When your fandom is on fire, what do you do? Do you un-like, unfollow, mute, block, restrict, unsubscribe? Do you even notice? Do you fight in the comments? Do you swear the whole community off? Do you dig through the offender’s oldest posts and interviews to see the signs through a new lens? Do you finally read the IG caption since you probably just liked a pretty photo the first time around? Do you spend a day catching up on response videos? Do you take the time to educate yourself on why the bad thing they did was bad? I’m a huge fan of that first option because it’s easy, and I’m less likely to fall for their lies in the future when I question why I’m not already following them. If [by some miracle] I don’t identify with the marginalized group, I do that latter one as well.
I don’t feel included in the costuming community.
Like, clearly, I am a costumer–I wear costumes. I know people in the hobby and meet up at costumed events when I can. Occasionally, I post pictures and videos of those costumes on the internet so that my Mom knows what I’m up to. But, I don’t have a group of international costuming buddies to virtually chat with in the evenings while handsewing sequins on a lace trim. I don’t consult a delegation when someone does a dumb and needs to be set straight on what is and is entirely not acceptable (along with their fans). My DMs are not filled with messages asking my opinion on the latest period drama or anime costumes. I am just a hobby costumer, a couple of decades into a fabric stash that is only now getting under control.
And I don’t mind.
As I mentioned last year, social media is not a priority in my life, but I do enjoy watching other costumers experience the highs of the hobby. I am in a handful of costume-related groups on The Book of Faces, and I’ve been scolded numerous times for not sharing my work there. On the rare instance that I’m asked directly, I happily provide resource assistance, I try to comment to push engagement for other creators, and when I have more than an hour of “free” time, I’ll share products that I like and slides about recent topics–that’s mostly on Instant Gratification. My participation is very surface, and it seems that way for more Internetians than we think.
I know I’m boring.
I started wearing costumes because I could. No one invited me. For reasons that I’m sure We can guess, no one told me when I was “doing it wrong”. Spoiler Alert: No one cared about what I was doing. That bit is surprising to some because of the way PoC creators are generally treated, but I don’t talk to people, I’ve always been careful about the events I attend, and I suppose that my face doesn’t invite a lot of negativity? Except for the one recent ascot who asked if my Elizabethan getup was a recreation of “that Pocahontas portrait” (Van de Passe, 1616). First off, that woman was kidnapped, assaulted, trussed up, and effectively murdered. What exactly are you trying to insinuate about me? Secondly, how did we just spend an entire weekend talking about Tudor history and you can’t identify the obvious differences in fashion following a regime change? No, ma’am. Do not push your colonizer narrative on me. This is why I play dumb. Like…a lot. When dudebros are trying to catch me in a dirty joke, I tilt my head just so and exercise my childlike voice of innocence. They hate repeating themselves. And I just don’t have time.
But, I like me just fine.
A fascinating aspect of this “journey” has been the difference of reception across culture and genre in costuming circles. In cosplay environments, I am consistently ignored for not showing my body, for not being expressive enough, for not having a large scale foam build, for not jumping on the hot costume of the week. I don’t pay any mind to people who see my historical mash-ups as weird (read: white)–I’ve been getting that comment since I was six, so I really don’t care. In historical groups, I am tokenized by people I have never met while at the same time being dismissed as a…poser, I guess? I hate that people (usually the non-costumed masses) expect me to prove that I made an entire gown by hand using as many period techniques as possible. Do they ask my white counterparts the same? Another phenomenon: I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been introduced to the same people over the last 20 years. I’m just that forgettable, I suppose. Sometimes I feel like the least popular creature at the zoo–not like some weird millipede that skeeves people out, except for that one weird kid, but like a yellow ladybug–different, but still just a ladybug. Last summer, I briefly felt that some of that gap in interest had been bridged–a three-strand rope bridge mind you, but a bridge nonetheless. My images were shared after the black squares. Exposure was high and terrifying. But, I was able and motivated to share my portfolio with all kinds of new humans (and bots) who showed up because…well…2020.
So it’s really their loss.
You don’t have to enjoy all of the content that a creator puts out. I don’t even like most of my own content, but if a like, save, or thumbs up emoji helps someone else to build a brand and fight The Algorithm, I’ll do it. Humans will post breakfast selfies on the same day they post reveal photos of a seven-months handstitched set of stays. My breakfast is yogurt with granola and flaxseed. I’m not posting that, and I don’t care much about anyone else’s morning dietary choices–unless it’s apple fritter related. I frakkin’ love apple fritters. I do not care which character is the better Super Saiyan Father Figure. I do not care how many versions of Harley you’ve done. I’ve done two–bet you can’t name them. Not everyone is into every aspect of the hobby that I like, and there are so, so many. I question what the heck I’m doing everytime I turn on my camcorder, but I’ve found the video editing process to be far more relaxing than deleting spam in my IG requests and blocking racists. And in a terrible segue, that leads me to my next bit of not-at-all shocking sadness…
And another thing…
It’s hard not to think of this hobby as a job when I see people at my 9-to-5 doing the same shite they say they won’t do again and again and again and again. A healthy chunk of my day job is error-checking the work of people who don’t actually care if their work is correct. In theory, redundancy is necessary, but something is only redundant if it’s being done more than once. But that’s not my point. This tangent goes further than the people doing the job right now. We don’t train new hires to do the work in the first place. They come into the job and are told to make the numbers increase. They do that by any means necessary. They don’t look at what is being done around them. They just want to keep bringing home a paycheck. Except, we occasionally get someone who reads all of the KBs, digs around in the code to fix stuff, and brings lemon squares on Fridays. I hope you can make the connections to historical costuming here because I’m already tired.
Emphasizing that this hobby does not pay for itself, y’all really need to think about impact. I have accepted a handful of paid speaking, modeling, and guesting costume gigs over the years, and they barely constitute a drop in the bucket compared to my full-time, not-even-remotely costume-related 9-to-5 job. I just believe that POSITIVE representation matters and I’m willing to put myself out there to help the team. One beautiful soul donated to a Black charity in my name when I declined compensation for what I consider to be just existing. That person was awesome. On the flipside, you know how sewists are always being asked to hem pants and make curtains by neighbors, family members, and the random barista that always adds too much foam? That’s incredibly ducking annoying. Well, to up the I-Don’t-Want-This ante, being asked to make a “renaissance gown” for $50 by some Faire Frances (like Karen but with a promo cup of ale) in the turkey leg line because she just HAS to have what you have, but it doesn’t have to be that fancy because it’s just for a thing at the office next week…I just…I don’t understand the audacity of most humans.
Privilege shows its ugly in the strangest places.
Once, when one of my pieces was noted in an article, there were two errors in as many sentences. Errors that could have been avoided, IF I HAD BEEN NOTIFIED THAT THEY WERE GOING TO USE MY NAME AND LIKENESS. It’s cute that what We say and do on the internet are fair-game to some people. I’m very approachable…you should try asking permission. When you expose erroneous information about the equivalent of a soccer mom to the gamut of both professional and hobby dress historians and then sass the marginalized party, you don’t get to act like you’re doing me a service and that I should feel lucky to be included. Frak you, your ancestors, and your descendants.
This is not a pity post, it’s just a bit ranty. I’ve written a couple through the years, and I think it’s time to remind all three of you kind readers of who I really am. I’m tired, and I don’t even engage with the racists. I delete and block swiftly because I can’t spend the hours crafting responses. I do not have time. It’s the burden of the socially timid and forever sleep-deprived. When my doctor noticed a lump, she didn’t wait to see what it would do. She sent me to a specialist and we immediately had it removed. It turned out to be an isolated lump, but knowing about it meant that I could be hypervigilant going forward. Similarly, I cut out the social media lumps. Harmless or not, their existence scares me, so I’ll let them be sent to the lab for testing while I live my life.
Selfishness or Self-Preservation?
When I started costuming, I didn’t have friends who were into it to the same extent. And that was fine. I was fine. I lurked on boards, bought books and materials, browsed blogs, and just did the thing for myself and by myself. I showed up at events in appropriately themed garb, had a great time, and went home. I blogged a bit of my journey and got ready for the next thing. I would love to help make hobby costuming a welcoming space for all the wee lambs that just need an open invite or a free pattern. I will never stop assisting them and being honest about my experiences. Period. What I will stop doing is serving face for acquaintances who’ve never stopped to think about their actions. Take a quick minute to reflect on the last couple of events you’ve attended. Who was there? What were your interactions like? If your event were a reality TV show, who would be offended? If a BIPoC stranger heard your [inside] jokes, would you cringe? Would you care? If 2020 taught us nothing, we’ve at least learned that a costumer in isolation is still a costumer.
“Or is there a third option?”
So what do I do? Do I torch my social media accounts, sticking to tried and true annual events like the ren faire and comic con? Do I set everything to private and kick out anyone I’ve never met in person? Before the black squares (yes, I posted one too), I was quite happy for the fifty or so people that liked my IG posts. I only setup the account years ago to appease a problematic bestie, so gaining new followers without asking was a neat perk.
In closing, because we need reminders more often than we truly understand, please remember that these days, it may actually be about you. If you, as a non-marginalized person, are feeling some kind of way about the newest ascot to play racist bingo and want to vent…please do so on your own page and don’t expect a bunch of high fives. You are not allowed to be a Safe Space Invader. You are not allowed to seek support from a marginalized group. Additionally, if you met a person on the internet with whom you now feel excluded and betrayed because they didn’t respond to your heartfelt virtual hugs, take a breath and find something else to do with your time. First off, most of that relationship is probably in your head. And secondly, we don’t owe you anything. That’s not to say that we don’t like you very much–we just need to protect ourselves for a beat. I invite you to spend some time liking, sharing, subscribing, following, and supporting those out there doing the important work of education. They’ve spent so much lifeforce posting, researching, reliving, and yelling about the racism, gatekeeping, and appropriation in this community that I want to send them all some glitter tea as a virtual hug. Please stop doing stupid shite. Hold yourself accountable. And, please come get your friends.