Nerd Lessons: Finding Myself Through Cosplay

We love our fandoms. For those on the outside looking in, it may be their impulse to discount our devotion as superficial or childish. That’s because they don’t understand or see how nerdom has effected us. At BNP, we know that comics and movies and anime and cosplay does so much more than entertain us, it shapes us; we learn what kind of people we want to be—and who exactly we are fighting against becoming. We sent out that bat signal, we sent out notice for an open call for submissions on what nerd lessons you learned and y’all answered the call.

The Author of This Piece and Teacher for This Nerd Lesson : Fadhili Samba, @FadhiliTheOne

January 5th 2017. Walking through the bookstore with a friend before (finally) watching Moana, my footsteps take me once again to the manga section, first bookshelf, bottom left. There it is: the entire Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon series in all its glory. My fingers instantly grab book twelve and I flip through the pages directly to the last picture.

‘’Are you going to buy it?’’ my friend asks.
In an instant my head flashes 365 days in the past.

FLASHBACK

I was 18 years old and in my first year of post-secondary education when I first got into cosplaying. Looking back at my high school days, I can say that although my high school was quite diverse, the special arts program it offered (and that I was part of) was composed primarily of Caucasian students. And my community college program was divided into two distinct groups of students: middle-aged immigrant mothers who came to Canada to get a better life or young Caucasians from deep suburban areas who think it’s okay to ask a Black person if “they speak ghetto at home.” In other words: not the ideal situation to discover oneself, especially when you’re a Black young woman. But that was almost four years ago.

2016 eventually came around. I was twenty turning twenty-one. I was now a University student. I now had access to all these different clubs and events that catered directly to my need for self-discovery. For the first time I was allowed to explore every facet of myself without restrictions. I used that opportunity to explore my Blackness in all the possible ways it could manifest itself. I performed my first spoken words at a campus event, got familiar with using traditional fabrics to make clothes, and started reading and following important Black figures of entertainment, media, and politics. But I still didn’t have a way to tackle my inner nerd.

That same year, I borrowed a book at my local library entitled Transformers Exodus by Alex Irvine. The book explains how the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons started. I was reading the speech that Orion Pax gives to the high council – the speech that would turn him into Optimus Prime – and something he said clicked instantly in my mind: “If castes and Guilds fight change, they fight our own nature – and the nature of Cybertron itself. The absence of change is not stability. It is entropy. Only dead things stay the same.”

Entropy. The state between order and disorder.

That’s what I had become: I was slowly but gradually making my way into a mental chaos caused by a lack of access to proper representation. I wanted to be seen outside the stereotypes so badly that I was going insane. But hopefully for me, things were changing. I could see the shift happening in front of me and within me. Somehow, I landed on a Twitter trend that changed everything: #28daysofblackcosplay. 28 days that, along with Orion Pax’s speech, changed my perception of the nerd community and of myself.

From My first cosplaying efforts: (Haruhi Suzumiya from The Melancholy Oh Haruhi Suzumiya, [Photo Credit: Droo Photography]

From My first cosplaying efforts: (Haruhi Suzumiya from The Melancholy Oh Haruhi Suzumiya, [Photo Credit: Droo Photography]

It was the first time that I was exposed to so many geeks and nerds and for such a long period of time. Although the hashtag was dedicated to Black cosplayers and cosplayers of color, I was being bombarded with pictures and stories of regular people who overcame again and again the challenges of being a POC and being a fan and who were doing it in extraordinary ways. Those 28 days exposed me to every single aspect of the Black nerd community.

As the days and months went by, I got deeper into the world of cosplaying and learned that there was a whole community of cosplayers, geeks, and nerds that existed out there. I learned about ComicCon, the difference between Marvel and DC Comics, the weird spaces of Tumblr, the importance of movie soundtracks and supersonic screwdrivers. To this day I’m still making my way through this Brand New World (One Piece reference!) that was opening up to me. And without even realizing it, the lessons I learned slipped into my daily life. Having two part-time jobs involving children meant that I always had to keep learning new ways to keep them entertained and to challenge their critical thinking. And in the span of a single year I had officially earned the title of “Nerd and Geek stuff specialist.”

I told the story of a 16-year-old girl who saved all of China. I sat down and talked to a group of 8-to-10-year-old kids about the Infinity Wars that was fast approaching and saw their eyes shine like a thousand diamonds. I explained why skipping the 9th Doctor should be considered a criminal offense. (Editor’s Note: THANK YOU!) I told a group of overly-show-off little boys that “Actually, Iron Man isn’t the richest man in the Marvel universe: Black Panther is.” and proceeded to answer ALL their questions that came pouring in afterwards.

And when I saw the children at the beginning of 2017, one of the very first things they asked me was:
“You know that thing you go to and you dress up and meet other geeky people?”
“You mean ComicCon and…cosplaying?”
“Yeah that! What are you going to cosplay this year?”

They automatically assumed that I was going to cosplay and decided to ask me straight ahead what my plans were (the answer being Miraculous Ladybug among other plans). They had already accepted that “it’s her thing and she likes it.”
cos
And that’s when I decided to never go back.

Spending a lifetime being told to choose one identity over the other is destructive. But during the year, I’ve learned that I can be everything and anything simultaneously. The same way I cannot dissociate my blackness and my womanhood, I cannot dissociate myself from my passion. Because it is part of me it is part of who I am. I have seen the wonders Black hands can create and want to be part of this movement. And because I participate, I am part of it. And because I educate others about it, I am part of it. And who knows where I’ll be at the end of this year. Or in five years or in ten. But until then I will look upon this community and work tirelessly to become someone who can be looked upon not just by children but by all, children and children at heart.

END OF FLASHBACK

“Are you going to buy it?” my friend asks.

“You know what? Yes I will,” I reply.
And as I walk towards the register to pay for the manga, Mamoru’s voice resonates in my head:
“You are the most beautiful most shining heavenly body of all times.”

And I know that this year and every year I will shine brighter and brighter. Because when the night tries to swallow me, I will shine.

Because I am a heavenly body.

dfg

[Photo from Ottawa Geek Market Spring Edition 2017 Cosplaying as African Sailor Moon]

 

Fadhili Samba Pic

Read more of the Nerd Lessons here.

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