At the end of the 2021 Marvel film Black Widow, Natasha Romanoff — fresh off a mission where she reunited with her long-lost parents and sister — prepares to embark on a new mission: to save her friends from the hot water they found themselves in after the events of Captain America: Civil War.
“My whole life, I never thought I had any family. Turns out I have two,” she muses with a smile.
It’s the dialogue that went through my mind last year as I stood tall in a thick black stealth suit on Labor Day weekend in Atlanta, holding my pose for the photographer who was capturing the moment. For Natasha Romanoff, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, her statement meant she was reclaiming her confidence about where she stood in the world.
And for me, in the real world, the statement felt like a similar sense of reclaiming. For the first time in two years, I was at a convention with my second family — many of whom I had found and become close to thanks to sharing a love of dressing up as my favorite super spy. That wasn’t something that was necessarily new to me, a person who for years has been going to cons and finding connections with friends who shared the same interests. What was new to me, however, was that this time I was at the convention as a parent and leaving my 18-month-old daughter at home in the care of my husband.
I was also having my first personal vacation away from parenthood and family life for the first time since the pandemic started in March 2020.
Cosplay after childbirth
When I found out I was pregnant in mid-2019, I immediately began planning for the things I was going to do after I gave birth. I knew that regularly keeping up with the hobbies I was used to do doing as a non-parent, like cosplaying and going to conventions, would allow me keep my sense of individuality in this new life shift, and I looked ahead to the future with optimism.
And then, along came the pandemic.
Before I even had a chance to settle into the fresh and overwhelming feelings of new parenthood, I was quietly accepting that things I had been looking forward to wouldn’t be happening anytime soon. I wouldn’t realize how much of a blow it was until the year stretched on and more events were delayed or cancelled, but in that blow, I found a silver lining: appreciation. The absence of conventions (and cosplay in a community, as opposed to a four-walled bedroom) allowed me reflect on why the things I loved were important to me, and it allowed me to realize what I missed by not having those things readily available in my life.
Conventions as a safe space
For most of us, conventions are a safe space. They allow us to truly embrace our inner 'nerd' and to be around people who share our same interests and passions, no matter what our life experiences are. When conventions slowly began coming back — albeit with masks and restrictions and virtual components and fewer attendees — it was clear that I wasn’t the only one who had realized just how important these things were. Returning to Dragon*Con and New York Comic Con two months in a row made it clear it that whether you were an artist, a cosplayer, a panelist, or simply a fan, you had missed this 'home' that you took for granted every year and were happy – not to mention relieved — to have it back.
But for me, in addition to being a safe space, conventions have always been something that is solely “mine.” While I find joy in attending a local convention with my similarly-minded geek husband and dream of the day I can bring my daughter around Artists Alley in cosplay, conventions are, at their core, my place where I can do things for myself. They’re a place where I can hang out with long-distance friends, dress up self-indulgently as my favorite pop culture characters, or attend panels about the niche fandoms that have defined my life.
As my personal life changed, conventions and cosplay became even more important and significant. It was a chance for me to step out of society’s 'predetermined' role that, while I love, I've always been worried of embracing in a way that makes me forget why I consider myself unique. When I dress up in costume as my favorite character, I’m allowed to fully escape from my 'real life' in a way that is special to me and a way that makes me feel empowered. When I’m wielding a foam baton or a fake bow and pretending to be a superhero in a Marvel movie, I’m giving myself full reign to become someone other than Andrea, the professional writer and mom and wife. Putting on a costume helps me transform into a person who can take on the world with a different kind of confidence; in the same way that my favorite actors step into their own costumes and become people who I can look up to, the time I’m spending in cosplay changes me for the better.
And that time spent in costume has become so integral to helping me figure out exactly who I am. I used to think that especially as a new mom and 'responsible parent' in her upper 30’s, being a cosplayer and going to conventions invalidated me in some way. Because it wasn’t the “norm” that most people outside the fandom world understand or see, and because it’s not as culturally “accepted” to run off to conventions the same way you would run off to a wine country vacation or a baseball game.
But I’ve come to realize how lucky I am to have those things in my life and how much of a positive influence they are. Because of cosplay and conventions, I’m a better mom. Because of them, I’m a better friend, a better support system, and a better wife. I’m a person who is fulfilled and whole and happy because I’m able to have experiences that mean something to me and that truly define who I am while living my best life dressed up as my favorite fictional character.
And I never want to give that up.
Heading to a convention soon? Check out Popverse's guide to navigating conventions with a disability.