I’ve been playing dress-up for years. Since childhood I jumped at the chance to put on a costume and be someone else. It’s only in the last few years that I discovered the concept of cosplay. I met like-minded people who helped me realise that while it’s still perhaps quite unusual to some, it’s absolutely necessary that I carry on diving into the dressing up box.
I first got involved with a fandom in 2008. Ashes to Ashes was the follow-up to Life On Mars and the main character; shouty, inappropriate, really rather stylish DCI Gene Hunt instantly jumped out at me as a character I wanted to ‘be’. It was fun, for a little while. It gave me the chance to misbehave – drink too much, belch in public and be an aggressive, arrogant arse. The finale of Ashes to Ashes aired in 2010, and the last fandom event I attended was in 2011 – by this time I was very ill with anxiety, depression, chronic pain and all of the other fun things you would associate with alcoholism and dangerously morbid obesity. Cosplay had done a good job of shielding me from that to a certain extent, but it was only a matter of time before reality caught up with me. You see, at this time I was committing a major social faux pas – I was having fun and enjoying life while being well on the wrong side of 30 stones in weight. I was seriously, dangerously obese and heavily reliant on alcohol, that sort of fun was never going to last long.
At the end of 2011 I decided to finally sort myself out. I stopped drinking, and sought help for my weight problem. I then began the process of proving to various health professionals that I knew exactly what I was letting myself in for and asked to be put on the waiting list for a gastric bypass. Two years later, I had the op.
After a slow recovery and a weight loss of somewhere in the region of 16 stones I decided it was time to open up the dressing up box again. By this time I had become a huge fan of Supernatural, and the character I connected with the most was the Winchester brothers’ adopted father, Bobby Singer. Probably because I’ve got adopted ‘idjits’ of my own. I went to a convention in May 2015, and decided to cosplay as many different characters as I could over the course of that weekend. There was a mix of male and female characters. The female characters felt somehow odd. I felt uncomfortable in wigs and make-up, but perfectly happy with a painted on beard and a baseball cap.
Then came Rick Grimes, the main character in zombie-fest The Walking Dead. I thought one day he would be a fun character to try, and I wrote a short sketch advertising the arts centre I work at… a dramatic, emotional radio message to his son “Coral” in which the most important message to get to his son is “try the cake, it’s amazing”. I watched the video back and in spite of cringing at my attempt at Grimes’ Georgia “stuff and thangs” drawl, I was more impressed by this cosplay than any other I had ever done. I don’t know why, but it just worked.
That then made me look back at all my previous cosplays, and all my times of dressing up before I realised what cosplay even was. The fun times, the really fun times, were when I was a male character. The more Alpha Male the better. And Rick Grimes… he seemed the most Alpha of them all. I have no idea why, but I’m not knocking it. So, I’m a 42 year old ‘woman’ who gets her kicks pretending to be a fella. Nothing wrong with that. Yes, it’s made me question my gender identity and that’s why I said ‘woman’, and not woman. Am I trans? Or am I, pardon the ear worm, just a sweet transvestite? I don’t really know, or care that much for the right label. I enjoy what I do.
What, exactly, do I do? My cosplay is more like affectionate parody than a stitch-by-stitch replica of my characters. Trying to accurately portray a character like Rick Grimes – a tall, thin, bearded man? Yeah, as an owner of a short, fat, saggy female-ish body I’m not going to win any awards for accuracy. But I do my best with what I’ve got to do at least a passable impression. That’s what I aim to do with all of my cosplays – not entirely accurate but hopefully amusing impressions. Through that, my childhood dream of becoming a comedian was rekindled – I grew up during the alternative comedy boom of the mid-late 80s and seriously wanted to be BFFs with French & Saunders.
My job gives me a chance to play around with my daft ideas and on the Saturday before Christmas I staged my first cosplay cabaret. I was, of course, Rick Grimes – and confused the heck out of our 10-strong audience, most of whom had never seen The Walking Dead. I was impressed we had an audience at all. I was ready and willing to play to an empty room.
It’s now early January and like near enough everyone else (and I’m painfully envious of those who don’t), I am pondering over my life, my habits, my hobbies and my purpose on this daft spinning rock. At times like this I turn to my saint-like long-suffering husband for wisdom. One evening we were looking back on the dimly lit footage from the cosplay cabaret. I asked him, “What am I doing with my life?”. He replied “exactly what you want to do?”. He’s absolutely right.
So, right now I’m looking at ways of turning my cosplays into an actual comedy/cabaret/drag king/cosplay kind of act to offer to conventions and geek events and the like, because as a wise man once said:
“Do it. Just do it. Don’t let your dreams be dreams. Yesterday, you said tomorrow. So just do it. Make your dreams come true. Just do it. Some people dream of success, while you’re gonna wake up and work hard at it. Nothing is impossible. You should get to the point where anyone else would quit, and you’re not gonna stop there. No, what are you waiting for? Do it! Just do it! Yes you can. Just do it. If you’re tired of starting over, stop giving up.”