by more cons so many more queer Black and Brown folk and allies can find their own space.