Cosplay Cuts, Part 1

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“Ugh, I’m so tired of how all the men at con think that the fact I’m dressed up means they can hit on me. Or even worse, touch me,” Pamela moaned as she entered her apartment. She was dressed like Wonder Woman—flowing brown hair (her own, with no wig or extensions in sight), leather-and-metal bustier, tall boots, the whole look. She’d taken a lot of time to get all the details of her costume right, modeling it on the Gal Godot version of the iconic character: still sexy, but not gratuitous or ridiculous in its impracticality. When she left home that morning she’d felt empowered, strong. But no matter how modern the costume, it wasn’t enough: after eight hours of pretending to ignore lewd comments and sidestepping the wandering hands of men who asked if they could get a picture with her, all she wanted to do was throw her costume in the trash can.

“Yeah, tell me about it,” Tracey replied, slumping onto Pamela’s sofa. Her outfit evoked the latest version of the Scarlet Witch costume, as seen on WandaVision: a high-necked bustier, black leggings, tall gloves, a long cape, and windblown red hair (her natural length and texture, although not her natural color). She, too, had chosen to go with a costume that spoke to modern sensibilities, rather than unrealistic comic book cliches. The costume was tight, sure, but it was very deliberately not revealing. “Men kept trying to touch my hair or move my cape out of the way so they could see my ass,” she lamented.

“Ack! What is it with the hair touching?” Pamela asked. “I’m just so tired of the men at con thinking they’re entitled to do whatever they want. And it’s like this every year.”

“It’s not like the organizers or the local cosplay groups have done anything to stop them,” said Tracey. “There’s always this half-hearted line about being respectful of other cosplayers but there’s no enforcement. It doesn’t help that they don’t have any women in leadership roles.”

“So what?” Pamela asked. “Do we start cosplaying as male characters? Do we just stop cosplaying at con? Or stop going entirely?” She knew plenty of women who already had. They both did.

“Why should we be the ones to leave if we didn’t do anything wrong?”

“You’re right. I just don’t know how many more times I can do this. I wish there were a way to cosplay at con as the female characters we look up to without men feeling like they have a free pass to touch us or make obscene comments.”

Tracey had pulled out her phone and was scrolling through Instagram photos using the con’s hashtag. She saw a lot of people who looked like they were having fun. She also saw more than a few photos of female cosplayers looking deeply uncomfortable next to men who had collared them into taking a photo together. Then she saw something else entirely. “Pam? Come over here and look at this.”

Pamela leaned over Tracey’s shoulder and saw that in place of a photo of con attendees, someone with the username @hermionestranger had uploaded a flyer as an image and shared it on the platform:

Women of Comic Cons,
Female Cosplayers,
Femme and Enby fantasy and sci fi fans:
We have a big problem

Below the image was a lengthy post discussing the problematic ways in which men—specifically, but not exclusively, cis-het men—treated women at cons and other events aimed at gamers and fans of comics, sci fi, and fantasy. It called out event organizers and the people who ran local cosplay groups for their inaction on the issue. Some of these people, the author of the post wrote, even encouraged the bad behavior by saying infuriating things like “If women who go to con or similar events have a problem with the way men treat them, they should wear costumes that attract less male attention.”

The post concluded with a call to action: “Enough is enough. It’s time we beat them at their own game. I’m taking a stand and I hope you’ll join me for a live broadcast tomorrow at 7 p.m. ET to learn more. This event is for women, femmes, and enbys only. The registration link is in my bio and your identity will be confirmed when you log in.”

Tracey put her phone down and looked at Pamela. “Well I’m intrigued.”

“I’ll say,” Pamela agreed. “But look, the post is time stamped yesterday.” She looked at her watch. “The broadcast starts in less than an hour. Let’s see if we can still register!”

The friends navigated to the link in @hermionestranger’s Instagram profile and found themselves on a basic registration page. After entering their names and email addresses, a message appeared on the screen. “Thank you for registering for our broadcast. This broadcast will be for women, femmes, and nonbinary people only. To verify you are not a cis-het male, please join our broadcast fifteen minutes early and prepare to turn your camera and mic on. A volunteer will join you in your pre-assigned waiting room to confirm your identity. I look forward to seeing you soon!”

Tracey and Pamela had just enough time to change into “street” clothes and order a pizza before it was time to enter the virtual waiting room. Within a few moments, they were joined by someone else. “Hello,” the newcomer said. “My name is Freya and I’m just here to quickly check to make sure you are who you say you are.”

“I recognize you!” Pamela exclaimed, examining Freya’s long blonde hair, cropped closely and dyed green at the sides. “You were dressed as Double Trouble from She-Ra at con! I thought your hair might be a wig.”

Freya smiled. “Not a lot of people outside of the enby community get the costume. I’m glad you did. And yeah, the hair is real. I think I’m going to miss it.” Suddenly Freya looked startled, as if they said something they shouldn’t. They quickly went into professional mode. “Sorry, folks but I’ve got to check in some other attendees. Can you please hold up some form of photo identification to your cameras? You can cover up your address, drivers’ license number, etc. I just need the name and photo so I know it matches with your registration information.” Tracey and Pamela held their IDs up, their thumbs covering up the more personal details. “Thanks,” Freya said. “We’re going to ask that you keep your cameras on for the broadcast, but we’ll mute all participants’ mics. It just allows us to ensure that nobody who’s not registered joins you while you watch. Do you have any questions?”

“Yeah, um,” Tracey answered. “Can you tell us anything about what’s happening tonight?”

“Sorry,” Freya answered. “I don’t want to spoil the surprise. We’ll be starting in just a moment.”

Freya disappeared from the screen, leaving the image of a countdown clock in her place, and the two friends looked at each other. “Performance art?” Pamela asked Tracey.

“There’s certainly an element of performance,” Tracey nodded. “But I think there’s more to it than that.”

The doorbell rang with 40 seconds left on the clock. Pamela hopped up to grab their pizza and then ran back to the desk where Tracey sat, opening a bottle of wine. “Dinner and a show, I guess,” Pamela said. A few seconds later, the broadcast started. One woman’s video took up most of the screen, but off to the side, dozens of thumbnails showed the other attendees.

“Oh! I know her!” Tracey said, sliding a glass of pinot to Pamela. “I should have made the connection from the screen name. Her name is Liz, and she always cosplays at different cons as Hermione Granger but, like, mashed up with another character.”

“Oh yeah,” Pamela recalled. “She did that awesome Hermione-slash-Buffy costume a few years ago, right?”

“Yep! She’s the one!”

The woman on the screen began to speak. “I’m sure you’re wondering what you’re all doing here,” she laughed, running a hand through her hair, which fell in dirty blonde curls well below her shoulders. It wasn’t quite as wild as Hermione’s is described in the books, but it was clear why her hair would be perfect for the cosplay. “For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Liz Anders, aka @hermionestranger. I see a lot of familiar faces in the audience tonight. I hope you’ll all still be here when I’m finished.”

Liz pushed her hair back again, cleared her throat. “I suspect you’re all here because you’re as fed-up as I am. There doesn’t seem to be any safe space for women who are interested in comics, gaming, or sci fi and fantasy. The men of these communities have decided that the women and femmes don’t belong in any capacity except as something they can objectify. I have heard about or experienced episodes of groping, hair-pulling, unwanted sexual advances, panels and talks that are deliberately misogynistic, and hostility toward anyone who calls this behavior out. The organizers of these events have kept women out of leadership positions and resisted change at every turn.”

Liz looked at something or someone off screen and gave a little nod, then looked back toward her camera. “The men in our community seem to think that because we go to events in costumes that make us feel powerful, it’s because we want them to see us as sexy. It’s like blaming a woman for getting cat-called because she was wearing a short skirt. Women should get to wear what they want to wear, whether they’re walking down the street or they’re walking into con.” She paused. Sighed. “But okay. Fine. If it’s so hard for the men to control themselves when I’m cosplaying as Hermione Granger—a teenage schoolgirl, by the way, so extra ‘ew’ there—and the organizers aren’t going to do anything to make these spaces safer and more welcoming to women, I say we make the spaces more welcoming ourselves. I say we repel our abusers. We take up more space in a way that proves once and for all we are not there for them. We’ll still get to emulate the powerful women from the books and games and shows and movies we love, but—at least for now, till the boys learn to start respecting us—we focus on the powerful women whose very existence subverts the male gaze.”

Liz reached a hand in the direction she had previously nodded. She grabbed something offscreen, but it was out of frame when she set it down in front of her. “I’m finished playing Hermione Granger until the men can get it together, but I’m not finished cosplaying. I’m just making a change. A big, big change that should, I hope, divorce any notion that female cosplayers only go to con to get hit on. And I’ve enlisted some other cosplayers to help.” On screen, five other faces joined Liz’s, each in their own boxes. One of the people was Freya, who had checked their identity when they came in. Pamela and Tracey thought they might have recognized a few of the others, too. All were women or at least femme-presenting. Liz picked up where she had left off. “You might be familiar with George Lucas’s first movie, THX1138. But even if you haven’t seen it, you probably know at least one thing about it: almost every character in that movie, regardless of their gender, is bald. The idea is that they live in a society without sex or sexual attraction, and while I know that’s ultimately proven to be a bad thing in the movie and maybe it’s not a film full of strong female characters, the metaphor was just too good to resist. So…the next time we cosplay, and every time we cosplay for the foreseeable future, we will be portraying characters from THX1138.” Liz picked up the item she had previously placed in front of her and held it up: a pair of electric clippers, without any sort of guard. The other five people on the screen followed suit, each with their own set of guard-less clippers.

Pamela and Tracey gasped as they realized what was about to happen. Looking at the tiny thumbnails on the side of the screen, they noticed they were not alone in their shock. “She can’t be serious!” Pamela exclaimed, instinctively clutching her long, dark hair. “Her hair is so gorgeous!”

“It looks like she is,” Tracey answered. She, too, held onto her hair, stroking its dyed-red lengths.

Back on screen, Liz was speaking again. “I’m hoping you’ll join us. We’re all hoping. Not necessarily as THX1138 cosplayers, but as cosplayers who are willing to own their power and show the men in the community that they attend these events for their own pleasure, and nobody else’s. There are plenty of other movies and games and books and shows where you can find female or nonbinary characters with radical haircuts and a lot of power and agency. Characters who men would never think twice about groping or harassing. If you love cons or cosplay but hate the culture, you have the power to change it. And all you have to do…” here, she turned on her clippers with a loud pop, “…is something like this.”

As if on cue, Liz and her five compatriots all placed their unguarded clippers at their foreheads and pushed the machines back toward their crowns. All six women were left with a wide, nearly hairless stripe down the center of their heads. “Well that’s commitment,” Tracey said with a loud exhale. She hadn’t realized she was holding her breath.

“Yeah.” Pamela had also, apparently, been holding her breath. The two long-haired friends reached for their wine glasses and leaned closer to the monitor, watching as Liz’s clippers peeled the golden curls off the top of her head with ease. There was no talking happening at this point in the broadcast, but it was clear all six people in screen had turned their microphones on, from the way Pamela’s living room was suddenly filled with a cacophony of buzzing. The whole crown of Liz’s head was quickly denuded. Most of the long hair on top of Freya’s head had also disappeared. The closely cropped green sides of their hair suddenly looked long indeed compared to the mere stubble on the top of their head. In the other four boxes, the other participants were denuding the tops of their own heads, without any apparent hesitation. Pink and green and auburn and raven hair fell onto their shoulders. Some was straight, some wavy, some kinky-curly. Some of the women and femmes now shaving their heads had already worn their hair somewhat short. Some of them had hair longer than Liz’s had been. No matter, it would soon all be gone.

Liz moved her clippers to her right temple and began to clear the still-long blonde curls that hung on the side of her head. Her co-shavees followed suit. It was clear the plan was that they would all reveal their new selves simultaneously. Less and less hair was visible on camera, save for what might have been piling up on the cosplayers’ shoulders. The right sides of their heads completed, they moved to their left sides. Freya was slightly ahead of the group, with the hair on the sides of their head already comparatively short; so while they waited for their friends to catch up, they ran the clippers over the buzzed areas again, making sure nothing was missed.

Soon, only the hair on the backs of the cosplayers’ heads remained. Some of the participants enrolled an until-now-unseen friend to help with this part; others set up mirrors so they could see behind themselves. The work continued unabated, however. Liz, shaving her own head unassisted although it had been clear there was someone else in the room with her, kept taking the hair she was severing from her nape and dropping it in front of her webcam. The expression on her face was serene—she didn’t look sad at all to be losing her beautiful hair for who knows how long. Her comrades’ faces registered a range of emotion from determination to shock to total elation, but not a tear was being shed.

Six nearly bald heads were now on the screen. Their owners were running their hands along their scalps, perhaps making sure they had not missed anything, perhaps just for the pure, odd sensation of it all. Finally, the cosplayers put their clippers down and looked directly into their cameras for a long, uncomfortable moment, as if daring anyone still watching to join them. Then, Liz’s face—and only her face—occupied the majority of the screen. Pamela and Tracey hadn’t noticed how much space Liz’s hair took up until it was gone. They also hadn’t noticed how big her eyes were. How high her cheekbones. Even without her signature hair, she was gorgeous. Perhaps even more so than she had been at the start of the livestream.

Liz began to speak again, running one hand slowly back and forth along the stubble covering her head. “Tomorrow, I’m going to a barber to have my scalp shaved clean. Some of the others who joined me today will be doing he same, but it’s their choice whether to stop here or go all the way, or even let their hair grow out starting tomorrow and forget the whole thing.” She paused, stopped rubbing her head. “And now I’m asking you to make a choice, too. Will you join me in taking the con and cosplay community back for our own? My Instagram DMs are open, although I’m not sure @hermionestranger is the best username for me anymore. Feel free to reach out to me with your questions, your thoughts, your fears…anything. And if you do decide to join our movement, make sure to use #notyourcosplayer so we can all see it. I’m looking forward to hearing from you, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.”

With that, the broadcast ended. Pamela and Tracey stared at each other for a moment, unsure what to say. Tracey refilled their wine glasses and they both drained them in a gulp. Their pizza sat, cold and forgotten, on the table between them.

Pamela broke the silence first. “I’m not shaving my head.”

“No,” said Tracey. “Neither am I.”

But neither sounded convinced, and they both knew it. “You’re totally thinking about it!” Pamela said, pointing at Tracey. The wine had hit her hard, without any food in her stomach to slow its effect.

“So are you!” Tracey said, equally drunk. The two giggled for a few moments, then calmed themselves.

“You know, I never really thought about it before, but there are a lot of women in comics and games and sci fi who have super short hair…” Pamela mused.

“Tons of cosplay options…” Tracey continued.

“And no hair for random creeps to try to pet or pull.”

They looked at each other. Were they seriously considering this?

Tracey took up her phone again to check the “not your cosplayer” hashtag Liz had mentioned at the end of her broadcast. On the @hermionestranger account, Liz had already posted before and after photos, along with a short video clip showing that first pass with her clippers and a long post she had clearly written in advance, given how quickly it went up. The text reiterated the points she made during the broadcast. Tracey kept scrolling and saw that the five cosplayers who joined Liz had all posted something similar: before and after photos, a short video, and a lot of text explaining the #notyourcosplayer movement. A few other people had already posted using the hashtag, too, mostly screen grabs from the broadcast with a few reaction selfies thrown into the mix. Tracey tapped “follow” at the top of her screen so she could keep an eye on the hashtag. “If we do do this, I don’t want to be first,” she said to Pamela.

“Right,” Pamela agreed. “No use cutting all our hair off for a movement that doesn’t get off the ground.”

“Yes,” Tracey said. “Good thinking.” But as if on cue, her phone lit up. It was an Instagram notification that one of her favorite cosplayers, @suzicybermancer, had gone live on the platform. And she was using #notyourcosplayer.

Tracey showed Pamela her screen and tapped the notification to launch the feed. It seemed the movement was already getting off the ground.

I know, I know. I still haven’t wrapped the “Influencer” storyline, and I just posted a story a few days ago, and yet here I am with another multi-installment story. Enjoy, and if you don’t get any of the pop culture references here, there are tons of great reference images on Google.

2 responses to “Cosplay Cuts, Part 1

  1. I love it — and am certainly not going to dissuade you from trying something new. Although it’s kind of clear where this is headed, it’ll be fun to watch the journey play out.

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