A personal musing on why geeks who wear makeup are heroes.

Christine Sprankle is amazing.

She is a noted cosplayer in the Magic: the Gathering community, and excellent. Many of you already know this and need no telling, but some may not know who she is, or know but not see her cosplay work as valuable and important. I have been thinking in recent months about how cosplayers and women who wear makeup are important to the MtG community. Now that Christine is in a moment of difficulty (as explained in this video), I felt it was a good time to share how she has helped me grow.

I first encountered Christine in one of Tolarian Community College’s videos where she and I were both in the comments section responding to some awful comments towards another cosplayer. I knew then that she was an amazing woman, and also that I would fight tooth and nail for her and other female cosplayers to be treated with the respect they deserve. Right now is a time to fight for her, and for our community.

To explain my position I’m going to explore my personal experience being a female geek. When you are a female geek, you often feel a bit “other” in some slightly different ways than geek boys do. Geeking out to things that are typically deemed for boys—be that comic books, computer games, console games, Dungeons and Dragons, or Magic: the Gathering—you can start to have a strange relationship with your identity as a girl. I know growing up I often felt most comfortable around boys because they had similar interests to me. (Well, the geek boys did, in any case.) At a time where other women were experimenting more with makeup and fashion, I backed away from that and focused mostly on reading, writing, and gaming.

I found myself able to talk to boys more easily, because I could rant to them about how cool Baldur’s Gate was, or how different medieval warfare tactics really worked. I didn’t even know any other girls who played computer games or were passionate about ancient history. I am sure they existed, but I, personally, never knew them. I wish I had. Because of this, I started subconsciously associating women with discomfort and disconnection and men with a sense of belonging.

It is embarrassing to admit this, but as a teenage girl I was the type of person who said things like “I don’t need feminism,” or “I’m not like other girls.” I said those kinds of things out of the ignorance of youth—and, perhaps, fear.

Fear? What’s that about?

I think I was afraid of becoming a woman. When I looked over at other women I saw a bunch of stuff that didn’t look fun, and that did not resonate with me. It seemed that that for me to be a female—to be “feminine”—I would have to give up the things I liked doing. I would have to lose myself—my identity—to belong as a woman, to do womanly things. This felt very black and white. You could be the geek girl or you could be fashionable; you could not be both.

I spent a lot of time with geeky boys and I saw strange things from some of them. They denigrated women who wore makeup and took care with their appearance, yet they also desired them. As a teenager I was reasonably successful with boys romantically. I was “one of the boys” but also just different enough, emotional enough, to be interesting to those logical, sensible types that I favoured. These boys who claimed they loved me told me over and over and over again how “good” it was that I didn’t wear makeup, how I wasn’t “fake”. The less kind of them would tell me that women who were interested in fashion were “stupid”, “bimbos”, “worthless”, and unattractive to them.

I’m sure these boys were saying these things with good intentions, and it did bolster my self-esteem. But at an expense. The expense was that I felt afraid to experiment openly with makeup or fashion, lest I be thought of as one of “those” girls.

In geek spaces, it is revolutionary to wear makeup.

Christine makes a very powerful statement when she cosplays as a character from MtG—one that we all, no matter our gender, need to hear. And it is this: fashion and makeup and costumes are a valid part of geek culture. There is no “one way” to enjoy a geeky hobby. Expression through cosplay is a form of art, similar to (though different from) painting. When she does a cosplay she becomes a kind of living fanart—she brings characters that we love (or love to hate) to life. She breathes life into the game. She gives it human form. She transmutes cardboard into reality. And she looks amazing whilst doing so.

It takes great courage to put yourself out there in any way creatively, but perhaps cosplayers are some of the bravest. They can not step back from their art—they are part of it. By making their body into art, they invite comments. Many of those will be compliments—”omg Liliana! I love Lili!”—But some of those comments will be negative. I imagine it might be harder to separate from that kind of criticism than if it was, say, an article you wrote or image you drew—an object separate from your body. To endure despite negative comments shows strength and bravery. Those who do, help encourage the rest of us to be strong and brave as well.

Although many Magic players don’t care how a woman dresses, some do perhaps struggle with the subconscious prejudice that women who wear makeup don’t belong in geek spaces. Women struggle with this, and it is tied to our own identities. When I see someone like Christine in her cosplay as Avacyn, it is a lightbulb moment—an illumination. She is dressed as an angel and is literally giving me enlightenment when I realise—finally—that I can be a geek and wear makeup. I can be a dork and look pretty. I can be a nerd and play dress-ups, which I have always loved, but felt were shameful.

I’m not sure if any other female Magic players have struggled with the same things that I have outlined here, but I believe at least some of the women in the Magic community grew up just as lonely, as bereft from “being female” as I did. And I feel very strongly that seeing Christine, as a woman, is empowering.

She has inspired and empowered me.

I love seeing the photos of the cosplayers in the Magic community. The skill and effort they put into their art amazes me. I love seeing women being proud of who they are. I love seeing a female badass necromancer, fiery pyromancer, strange mystical elf, or an enlightened monk. When women cosplay in MTG they are giving us a gift. A gift of possibilities, of redefining all that a geek can be. A gift of inclusivity and acceptance. A gift of beauty.

Cosplay is an art (and craft) and has a very special and crucial role in Magic the Gathering. Thank you, Christine, for helping me learn that I can be anything that I want. That whatever I want to do is okay, and that I can pursue my interests and passions without fear. You are a gift to our community, you have helped me grow, and these words are my way of saying thank you.

Here is a link to Christine’s Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/cspranklerun

May our gatherings continue to be magical. May our heroes continue to wear makeup.

Gemma Hammens (Twitter: @GemOfMagic) is from Brisbane, Australia. She loves aetherborn creatures and brewing black/red or mono-green decks. Her other passions are writing and building Lego spaceships with her toddler

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