Hello and welcome to the GeekDis spotlight on disability representation in the cosplay community! Today I’m going to introduce you to the world of Cosplay if you’re not familiar with it already, and for those of you who are, I’m going to show you some fantastic cosplays by talented disabled cosplayers.
What is Cosplay?
Cosplay is a hobby where people dress up as their favourite character. Often these characters are pre-existing characters from books, comics, TV shows or movies that they like, however, sometimes they are characters they have created themselves. You might have seen Cosplayers at themed events for movies, seasonal events (such as May the 4th, Star Wars Day) or charity events. Many Cosplayers make their own costumes, but it isn’t a requirement of Cosplay as not everyone is able to do that for whatever reason (lack of a necessary skill, time, finances and disabilities are a few reasons).
The one incredible thing about Cosplay is that it isn’t just something that Cosplayers themselves get joy from. The entire community of a fandom gets to share in their joy. For example, if a Cosplayer creates a Star Wars Cosplay, then it can be enjoyed by the whole Star Wars community. Cosplay is very much something that is shared by the whole community.
Unfortunately, like all activities and communities, the Cosplay community is not exempt from prejudice and disabled Cosplayers in particular can face opposition and stigma from others in the community. To tell us more about this and what it is like to be a disabled Cosplayer I’m going to hand over to Gem who has kindly offered to talk to us about her experiences as a disabled Cosplayer 🙂
by Gem aka disabledandfab
I don’t think I really knew what cosplay was, before 2019 or so. I loved Halloween (still do!) and would create costumes with elaborate stories that no one but me would understand, acting as that character throughout the night. Turns out, that’s basically cosplay.
Around 2019, I joined TikTok, and discovered the cosplay community there. I didn’t see it as something for me, though. I had this hang up, I suppose, that people wouldn’t want to see their beloved characters in a wheelchair. After all, wheelchairs are seen as something limiting (far from the case, but that’s another topic), and I didn’t want anyone to think I had some sort of grudge against the character. I’m still unsure how likely this fear actually is, but it definitely affected me.
As for cosplaying characters who canonically use wheelchairs, well…can you think of one? How about five? How many of those aren’t villains, or faking?
Luckily, I discovered the collaborative storytelling community there as well. People would create stories, universes, and anyone could make their own character and join in. Due to the fact that the characters I made were original, it was easier for me to start filming in my wheelchair. After all, I wasn’t breaking canon or anything, because I had created it. It was still very difficult for me, though. I’m an ambulatory wheelchair user, so I didn’t always film with my wheelchair, because I didn’t need to. People are so quick to call out “fakers”, and I was worried about that as well.
TikTok itself has a complicated history with wheelchairs. There were reports that the app actively suppressed creators who fell into various categories, such as being visibly disabled (source). Beyond that, every so often, an able-bodied cosplayer will decide that they need to cosplay a wheelchair-using character with a wheelchair of their own. Besides the fact that there are so few wheelchair-using characters already, wheelchairs aren’t props, nor are they costumes. They are very difficult to get and afford, so seeing someone use one for what is, essentially, the aesthetic, made people angry.
Although the app has issues, I don’t think I would’ve been able to cosplay without it. After all, cosplaying often takes place at conventions, with people travelling around the country to attend, changing looks every day, and staying up all night in hotel rooms. This culture, while fun and exciting, is difficult for me, and I assume other disabled people as well, to participate in. I don’t want to in any way say it isn’t possible, of course, but disabled cosplayers are a minority, and platforms like TikTok allow the art of cosplay and storytelling to become more accessible.
I can’t speak on conventions from personal experience. I’ve never been to one. But finding the ability and freedom to create and share stories of my own disabled characters has given me the confidence to call myself a cosplayer, and to push back at anyone who would argue that, were I to portray an able-bodied character with my wheelchair, that I was in some way sullying their name/the art itself.
There are a lot of disabled Cosplayers out there if you take the time to look for them. The next time you’re admiring a great Cosplay on social media, take the time to type #disabledcosplayer into the search bar!
Below is a selection of disabled Cosplayers to show you the variety of skill and ways in which disabled Cosplayers have incorporated their disabilities and mobility aids into their Cosplays. If you know of a disabled Cosplayer that you think I should add to this list, please leave a link to their social media account in the comments 🙂
Twitter embeds are not working, so a few Cosplayers to check out on Twitter are:
Over to you
Thank you for joining me for this post about disability representation in Cosplay! I had hoped to do a more in-depth post, unfortunately my September ended up in true spoonie style and my plans ended up in chaos. As a result, there will be more topics here at Just Geeking By about disabled cosplayers (and disabled representation in general) in the future and GeekDis will also be returning next September, so watch out for that too.
Many thanks to Gem for taking the time to talk to us about Cosplay as a disabled Cosplayer. Please take the time to visit Gem’s social media accounts and sites to see what she is working on, and offer your support. She is on YouTube, Twitch, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Ko-Fi and FanHouse.
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