Still, I think it's something I can learn from. Maybe we all can? So I'm going to share.
Here's what happened:
I was on the hunt for costumes as usual, when I spotted a pretty girl in a big beautiful gown. I didn't recognize the character, but I zipped over and asked for a photo anyway.
As would happen many times that weekend, the girl's eyes flicked down to my prominent PRESS badge. Instead of getting excited or striking a pose, though, her face filled with fear. Fear, you guys.
"Um, what is it for?" she asked.
"Epbot," I said, trying to give a reassuring smile."It's a geek girl blog."
"Is it... is it one of those Costume Fails kind of thing?"
"What? No! Gosh, no!" I think I actually sputtered, I was so gobsmacked. "I...I only feature cosplays I like, good stuff!"
"Oh," she looked relieved. "I'm sorry, I just... I get really self-conscious."
John, who was beside me, immediately chimed in to say how great she looked - but she still seemed wary as I took her photo. I dug out a card to give to her, and quickly told her about you guys, and how you've formed this amazing, safe community of geeks who only build each other up. I hope I said it right, though, because to be honest, I was pretty shaken.
I wanted to cry, you guys. I wanted to hit things. I wanted this sweet girl to know the world *I* know online - the one filled with awesome people celebrating awesome things. I wanted her to take for granted that everyone was going to love her costume. I wanted to show her in advance how much you guys would like her feathered headpiece, how we ooh and aah over each other here, how we fangirl and act silly and that's all OK.
I've photographed literally thousands of cosplayers, and this was the first time someone thought I wanted to make fun of her. Or no - scratch that. This was the first time someone said she thought I wanted to make fun of her. But what if others have thought the same thing? What if behind the hero poses and sweet smiles, they were wondering what kind of hate or ridicule was in store for them later online?
It felt like a sucker punch to the gut.
But maybe it was a sucker punch I needed - that we all need. Because we geeks still have a ways to go when it comes to bringing our online cheering into the real world. We can't just hole up in our safe spaces here; we need to get out there. We need to make more safe spaces, online and in real life. And we can't stop - we won't stop - until every geek in a dress, or a suit of armor, or a rainbow unicorn onesie feels only excitement about showing off the things they love.
I'm not going to post the cosplayer's photo here, because she didn't ask for this kind of spotlight. Still, I hope she sees this post, if only because it means she'll get to "meet" all of you. Plus I want her to know that she's made me want to try harder, to look deeper. If I ever do anything good in this community - if I ever make it a little easier to be YOU - it's because I've been there. Heck, I'm still facing those fears, every time I hit "post." Showing off the things we love is scary. Putting on a costume is scary. Sometimes just being ourselves is scary.
So the next time I'm out photographing a con, I'll try not to assume every cosplayer knows how awesome s/he looks. I'll try to look up more, compliment more. I'll try to smile more. These are our safe spaces in the real world - or they should be - and it's up to us to look out for each other.
If you've never been to a con, I hope you'll try one sometime. I hope you'll put on your most obscure geek shirt, or that crazy anime wig that's gathering dust in the closet, and go have fun. Nothing makes a place more welcoming than big smiles and a little silliness. And if you're a little shy or scared or awkward? Well, hey, at a con, so is everyone else. So go ahead and say hi. Compliment a costume. High-five a Deadpool. Take a chance and engage a little. Be brave.
Let's bring what we have here on Epbot and on FOE into the real world.
And hey, if you ever see a pretty girl in a big ballgown and a feathered hair piece, go say hi for me.
I needed a picture for this post so I googled "rainbow unicorn onesie" and it did NOT disappoint: