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BY CHARLES BATTERSBY | The stereotypes of nerds and gays often appear at odds with each other, but, for the third year in a row, geek culture and the LGBTQ community have enthusiastically teamed up at Flame Con (flamecon.org). The weekend convention, held this year Aug. 19-20 at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott, gathers the artists and writers who create queer comic books, movies, games, and TV shows to unite them with fans. As with any gathering of geeks or drag queens, many of the attendees wore extravagant costumes based on their favorite characters.
Cosplay was once a rare subculture for only the most ardent fans, but it has become a widespread part of any event featuring nerd culture. Flame Con bolstered the ranks of its cosplayers with nerdy drag queens who used their campy style to interpret superheroes, video game heroines, and even Disney princesses.
Rachel Greeman moderated panels on cosplay and staffed the Cosplay Corner station at the con. She pointed out a few things that make cosplay at Flame Con feel different than at other cons.
“My favorite thing about Flame Con, specifically, is that cosplayers here feel more comfortable in doing what they want for cosplay, and not as much what they think will be popular or what they think will get them a lot of photos taken and stuff like that,” she said, and then, referring to her own Harley Quinn costume, added, “Everybody wants their picture taken but, I think, at Flame Con people are going to take my picture because they like me, and they like what I’m wearing and how I’ve done this. I don’t think people are as nervous about wearing something that might get them called out or ostracized. Because we don’t allow that at Flame Con, and we encourage people to have their own unique sense of style.”
Greeman then pointed out a cosplayer wearing a Wolverine dress, with rhinestone trim on the uniform and glittering sparkles on their claws.
“I love seeing all the corsetry, the rhinestones, the glamour that goes into it,” she said. “Because when they come to Flame Con they want to be very glamorous. In their own way. They want to define what cosplay means to them. I feel like you don’t see that anywhere else, because other places don’t welcome that kind of creativity with open arms the same way that Flame Con does, and that’s why I’m so proud to be doing this here.”
Flame Con had a costume contest and costume parade on both days of the event. Speaking to our sister publication, Gay City News, one of the contest judges, Dax ExclamationPoint, a drag performer who dressed as Catwoman for the con, illuminated the subtle distinctions between traditional drag and drag as cosplay.
“Drag is performance art, so is cosplay, but a different kind of performance,” she explained. “In the contest earlier, they did skits and voices. That’s performance.”
The contests at Flame Con did have a more theatrical feel to them when compared to mainstream cons. When a “Steven Universe” cosplayer whipped out their ukulele and started singing the show’s theme song during the costume contest, half the audience joined in and knew the entire song by heart. When a cosplayer dressed as the sea witch Ursula from “The Little Mermaid” quoted the famous “Now, sing!” line from the movie, the audience once again burst into song.
Cosplayer Jay Justice was a special guest at Flame Con, and spoke on several cosplay panels. She told Gay City News, “Cosplay at Flame Con feels more diverse than at other conventions, possibly because there is an overall sense of acceptance and a shared culture, an increased familiarity with the same concepts and ideals. Flame Con feels like coming home to so many of us.”
Justice said she also noticed “a lot of original concept cosplay among the queer community. We like to do our own thing, make up a fantasy elven persona, or a futuristic sci-fi hero, or our own gay superhero.”
Media, in general, has increasingly focused attention on LGBTQ characters, and there is no shortage of canonically gay characters in geek media, too. This year’s Flame Con saw many costumes based on recent franchises like the video game “Dream Daddy,” and the anime “Yuri On Ice,” both of which were released within the past year.
Flame Con’s ideas of inclusion extend beyond the LGBTQ community. There’s a strong focus on keeping the con accessible to disabled attendees and on ethnic diversity. During one of her panels, Jay Justice recalled a time when she was called out by a child for cosplaying as a character traditionally portrayed as being from another race.
“Many of the little black children were extremely excited to see a Batgirl who looked like them and they begged for photos and autographs, holding my hand and giving me hugs,” she said. “The white children were hesitant and one of them, a little boy, gave me a look and a smirk and asked, ‘Doesn’t Batgirl have red hair?’ I could see the enthusiasm start to wilt out of the black children, and I calmly and brightly replied, ‘The cool thing about Batman is that he believes that it doesn’t matter what you look like, as long as you are a good person. Anyone can be a superhero.’ The child slowly sat back down and said, ‘That’s true.’ And then we all played and talked about video games. It was a great lesson for everyone.”
It was one of many truths about cosplay that Flame Con had to teach.