When I was younger, I really liked punk music, and I wanted to know more about the punk scene. I didn’t have a chance to learn much in my small, quiet Midwestern town, but when I went to college, suddenly there was a much broader world open to me. I made a couple friends who were punks, and they invited me to some shows. I went to those shows, and then I never went back. I kept listening to the music, but the mean looks and rude treatment from scenesters who thought I was beneath them because I didn’t dress a certain way and couldn’t answer questions about zillions of obscure punk bands alienated me permanently. I didn’t go to another truly punk show for a very long time. I wasn’t (and still am not) interested in pretending to be something I’m not just to fit in with an elitist group of people who think that only if you conform to their standards of the scene can you be one of them.
This is why the idea of excoriating “fake” geeks makes me so angry. The desire for everyone in your scene to like exactly the things you like and to present themselves ONLY in exactly the ways you prefer is exclusionary and, frankly, ridiculous. The comics industry needs as much new blood as possible, and if you don’t like what those other people create or read, then you don’t have to look at it or hang out with them. Without new blood, the industry will die. This is not me being alarmist. The traditional comic geek is growing old and will eventually be gone. That doesn’t mean those people aren’t worth keeping. But it does mean that the comic industry as a whole needs to encourage demographic diversity. Women, children, people of color, and LGBT folks are all groups that need to be better served by the comic industry as a whole - and welcoming those groups with open arms can do nothing but good things for the industry. Excluding them, however, means that our industry continues to dwindle. People will only stick around for so long when they are being made to feel unwelcome and less than everyone else in a scene. Diversity doesn’t make your interest less YOURS and it doesn’t make you unwelcome. It just brings in new people for you to talk to about your interests and learn about their interests and makes you a more well-rounded person.
That’s how I feel about cosplayers. Cosplaying is not really my thing. I usually dress as something nerdy for Halloween, in a way that at a con would be considered cosplaying, I suppose. I’ve been Black Canary, Catwoman, and Silk Spectre I. Those costumes may be revealing, but I wore every single one of them because I was interested in the character (Black Canary in particular was my favorite because she’s my favorite DC heroine). But when it comes to dressing up for cons, I’d rather not. I was in a cosplay group last year where I dressed as a female version of the 9th Doctor. Putting together the costume was fun, and meeting a bunch of other women who were also really into Doctor Who was great. But at the end of the day, I don’t go to cons to cosplay. I go to cons to work – to meet creators, check out what folks are doing, do meetings, etc. – and being in costume is not really conducive to that, most of the time (because of my own discomfort with being professional in costume, not because I don’t think anyone should do it).
So it’s not my thing – but I LOVE seeing cosplayers. Above all, I love seeing people dressed as characters from things I’m working on, whether they’re huge fans or just love the aesthetic. It doesn’t matter to me if they’ve bought every issue or watched every episode or know the entire history of the character. It takes enthusiasm to put on a costume, and that enthusiasm is valuable to the comics industry, because that enthusiasm can be broadened. Someone who digs the aesthetic of a character, whether they know anything about them at all or not, can be encouraged to get to know more about that character by a welcoming industry, NOT by an industry that tells them they are worthless because they don’t already know everything. And anyone who has talked to cosplayers knows that almost all of them put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into their costumes – and 100% of the time in my experience, it’s because they love the character they’re dressing as. That is passion we as an industry should be welcoming, regardless of their interests.
Oh, you like that manga? Have you seen this amazing comic by so-and-so? It’s super rad.
Oh, you wore that costume cuz it looks cool? Did you know that character kicked major ass in this miniseries? It’s awesome.
What’s so hard about that? Cosplayers’ passion does nothing to harm the industry at all.
But no matter how you slice it, sexism harms comics as an industry and us as a community. I have yet to read any blog post or Facebook tirade about those awful fake geek guys that are ruining comics. It’s clear that for many of the people who fear fake geeks, that fear is focused on women. Maybe it’s because some women teased them about their interests when they were younger, and they see attractive women who don’t seem to be “real” geeks as a threat. I get that we all have our scars. But judging strangers based on their appearances and your assumptions about what a geek should look like is no better than other people excluding you because they think you look like a geek. The next time you meet someone who your geekdar is telling you is not a “real” geek – take a second to think about what that says about you and to think about ways you can both converse to enhance your geek experience. Because the best part of geek culture is that we as a community LOVE to talk about what we love – and we don’t all have to love exactly the same parts of being a geek.