My life has been full of negatives. Sometimes it seems like everything I’ve wanted to do has been met with a no. Everywhere I turned, I was turned down.
The earliest ‘no’ I remember happened when I was about 4 years old, in a field behind my grandparents’ house. My cousins played baseball in that field. I stood behind the backstop, watching all the fun they had. I wanted to play, too. “No, you can’t play with those big kids,” my mother said. “You’ll get hurt.”
Later I fell in love with ballet. But I couldn’t be a ballerina. I was too big. Big girls could practice pliés and ronds de jambe en l’air and even the splits if they could manage it, but they could never be real ballerinas. “A fat ballerina?” they scoffed. “Never!”
As a teenager, I loved Westerns, John Wayne, Louis L’Amour, and the old WW2 movies. Like the baseball games, I could watch, but I couldn’t play. “Girls can’t be cowboys, gunfighters, or soldiers. Nurses, maybe, but not soldiers,” everyone said. “No way.”
But I knew someday I’d be big enough to play with the big kids. I’d be skinny enough to be a real ballerina. I’d be strong enough to be whatever I wanted, regardless of my gender.
Then came the really big ‘no’: I got lupus. Lupus comes with a ton of restrictions. Don’t get too tired. Don’t go out in the sun. Don’t get sick. Don’t get stressed out, and don’t do too much, or you could trigger a lupus flare. You try very, very hard not to do anything that might make you sick, especially if you’re a single parent. Everywhere you look, you find the word no. Your dreams mean nothing now. You’ll never get to play with the big kids; you get hurt too easily. Give up on ballet; your knees don’t work anymore, you’d fall flat on your face. Don’t even think about crossing gender lines; you couldn’t possibly do all the tough male stuff when you can barely even change a diaper or push a broom. Forget it all. You will never catch up.
Last year, my daughter started cosplaying. I make her costumes (at least I can still do that). She goes off to conventions. She brings home lots of photos and tells wonderful stories. She has so much fun.
We joined an online cosplay group, and it’s an amazing bunch of people. They accept anyone who wants to cosplay. Fat, thin, old, young, male, female – they don’t care. Cosplay is for everyone. Their photos and their stories are just like my daughter’s. They have fun, too.
Some cosplayers I’ve met are not stereotypical geeks, either. They do things geeks don’t traditionally do. Some of them work out. They lift weights. They’re athletic, unlike geeks in the olden days. Their photos and stories are just the same as the others. They have so much fun. None of them are perfect, but they all have fun.
It makes me wonder.
As I watch my daughter and the other cosplayers, that wonder gets louder all the time. The cosplayers don’t insist on perfection. Fun is more important. The ones who work out all have different routines and goals, and they are just as welcoming. Anyone can join. There’s a joy in moving, just as there’s a joy in dressing up.
The wonder asks me: what if I did do those things? If it doesn’t have to be perfect, then maybe just a little wouldn’t hurt. I don’t have to be rail-thin with huge accoutrements in order to put on a costume. I don’t have to do 500 push-ups or flip 850-pound tires in order to be active. It’s been years since I worked out. I can’t keep up with a regular exercise class. But I can do a few baby steps here, a couple of pliés there, and a few arm curls with 3-pound weights. It’s a start.
More than that, it’s a yes. The first yes I’ve heard in years.
Who has the right to tell me no, anyway? People? They’re only people, just like me. They hold no authority over me. Maybe they don’t like seeing fat girls doing ballet or wearing fairy costumes. So? Why should I care? Were they there to tend to my daughter when I was in the hospital? Take me to my chemo appointments? Do my laundry? Pay my bills when I couldn’t work?
Then why should I listen to them? I owe them nothing other than the respect due to any sentient being. Why schedule my life around fear of their disapproval? I have as much right to my own likes and dislikes and my own failures and successes as they do to theirs. Worse still, they tell me things that are physically wrong. Fat girls can do ballet. We can dress up like Sylvanas Windrunner. No laws of nature stop us. “No” makes sense only if something is physically impossible. Lupus has left me with half-numb toes, which keeps me from dancing sur la pointe. It doesn’t stop me from dancing flat-footed. I shouldn’t do something because I might get hurt? Better muscle tone could keep me from stumbling and falling. I can’t do something because I have ovaries? The only thing I can’t do is father a child. And telling me I cannot take part in my chosen activity because you don’t like the way I look when I’m doing it is just selfish and stupid.
If my grandmothers are any indication, I could live another 30-40 years. Maybe more. Do I really want to sit here and merely survive for 40 more years while everyone else has fun? Lupus slows me down, sure. I have to be careful. But I don’t have to stop. As long as I don’t have to be perfect, there’s always something I can do. Saying “I can’t” doesn’t help. It’s better to ask what can I cosplay, what type of exercises can I do. Questions like those put my brain in gear and make me think. Maybe I can’t be a cowboy or a ballerina or a champion athlete, but there are other things. I can sit here forever and watch everyone else have fun, or I can look for the possibilities of what I can accomplish.
And possibilities are the opposite of no.
With thanks to Defenders of the Cosplay Faith <www.facebook.com/Cosplay.Faith> and Cos-Fit <www.facebook.com/cosplayfitness> for their encouragement, support, and inspiration.
And thanks to my daughter, Rose, for cosplaying in the first place.