Digital Changeling

January 16, 2012

Racism, Costuming, and Our History of Oppression Means I Can’t Cosplay Who I Want

Filed under: Costuming — Eva @ 1:13 am

One of my hobbies, albiet not one I talk about a lot on this blog, is costuming. I sometimes dress up as existing characters from shows, games, or movies at conventions. There are a lot of characters I love who I’d love to dress as. Sometimes those characters are very different from me.

It’s acknowledged in the costuming community that people don’t need to be exactly the same as the characters they dress as. You don’t need colored contacts to perfectly match eye colors and it’s ok to dress as characters with body shapes or even genders that are different than your own. There are a lot of tricks the community accepts to make these costumes flattering: padding, control undergarments like corsets, chest binding, makeup, etc.

The one think you can’t do is paint your skin darker to portray a dark skinned person.

I can’t say that I instinctively understood why this is hurtful. I understood why it could hurt someone in theory, because there is such an enormous history of white people in dark makeup mocking dark skinned people. That was more than enough to stop me from doing it, even before I saw some of the really horrifying Victorian costuming magazines with “Negro” costume suggestions for the kids.*

For a long time there weren’t a whole lot of dark skinned characters that I wanted to dress as. I think this had less to do with my taste and more to do with the deplorable state of media in general. But in the last 5 years, I’ve started to see characters like Katara and Kyra. I started to want to cosplay as them.

The previous “no skin darkening” rule stopped me, but I was more confused and unsure about cosplaying without makeup. It wasn’t until more recently when a friend linked to this article that talks about Paizo’s race and gender sexualizing choices that I started to realize there was another issue, that was more than just a second issue.

There’s a history in the USA and in Hollywood of whitewashing characters. This came up when Avatar: the Last Airbender was made into a movie. I was not so thrilled about it at the time, because Katara was cast as a skinny blond girl, nothing like her original design. It seemed very unnecessary, just excluding for the sake of excluding.

When I read the post about Paizo and saw the part about the costume contest advertising using a white woman dressed as one of their darker characters, it clicked for me. Even though I can’t change my race, if I dress as a character who normally has dark skin, there are going to be people out there who don’t see a white woman who loves a dark skinned character, they’ll see the character being whitewashed.

This is worse, because I can’t paint my skin darker to portray the character more accurately without some people seeing it as mocking. There’s no way for me to express my love for Katara or Kyra through costuming without hurting someone.

I can’t tell the rest of fandom how much I want more characters like Katara by representing her at a con and that makes me really sad. If the world wasn’t full of systemic racism against non-white people, I might be able to, but the world is broken. It would be stupid to get mad at other people for being hurt by a broken world, so instead I’m going to be mad at the broken world for denying me what I want and hurting everyone.

I hope that people who can portray these characters without hurting others do. I want to see more Kataras and Kyras, and any number of other characters who aren’t white. I desperately want the costuming community to do them justice.

I wish there was more I could do to help.



* I need to scan these at some point so you get the full horror of them. The Victorians stop being so romantic and quaint when you remember how nauseatingly racist they were.

January 15, 2012

GenCon (and Gaming) Belongs to Me Too

Filed under: Angry,D&D,Feminism,Games — Eva @ 11:28 pm

One of the most heartbreaking moments of my life was the GenCon the first year after my wedding. I was starting to truly grok feminism and for the first time I walked the exhibitor’s hall with my husband, Alan, and paid attention to how people treated each of us.

I made eye contact. I smiled. I asked vendors leading questions about their products like I always do. I found that in a minority of the time they treated me as if I knew nothing about gaming even when I said that I played RPGs. I’ve had people do this to me before. I look really young for my age, so I normally don’t mind letting them just assume whatever and go on with their job. The pitch is usually much the same, it just includes more intro and layman’s terms. This time it was different, because I realized that they weren’t making these kinds of assumptions about Alan.

There was one booth we stopped at where Alan was supremely uninterested and I thought the setting looked kind of cool. I picked up a book and skimmed the back, looked up at the nearest guy in the booth (there were three, all male, sitting around not doing anything), smiled, and asked some trivial question about the setting. The booth guy, instead of answering me, literally turned to Alan and answered my question. I was so shocked I just kind of stared at him. Alan was pretty startled as well.

There were other incidents, but that was the worst, the one that stood out above the others. I left that con feeling for the first time in my life like I did not belong. It hurt so much I couldn’t even express it.

When I was a kid GenCon was the one place outside my home where I felt totally accepted. I’ve attended almost every year of my life. I literally said my first words in a GenCon. Now it felt like the con had rejected me.

Soon I got angry. The man in that booth, he was probably half again as old as me. The chances are I’ve been to more GenCons than he has. I’ve been playing video and board games since before I started pre-school. The chances are I may have been gaming as long as or longer than he has. Fuck him. Fuck him and fuck his sexism.

GenCon doesn’t belong to just him. It belongs to all the gamers and geeks who attend. I attend and it belongs to me too. I sure as hell want the other people who attend to be less sexist, but even if they aren’t, I belong there and it’s also mine.

I’m not going to let prejudice drive me away from a hobby that I love.

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