I have been dressing up in other people’s clothes since I was old enough to put them on by myself. My mother caught me multiple times at a very young age trying on her slips and skirts. I was punished for this behavior, but I kept going back to what were referred to as feminine items of clothing. However, I also loved to wear my father’s v-neck t-shirts and long sleeve flannels. I liked the smell of his cologne much more than my mother’s perfume and I was drawn to his leather belt and work boots. I was equally happy to parade around the house in steel-toed construction boots or high heels. Both gave me a sense of power. They still do.
I consider everything that I choose to wear as drag. Seriously, I want you to think about that. Every item of clothing you chose to put on today is a sign and a signifier. There’s a code embedded in your look that defines you. You know the code. You grew up with it. You know how to read it and you know how to send a message in it. You have a specific drag requirement for a job interview and a different drag approach to what you wear at the gym. You change your ritual of dress to match your social intention.
Some say, “I don’t think about what I wear. I just put on what’s comfortable.” That too, my friend, is drag. It is sending a message through fashion even if you are not choosing to be fashionable. Artists and performers sometimes take this code to another level by utilizing their body as a canvas to advance their inner expression. The most alluring drag, in my opinion, tends to be an ensemble that honors and borrows aspects from both male and female codified clothing aspects.
A Super-Heroine is Born
Two years ago, I was invited to attend a Halloween party. I was told by my new group of friends that they were all going to be dressed up as superheroes and if I wanted to be one too, that I needed to let them know which superhero I wanted to be so one of them could help me make the costume. It was impressed upon me that this person, known for making these costumes in the past, was most likely not going to be making costumes like this again. It was one of those “make a decision now or lose your window of opportunity” moments.
I gave the matter a lot of thought. I racked my brain trying to think of a superhero I could convincingly portray. A few years ago, I dressed up as the White Witch from the Legion of Superheroes for a party at a Radical Faerie gathering, but all of my performances and costumes since then were unrelated to superheroes. And only one attendee at that party knew who the heck I was supposed to be (although it was doubly cool that he even knew the White Witch’s birth name and which Legionnaire was related to her).
But this time I wanted to be a character that really appealed to me as well as someone who was more recognizable to the public. I considered my body build and the fact that I’d have to wear my glasses (I tried contacts a long time ago and had some really awful experiences, so now I’m really stubborn about wearing them). Loki (A Marvel character from the Thor comic) was the first one to come to mind, but my friend had already been that character a couple years before. I thought about Catwoman and how a catsuit would be ideal so I could cover up all of my body hair. I loved the catsuit idea, but wasn’t super thrilled enough to want to jump around with a whip and purr. And besides, Selena has a crush on Batman, and frankly, Bruce Wayne bores me to tears. I didn’t have the motivation. It was back to the drawing board and I didn’t get back to my friend for a while.
Well, just about when I thought I would be unable to accept my friend’s generous costume inclusiveness, he revealed that the theme of the group was going to be SHIELD agents. My friends were going to be Nick Fury, Agent 13 and a random SHIELD agent. Would I like to be Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine or the Black Widow? I gave the offer some thought and decided there was no way I could replicate the Contessa’s unique white streak in her black hair and remembered my fondness for The Champions comic. The Black Widow has ties to almost every corner of the Marvel Universe having been a spy, an Avenger, a SHIELD agent as well as being romantically involved (or alluded to being involved) at one time or another to Captain America, Hawkeye, Angel, Hercules, Daredevil, Iron Man, Nick Fury, and more recently the Winter Soldier (also known as Bucky). Her story is a great example of a strong woman breaking free from those who would only treat her as a tool to further their agendas. She may have started out as a spy for Russia, but she defected to become one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (and even shared the title of Daredevil’s comic for a while, just like the Falcon did with Captain America). I was super excited to dress up as Natasha Romanova, the Black Widow.
The party rocked. Everyone went all out on their costumes and I was amazed at the innovation and originality of many of them. There was also a lot of superheroes. It was awesome to meet Lobster Johnson, Kabuki and Hawkgirl in person! It was kind of cool that I was the only guy there dressed as a girl. There was one uncomfortable moment where a guy asked me to dance only to peer a bit closer through his beer goggles to discover that I wasn’t the droid he was looking for.
The Black Widow Returns
Last year, I rocked the vinyl catsuit again for Halloween, but not for the party. I had made the mistake of suggesting that the salon theme be superheroes, and when the time came I had to dress up in the only costume I had. I answered phones at a salon for six hours as the Black Widow. Immediately after I clocked out, I changed into another Z-List character costume I had made for my birthday the year before. The theme had been superheroes and I had dressed up as Roulette, a very minor villainess who irregularly fought the Justice Society of America. I dressed as Roulette for the Halloween party just like I had for my birthday party. The results were the same. Everyone loved my outfit. No one knew who I was.
The Spider Date
Last year’s WonderCon was my first comic convention ever. I made it to San Diego for Comic Con after that. So this year’s WonderCon is my fourth con (APE was my third). I am and have always been aware of the cosplay subculture of the comic world. I played Dungeons & Dragons from high school throughout college until I went for my Master’s. I have Live Action Role Played (LARPed) Vampire, the Masquerade. I am not ashamed.
Near the end of the Tiki Tour on WonderCon Friday, my friend Sam Harris mentioned that he had been thinking about dressing up for the convention. I replied that I hadn’t dressed up as a superhero at an actual comic book convention before, but now that I thought about it, it sounded fun. Sam said he had a Spider-Man costume that he wanted to wear, but didn’t know if he could do that by himself. I told Sam that I would wear my Black Widow costume and we could walk around Moscone Center together if he wanted. Sam laughed at the mention of my superheroine’s name and thinking of his character as well, said, “It’s a spider-date!”
Exiled Upon Arrival
Upon arriving at Moscone Center in full Black Widow costume, I am excited and nervous. This is the first time I’ve been in full drag at a con and although I have seen many girls dressed as boys (Robin, Nightwing, even Gambit), I have never seen a boy dressed as a girl. I’m suddenly feeling too tall, too made up and too conspicuous. I have also started to sweat inside the vinyl catsuit.
Suddenly, my entire attitude shifts as I see a group of four attendees dressed as X-Men. My eyes gloss over the Cyclops and Wolverine as I see a Phoenix and a Storm (!) dressed in her current outfit. The girls look especially well done and for the first time since putting on my costume I feel in character. In that moment, I believed that seeing these X-Men was a good omen and I smiled.
“Hello, Ororo! Hello, Jean!” I say, walking over to them, beaming with happiness. I make eye contact with the girl dressed as Storm and she looks back at me in astonishment. Her surprise turns to contempt as she rolls her eyes, and turns to Phoenix.
“Hmph!” she says, as she peers back over her shoulder at me. She gives me the once over from head to toe and looks like she might throw up.
I am crushed. This girl is dressed like the hero who changed my life. She’s wearing her white hair and her Alan Davis-designed costume and she just looked at me like I was nothing. The other X-Men just stare at me.
I take a deep breath and lean down into this girl’s face. I look straight into her eyes and I tell her, “You do not possess the compassion required to portray the character you are dressed as.” Then, I turn on my heels and walk away as fast as my boots will take me. I need to find Spider-Man.
All photos taken by CHUNK.