(This post was originally published elsewhere, and has been retroactively cross-posted, with slight edits, to the Scintillating But Ultimately Untrue Thought archives.)
The morning of Thursday the eighth, before heading off to see the new LCSW at the multi-specialty clinic, I was idly rereading some of the early Closetspace strips, trying to read between the lines (as it were) using the enhanced perception granted by the world-shattering insight about how everything I've cared about for the past fourteen years turns out to be related in unexpected and terrifying ways that I can't talk about because I don't want to lose my cushy psychology professorship at Northwestern University. (Victoria tells Carrie, "Not to mention you don't think like one of 'them'"; ha ha, I wonder what that means!) When I got to the part where Carrie chooses a Maj. Kira costume to wear to the sci-fi convention, it occured to me that in addition to having the exactly the right body type to cosplay Pearl from Obnoxious Bad Decision Child, I also have exactly the right body type to cosplay Jadzia Dax from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, on account of my being tall—well, actually I'm an inch shorter than Terry Farrell—thin, white, and having a dark ponytail.
Okay, not exactly the right body type. You know what I mean.
So I ordered some cheapo Sciences-division uniform pajamas, thinking of going to some comics convention next year, but when I queried the Overmind in its gopher aspect for actual Star Trek conventions, it turned out that there was one that very weekend in the area. Online ticket sales had stopped, but allegedly "[a]vailable tickets [would] be on sale at the convention", and there was still time to upgrade my uniform order to one-day shipping.
The uniform I got (just the first suitable thing I found querying the Overmind in its Amazonian aspect; it would be possible to do better for more searching and money and shipping time) was problematic in that it's the TNG-era design and has commander's rank pips, whereas Jadzia was a lieutenant when she last wore a TNG-era uniform and (spoilers!) died in 2374 as a lieutenant commander. I considered trying to play a post-series Dax who actually faked her own death (and got Dr. Bashir to use an experimental technique to copy the Dax symbiont's memories to Ezri Tigan), then later got promoted to commander and assigned to a different post where they still wear the TNG-era uniforms for some reason. But I decided that it would be simpler to just cover the third pip with electrical tape and play Lt. Dax in 2369, just before her reassignment to Deep Space Nine. (Beyond body type, at 28, I'm even just the right age for this role, Jadzia having been born in 2341!)
(Aside: before considering the question of "who do I have the correct body type to cosplay", I had always thought that I liked/identified-with—my brain may not distinguish the two concepts as sharply as some do—Kira more than Dax, but that doesn't really make any sense: Dax, the cosmopolitan science officer whose ambition spans worlds and bodies, is far more like what I'm supposed to be than Kira, the ex-terrorist XO whose life has been structured by the struggle to defend her homeworld from Cardassian imperialism. Kira Nerys says that she trusts the wisdom of the Prophets; Jadzia Dax quietly wonders what those wormhole aliens are really up to.)
During the next few days, I watched "Soldiers of the Empire" (recommended as the best Dax episode by TrekBBS user "Bad Thoughts" in the at-the-time top search result for best dax episode returned by the Overmind in its gopher aspect) to help get into character and bought some cosmetics at Walgreens: Loréal 201 Classic Ivory "infallible pro-glow" SPF 15 foundation, Maybelline Line Stiletto "ultimate precision" liquid eyeliner (liquid eyeliner being recommended by Stephanie as the kind of makeup with which to draw Trill spots), a Loréal Brunnette brow stylist definer pencil in case that turned out to be better than the eyeliner for drawing spots (it wasn't), and a stick of Maybelline 680 Mesmerizing Magenta lipstick.
(I couldn't find the liquid eyeliner myself and had to ask a store employee. She asked if there was any particular brand I wanted. "No," I said, just a eyelash hair too forcefully, "this isn't my usual area of expertise.")
So I got up early the morning of Sunday the eleventh, shaved, applied the makeup in my inexpert-would-almost-be-too-charitable way (smear on foundation, haphazardly dab eyeliner on sides of face to make Trill spots, waveringly bring lipstick to lips), put on a bra and my foam breastforms under the cheapo uniform top, and used my PADD to summon a taxi to the hotel hosting the convention.
I arrived way too early for check-in, and walked up the road (wearing my black jacket over my uniform top) to a different hotel that had an outpost of the raktajino hegemon, and ordered a breakfast sandwich and the vanilla sweet-cream iced raktajino specialty medicinal. I gave my name as Jadzia, but the barista wrote Jetsy on the cup. (Maybe my voice was a little shaky, but maybe she needed to recalibrate her universal translator.)
A little bit of lipstick rubbed off on the sandwich and the straw.
At the convention hotel, I waited in the lobby for a while, still with the jacket over my uniform, reading the Janet Mock autobiography on my PADD, until it was time to check in. After buying my Sunday wristband ($70), I wandered over to the photo-op/autograph ticketing table and bought a ticket to get a photo with Michael Dorn at 11:10 ($40). (Nana Visitor or Terry Farrell herself would have been my first choices for a celebrity photo, but they weren't there that day.)
There was still a lot of time to hang out before the theater opened for the actual convention programming, but that was fine, because actual convention programming is kind of boring; the actual point of conventions is to have an excuse to dress up and wander around and talk to people and get vanity photos of other people who are using the convention as an excuse to dress up.
A woman in the vendor hall asked me how I did my spots.
"This is my natural skin pigmentation," I said.
"Oh," she said, confused.
I leaned towards her and said in a conspiratorial whisper, "I'm not supposed to break character today! It's liquid eyeliner."
One man was wearing a particularly impressive Klingon costume. "I think I recognize you!" I said, stopping him. "I think Curzon knew you!"
"My previous host," I explained. "Can we get a photo?"
He seemed to regard me with bemused toleration as we posed for a selfie taken with my PADD.
"Those real?" he asked, referring to my breasts.
"No, I'm actually a guy," I said. "Obviously."
"I know," he said.
I sat through some actual convention programming. John de Lancie is almost as entertaining playing himself as he is as Q or Discord. In response to a question from an aspiring actor, de Lancie said that TV and movie acting is all about what you can do now, in contrast to theater, where young talent can be afforded time to develop under the tutelage of a director. He mentioned that Alarak, the character he voice-acted for Starcraft, was angry all the time, and that he imagined there should be a scene featuring Alarak relaxing by painting watercolor. He told the story (which I had already heard before, probably at BABSCon) of voicing Discord for Friendship Is Magic with minimal preparation and forgetting about the matter entirely until some months later, when he woke up to see his inbox exploding with fan mail for his part in something called "My Little Pony" ... and the correspondents were not little girls.
After de Lancie, there was a discussion with some writer-folk (the schedule said the topic would be the new series next year, but they didn't seem to know anything about it), and soon enough, it was time for my photo op with Michael Dorn.
The photo session was very assembly-line—here (unlike the autograph sessions I witnessed at other conventions) there was no pretense of your $40 giving you the opportunity to actually meet your heroes for even half a minute: this was pose, click, and it's over, time for the next fan to get in position. I had time to say to Dorn, "I'm Jadzia," but that was it.
Not that I was disappointed. A woman on the event staff commented on how happy I looked skipping down the room after the photo was taken. "My future husband!" I said.
"You're so cute," she said.
I appreciated that. On the whole, however, I feel like I was less enthusiastically received as Jadzia that day than I had been as Pearl at "Portland" Comic-Con—providing what could be seen as a disconfirmatory data point against my hypothesis that incompetent MtF crossdressing gets socially-rewarded more than same-sex cosplay (cisplay??) at these sorts of events. There are too many uncontrolled variables to make a fair comparison—this was a different (I think better) costume, of a different character, in front of a different (notably smaller, possibly older?) crowd—but a darker, more specific hypothesis comes to mind.
As Pearl at Comic-Con, no matter what catchphrases I shouted during photo ops, I read as "unapologetic man-in-a-dress not pretending to be anything else," which is cool faux-subversive gender variance. (So brave! Man Pearl is best Pearl!) Whereas Starfleet uniforms are properly unisex: the only gender cues indicating that I was trying to be Jadzia Dax rather than a male Trill lieutenant were my breastforms, the lipstick (a much weaker cue), and the foundation hopefully hiding any residual beard-shadow (a weaker cue still). That put me out of the "man merely wearing clothes reserved for the other sex" category and into "man ineffectually pretending to be a woman" territory.
Maybe that's not cool. Maybe that's just creepy to some people. Even at a science-fiction convention in "Portland." (Even if people in "Portland" are not dumb enough to say what they're really thinking.) I didn't see any other crossplayers at the Star Trek con, and the only other highly visible MtF crossplayers I saw at Comic-Con were the guys with beards wearing Sailor Moon outfits (and as for the people I thought I clocked on the ten-second timescale, who can say?—maybe they were real).
I want to be able to say with the unquestioning moral certitude of my youth that none of this should matter, that distinguishing "crossplay" from cosplaying a character that happens to be the same sex as you is discriminatory (and therefore, it need not be said, bad). I chose to play a character that I genuinely admire, and because this character happened to be a woman, I decided to wear the breastforms that I coincidentally happened to already own, in order to make the costume more realistic (given that I am a man and, unlike Jadzia Dax, don't have breasts), in exactly the same way that because this character happened to be a Trill, I decided to paint spots on the sides of my face using liquid eyeliner that I happened to not already own, in order to make the costume more realistic (given that I am a human and, unlike Jadzia Dax, don't have spots on the sides of my face).
I want to say it. I miss that righteous feeling of my youth. But in these dying autumn weeks following a moment of liberating clarity, I am done pretending to be stupid. And maybe I don't want you to pretend, either.