For part 1, click here.
Tracey and Pamela were still reeling as they clicked through to @suzicybermancer’s livestream and opened another bottle of wine. They had just watched Liz Anders, aka @hermionestranger, shave her head in protest of the prevalent misogyny in the cosplay, comics, and sci-fi and fantasy world. Liz’s cosplay gimmick had been dressing as Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter universe, crossed with a character from another fandom, and she had, well, she had had the hair for it: thick and curly and blonde and tumbling below her shoulders. Now all that hair was on the floor, replaced by the faintest stubble; tomorrow, even that stubble would be gone, as Liz intended to go to a barber shop and have her head completely shaved.
Liz had been joined on screen by five other female or femme cosplayers, all of whom took unguarded clippers to their manes. Whatever they had all cosplayed as before, they would now be cosplaying as characters from THX1138 for the foreseeable future.
At the end of the broadcast Liz invited other women and femmes in the cosplay community to join them in subverting the male gaze so common amongst their male peers, by undertaking similarly radical transformations. Anyone who wanted to be part of the movement could post photos or videos of their new look (and subsequent new cosplay identities) on social media with the hashtag #notyourcosplayer.
And now, not ten minutes later, another prominent female cosplayer seemed about to join the fight. Ann Lim, aka @suzicybermancer, was well known in the community for playing Cybermancer, the alter-ego of Suzi Endo, head of Cybernetics research for Stark Industries. Ann’s thick black hair, occasionally streaked with blue to mimic the shading of old-school comic illustrations, fell to the tops of her thighs when she wore it straight, and to her hips when she curled it to emulate the early-90s version of the character. She’d gained a big following on social media for her videos about how she created her costumes and she used her platform to spill tea about the men who would slide into her DMs with messages that were misguided at best and more often obscene, and she parlayed her visibility into invitations to moderate panels at different cons, frequently while still dressed as Cybermancer. Of course she’d be jumping on the #notyourcosplayer bandwagon.
Pamela nervously stroked her waist-length, thick brown hair as she and Tracey waited for the stream to load. After Liz’s broadcast she and Tracey had briefly discussed getting in on #notyourcosplayer themselves, then decided not to even give it more consideration until they knew others were joining in, too. They figured it would be a few days, if not weeks, before things got off the ground. Pamela had hoped that caveat would allow her to save her hair, but here it was not five minutes since Liz’s broadcast and if the speed with which Ann went live was any indication, she and Tracey wouldn’t be able to use the “we’re just hanging back to see what everyone else does” excuse. Still, the two had finished a bottle of wine during Liz’s video—on empty stomachs, to boot—and had just opened a second, so she supposed she could always attribute their conversation to being drunk, and in the harsh light of day and sobriety, re-neg on what was clearly a ridiculous flight of fancy to begin with.
Tracey was also absentmindedly playing with her long, wavy hair, recently re-dyed red to enhance her Scarlet Witch costume. Unlike Pamela, who always seemed to cosplay as characters whose hair was similar to her own, Tracey had frequently changed her hair depending on who she would be cosplaying as for the season. Her hair had been almost every color under the rainbow, and she had changed the style often enough. Still, she wasn’t ever able to cut her hair shorter than bra-length, so there were no short-haired heroines in her cosplay closet. Could she, she wondered, do it now? There was something kind of exciting about the idea.
On Tracey’s computer monitor, Ann Lim was reiterating many of the points Liz had made in her video earlier in the evening. But Liz’s feed had been private, to advanced-registrants only. Ann was doing her video on Instagram Live. It sounded from what Ann was saying that this was all part of the plan: Liz would announce the campaign to the most engaged women and femmes in the community, and then Ann would use her larger platform to take the initiative public.
“You know I share a lot of the DMs I get from men who think that because I look or dress or act a certain way they can send me completely inappropriate, unsolicited messages and pictures,” Ann was saying. Her long black hair, recently streaked with a vibrant blue, hung over both shoulders, so long that it ended beyond the camera’s view. “What I haven’t talked much about is how often I experience that sort of behavior in the real world, especially at cons. I’ve been fondled, grabbed, once even motor-boated. Men have cornered me backstage after a panel or coming out of the restroom and tried to kiss me, or more. And so, so many men have come up behind me, grabbed a handful of my hair, and tugged, then laughed when I cried out in pain or frustration or anger. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about cutting all of this off before,” she said, pulling up two handfuls of hair and holding them in front of the camera, then letting go so the locks could fall heavily back to where they ended offscreen. “But I love Suzi Endo so much. She was one of the first comic book characters was aware of who looked like me. Sure, her costumes were always ridiculous, especially in the beginning, but she was also brilliant and strong and playing her all these years felt like I was paying tribute to twelve-year-old Ann, just about ready to quit on comics for good until Cybermancer came along.”
Ann paused, sighed, picked up something that was placed just offscreen. Pamela and Tracey looked at each other. They knew what was coming.
The monologue resumed. “But then I realized that I was doing twelve-year-old Ann a disservice for not standing up to the men who thought they could treat me like property because I was dressed like that character I loved so much. What would the little girl I was think if she saw the woman I am today being groped by a stranger five minutes after I moderated a panel about the objectification of women in comic book art?
“So today, I’m saying goodbye to Suzi Endo, at least for a little while. As long as it takes for the men of the community to realize that these passionate women—all of whom were once little girls who found their heroes through characters in comic books or sci-fi and fantasy novels—are not their playthings.
“There’s one last thing I want to say, though. It’s tangential to #notyourcosplayer but I think it needs to be addressed. In addition to gender-based issues in the community, there are major issues of race that need to be addressed—not just by cosplayers but by the people who create the comics and novels and shows and films on which we base our costumes. I was so excited to learn that Marvel was going to make The Ancient One a woman in Dr. Strange. And then I was so disappointed to learn that they were casting a white woman in the role. I know Kevin Feige has said that in hindsight this casting decision was a mistake, but in the MCU the character is dead now and there’s no real way to rectify it. But I’m going to try. Next time you see me at a con, I’ll be there as an authentically Asian Ancient One.” Ann lifted the object she had reached for earlier into the view of the camera. As Pamela and Tracey expected, it was a large pair of electric clippers—unguarded. “I can stand up for women and femmes in the community and also make the case for better representation all with this one little machine.”
Clearly finished with everything she had planned to say, Ann flipped the clippers on with a pop that made Pamela and Tracey jump. The two women unconsciously leaned toward the computer as Ann held her thick black-and-blue hair taught with one hand and used the other to guide the humming machine into her hairline, then back toward her crown. A pale white strip of flesh, completely exposed but for the faintest hint of black stubble, appeared in the center of Ann’s head. The cosplayer smiled broadly, then took the hair that had come loose in her hand and slowly let it fall in front of the camera.
Pamela gasped. “I didn’t think it would be so shocking, after watching Liz’s broadcast, but I’ve been following Ann for years. I never, ever would have expected her to make a change this drastic.” She and Tracey watched as Ann brought her clippers back to her forehead, making another pass and widening the strip of skin emerging on the top of her head.
Tracey took another sip of her wine, musing: “If she’s willing to do this, I’m betting a lot of others are going to follow suit.” Realizing the implications of what she just said, she thought about adding an: “Not that we have to” to the end of that sentence, but decided for reasons she didn’t quite understand to leave that part unsaid.
On screen, Ann was making another pass, moving backward from her rapidly disappearing hairline. After two more passes, the top of her head was bare, the white flesh starkly contrasted by the flowing ebony and indigo locks that still covered the back and sides of her head. But not for long. Ann moved the clippers to her left temple and pushed them back, exposing more pale flesh. Ann’s hair was so thick it was clear the skin that had been under it had never seen even a hint of the sun’s rays. She remarked on this, saying as she began her next pass: “I always thought my skin was pale but compared to my scalp, the rest of me looks downright tan!” Another strip of long hair came free in her hand. She let it drop, then used the same hand to hold her left ear down as the hungry clippers removed the last long hairs from that side of her head.
Ann turned off the clippers briefly, turning her head from side to side in the camera to display the contrast between the right side and back of her head versus the left side and top. “What do you think, everyone? Should I leave it like this? Men would definitely leave me alone then, right?” She shook her head, popped the small machine back on, chuckled. “Nah. I don’t know who I’d cosplay as with this particular haircut.” After a little finessing of the angle of her hand, Ann began to denude the right side of her head as she had the left, pass after pass revealing more and more hair, years of severed growth landing somewhere off camera.
Now it was only the hair on the back of Ann’s head that remained. She turned the clippers off again. “Some of you might be familiar with the queue, a hairstyle that in the 1800s helped westerners quickly identify Chinese immigrants and target them in Anti-Chinese riots. The hairstyle was worn by men, and it involved the top and sides of the head being shaved, with the rest of the hair kept long and braided. It was also really only worn in Manchuria, where some of my family originates. So before I go full Ancient One, I want to pause here to honor my ancestors with a hairstyle that led to persecution that was not their fault. It’s not going to be perfect—there’s no way I’d’ve been able to shave around the area evenly—but this is a symbolic gesture, not a style I plan to keep for more than a few minutes.” Ann put the clippers down and began to gather the rest of the hair that was still attached to her head into a ponytail that was still remarkably thick, given how much hair she had already lost. Then she braided the ponytail into a simple plait and spun to show her audience. “I know, it’s not pretty,” she conceded. “It doesn’t have to be. But while I have it, I thought it would be nice to offer a prayer to my ancestors.”
Ann turned her camera slightly to reveal a small altar that had been offscreen. She stood and walked to the altar, her long braid swaying from the back of her nearly bald head down to her hips, then knelt. In a language that neither Pamela nor Tracey understood, though they briefly confirmed with each other that it was most likely Chinese, Ann began a brief chant toward the small Buddha on her altar. Once finished, she rose, returned to her chair, and repositioned the camera so the altar was once again hidden. “Thanks for indulging me, everyone. Now, let’s get rid of the rest of this.” She held her queue out to the side with her left hand to demonstrate exactly what “this” was, then picked her clippers back up and turned them on. “I’m going in blind here, people,” she said, plunging the device into what was presumably roughly where the queue was attached to her head. She didn’t have a way of seeing the back of her head, so she kept turning her back toward the camera, trying to peek over her shoulder to monitor her progress. The queue was coming unbraided near the top as more and more of it was pulled away from her scalp. She was moving less methodically here. Whereas on the rest of her head she had made long, even passes with her clippers, here she was clearly just trying to get rid of anything that was left. At last the entire braid came loose in her hand. She held it in front of the camera for a moment, then dropped it into her lap, using that hand to rub the back of her head and identify any missed spots, still turning frequently to try to monitor her progress.
In a few moments, Ann seemed sufficiently satisfied with her work and turned the clippers back off. She turned side to side again, admiring her work. Her face broke out into a smile that showcased her dimples. “Did she always have dimples?” Tracey asked Pamela, still watching.
“Guess so,” Pamela said. “You don’t just develop dimples overnight. I guess we never noticed because we were staring at her hair.”
On screen, Ann was once again facing the camera, still smiling. Her almond-shaped eyes looked twice as big as they had before, and twinkled as she spoke. “This is going to take a lot of getting used to, but I think it actually looks good. I’m surprised—I had no idea what to expect. I’m going to miss my hair. It was such a huge part of my identity. But I’m ready for this next chapter in my life and my cosplay and someday, maybe, I’ll have long hair again. In the meanwhile, I know I’ve missed some spots back there, but I’m just going to leave it for now. In order to be a truly authentic Ancient One, tomorrow I’m going to my brother’s barbershop in Chinatown and he’s going to get everything completely smooth, so it doesn’t matter if there are some uneven spots in the back. I’ll post pictures when I’m done. In the meanwhile, don’t forget to help us spread the message about #notyourcosplayer by liking and reposting videos and photos using the hashtag. And of course, remember to use the hashtag yourself if you’re going to join us…which I hope you do.” She raised both hands to her head and gave a little rub. “Oh, that’s so weird! Okay. Going to go start working on my Ancient One costume now. See you all soon.” And with that, the now-bald cosplayer’s feed ended.
Pamela picked up the bottle of wine she had opened at the start of Ann’s broadcast and refilled her and Tracey’s glasses. She hadn’t realized they’d kept refilling as they watched; there was barely enough left in the bottle for half a glass each. Between them, they were two bottles of wine in, and still on an empty stomach. The pizza they had ordered still sat forgotten nearby.
Tracey threw back the wine Pamela had just poured in one gulp. “Okay,” she said. “I’m ready. Let’s do this. Let’s shave our heads.”
“Trace…” Pamela began. “What happened to not wanting to be the first ones to join up?”
“We wouldn’t be. We’d be the second and third.” She grinned, then counted on her fingers. “Or, I guess, the eighth and ninth?”
“Nine people is still not a lot of people.”
“You said you were thinking about it, too! You’re the one who was all, ‘you know, there are a lot of women in comics with super short hair.'”
“I know! I was! I did! But we’ve had a lot to drink. I don’t want do do anything I’ll regret when I sober up. I don’t think you should, either.”
“Yeah, but on the flip side I don’t think I’ll be brave enough to do anything when I’m sober.” Tracey sighed. “But you have a point. Let’s not shave our heads tonight.”
Pamela felt a moment of relief before Tracey continued. “Let’s just give each other haircuts.” She began to walk toward the bathroom. “Do you still have that set of shears from when you were trimming your own bangs?”
“Tracey!” Pamela chased behind her. “I don’t think this is a good idea. Just because when I had bangs I’d sometimes trim them myself to keep them out of my eyes doesn’t mean I know how to cut hair! And I don’t think you know how, either.”
Tracey already had the shears in her hand. “What? Worst thing that happens if we screw up is we shave our heads, right?”
“Yeah, that’s what I’m afraid of.”
“Come on! Two hours ago you were talking about how much you hate it when strange men touch your hair. And I was talking about how much I hate it when strange men touch my hair. I’m offering you a simple and elegant solution.” Tracey offered the shears to her friend.
“You’re drunk,” Pamela said.
“So are you,” Tracey replied.
“I’m not so drunk that I think it would be a good idea to let my drunk friend take a pair of scissors to my hair.”
Tracey sighed. “You’re no fun.”
“I just don’t want to do anything either of us is going to regret when we sober up.”
“Fine,” Tracey said. “But if we wake up in the morning and fifty other women have signed on to #notyourcosplayer, I’m signing on, too. And so are you.”
Pamela looked at her watch. “If fifty women cut off their hair for #notyourcosplayer in the next nine hours…I’ll at least think about it.”
“Good,” Tracey nodded. “And in the meanwhile…” she raised the pair of shears to her hair and, without even noticing exactly where she’d placed them, closed the blades. A thick lock of dyed-red hair about two feet in length floated to the floor; the hair that remained attached to Tracey’s head now ended halfway between her chin and her shoulders. “I’ve thought about it. And I’m at least this much in.”
Pamela’s eyes widened. Tracey had cut way too much hair to easily blend the shorter length into new layers. Very soon, possibly as soon as tomorrow morning, her friend who before had gone to such effort to keep her hair long and healthy despite multiple color changes would be sporting hair that would probably be too short to put up in a ponytail. The question was, how short would Tracey wind up going…and would Pamela join her?
To be continued…