Cosplayer Convos: Supporting Strong Friends The Way That They Support You
I'm working with a new concept here. A series of blog posts and interviews that I will call Cosplayer Convos.
I enjoy cosplay. I admire cosplayers. But I think we forget that the person behind the cosplay is...a person. We see them at conventions and follow them on social media and sometimes forget that these glorified humans are just...human. I believe that by sitting down and talking to them, we can all learn something new.
Thus, I present to you: Cosplayer Convos
So, What Is a Strong Friend?
You know who they are. They are that go to person on social media. They always know what to say. Or they're someone you consider to be an IRL (in real life) friend. They don't give a crap how your homophobic uncle feels about "that lifestyle" (this is not going to be the first time I go in on your uncle, #sorrynotsorry) they're going to fight the good fight anyway
Our strong friends save the day, without breaking a sweat or shedding a tear
But, where do our strong friends go when they need a strong friend? Who do they have when they need advice? Where is a shoulder when they need to cry?
I'm holding myself accountable, as I am the friend who is often in need. I have benefited from having strong friends swoop in and rebuild me, time and time again. As someone who was still building their support system, I was extremely thankful.
BUT...was I asking them how their day was going? Was I even calling them just to have fun or was I just expecting them to appear when my life was falling apart? Was I only prepared to tag them on Facebook when arguing social justice issues, like I was summoning a Pokemon with a higher CP than my own?
When I think of a strong friend, or just a strong person in general, my mind goes to one person. One of the strongest people I know is our fearless leader, owner, and admin of Geeky Girl Guide, Leslie. Remember that time she announced on the podcast that if you are being harassed and need someone, she's your girl? Yeah, she's the bomb. She has told people she will feast on their cracklings before. And dammit, she means it. Don't mess with her.
She's got an amazing heart and will defend you to the end. As I often am scared, short, and not the least bit intimidating, I admire her strength and her ability to always push back and to speak up for what is right. Leslie does not give a red cent f#$k what you think about her.
And wrapped in all of that strength is a human being, who is just as deserving of someone willing to tear someone apart for her as she is for others. Leslie deals with life just as much as my emotional ass does. And she deserves the support that she gives to all of us
This post is about Briana of Brichibi Cosplays, but I'm dedicating this post to Leslie. Leslie: You are strong, you are seen, and you are appreciated. Never stop being you <3
Briana: The Strongest Woman You Will Ever Meet
Briana is a cosplayer that I've admired for years. Not just the ability to rock amazing cosplays (I think my favorite is a toss-up between Tiana and Wonder Woman) but to take up space in a way I hadn't seen before. Here she stood. Black. Fat. Queer. And magical.
Alongside the love of her life and longtime partner, Jessica (who is an amazing seamstress by the way) Briana seemed to have it all. But in spite of her successes, hateful people saw her and did what they did best. For every positive thought we had for Briana, there were 20 more people who were angrily typing on their keyboards letting us know in all caps how they couldn't stand her.
Briana was always overcoming. For every hateful comment, she had an equally positive one. It was always in a perfect way to shut them down. "She's got to be the strongest woman I will ever meet." I often thought to myself
There was something I didn't realize that was going on behind these posts. While I was reading them in real time, I was putting myself down thinking of how I would be "too sensitive" to deal with this if it was directed at me. I remember thinking Briana was so strong.
"I responded to every comment," Briana says about her social media posts at the beginning of her cosplay journey. I remembered this about her. I read them and admired for her being so strong despite the ongoing homophobic, fatphobic, and downright racist comments she received. Sooooo strong, and yet...
When her partner, Jessica, came home earlier that day, she noticed that Briana had been responding to each and every comment on Tumblr and told her to turn anonymous comments off. "I was like, 'I can't do that, I have to show people that if you get bullied, there's a person who can stand up and deal with it'," Briana describes of that day.
Jessica persisted, pointing out that she had been on Tumblr all day responding to comments. She again told Briana she should turn anonymous comments off. Almost instantly, Briana felt a sense of relief. "It was this moment of 'oh my God, I'm allowed to walk away'."
Waiting To Exhale: Are Your Strong Friends Holding Their Breath?
"I don't think people realize that the strong friend doesn't usually start out as being strong." Briana says
"I'm very vocal about different issues and I write about them and it's really great. But people don't understand how much that weighs down on you because most of us are pulling from personal experiences."
One thing we talked about is this iconic scene from Waiting to Exhale. Yes, that one. Where Angela Basset's character Bernie burns the car of her cheating husband. It's a pretty memorable scene that left many people saying the 90's equivalent catchphrase of YASSSSS QUEEN.
Briana brings up a great point about this scene. "Everyone talks about how she burnt the car and its badass but before that, she sat in her room and cried and even after [that scene] she cried some more. That comes with the territory of being the strong friend..."
Forgetting that our strong friends have feelings and pain behind that strength is doing them a disservice. We believe tears and strength cannot coexist. That's the trap we fall into, believing our strong friends are exempt from the pain they're always saving us from.
Too Strong and Too Soft: A Confusing and Frustrating Paradox
"It's so frustrating because they don't want us to be vulnerable, but they don't want us to be too strong either," Briana says
I can definitely see what she means by this. It's almost like we expect our strong friends to be strong within our parameters. It's like we tell them, you need to be strong, but in a way that is beneficial to me and this has to change.
"With the strong friend title they forget about the friend part," Briana says "And just focus on the strength part."
While this paradox can present itself in times of support, it can also present itself when your strong friend is being outspoken. Once they hit a nerve with someone, they're expected to pull back.
"I thought our friendship could withstand [inset topic]" is something that Briana often hears. Because she's often outspoken on these issues that often affect her personally, there seems to be this unspoken soft spot she hits with people. "I thought our friendship could withstand this" often translates to "I love it when you speak out, just not about me"
They're telling their strong friend on the surface that they hope their friendship could withstand differing politics, subtle racist tweets, and separating their friend from their sexuality. But what they're really saying is "I thought our friendship could stay beneficial to me and not disrupt my beliefs."
Whatever the case, this is exhausting. Whether the lack of support comes from not having the space to be vulnerable or only being heard under certain terms, we have to do better for our strong friends.
How to Support Your Strong Friends
It was difficult for Briana to be vulnerable, even just on social media. When expressing her feelings on Facebook, she got responses from people who said: "I don't know how to talk to you because you're so strong" (<----see, there's that saying again).
Briana describes how one of her friends showed how to be supportive in the right way "She was like 'I know you're busy and I'm busy but whenever you're free we can get together and watch anime'...that's all I wanted!"
It's not always about having the right advice or cuddling them when they cry. Sometimes your strong friend doesn't need advice or cuddles. Sometimes they just need a distraction, a neutral zone that they can build themselves up again. And that's ok.
"Don't just check on us when we're suffering...also be there when we're having a good day." Briana brings up a really good point about not just being there in trials or triumph, but in those boring in-between moments as well. Invite them to lunch when nothing particularly exciting is going on. Ask them how they're holding up just because it's Wednesday. Draw them a picture because you know it will cheer them up.
"I Shouldn't Have to Defend Myself From YOUR Friends": A Quiz
Small rant before we get to the quiz. One of my biggest peeves about Facebook is going through hoops to keep all of my content limited to only the people I want to see it. While I've made attempts at putting stricter privacy setting such as "Friends Only", by some small loophole, a status you make could still be seen by your friends Racist Uncle Twice Removed.
Briana said something that was really impactful, especially in regards to Facebook.
"I shouldn't have to defend myself from your friends"
Grab your pencils guys, this is your Quinzel Quiz of the day
Your strong friend posts something that your Racist Uncle sees (cause the way Facebook sets up mutuals, it happens). Racist Uncle does what he does best, which means sending a profoundly hateful and misspelled lashing to your strong friend.
In this situation, do you:
A) Assume your strong friend will handle it because she's great at this kind of thing
B) Let your uncle know that he shouldn't talk to your friend that way and why, thus putting a protective barrier between your strong friend and your racist uncle who still needs help setting up his iPad
The answer is B. But often times what plays out is A. It goes back to the assumption that this strong friend has GOT IT because they are vocal from these issues, so why should this be any different?
That line of thinking isn't supportive to your strong friends. It's one thing to defend yourself from strangers, but having people that you consider friends who just leave you hanging puts strong friends in a position of not only having to fight their own battles but yours too. Next time this happens, tell your Racist Uncle to take a hike and buy him a dictionary for Christmas. Auto correct will thank you.
All I really want us to do is ask ourselves are we supporting our strong friends in a way that's equal into the way they support us? Are we giving them space to be vulnerable? Or are we contributing to a burnout?
I can't tell you the number of times that I faced something in my life that was really hard but didn't think of myself as a strong person because I faced it with tears streaming down my face. I get down on myself because I think both can't co-exist. But Briana reinforced for me that I can cry my eyes out for hours and still be strong.
Briana has lived a life of pain, loss, and frustration. But she has also chased her dreams, fell in love, and continues to influence and affect everyone she meets in a positive way.
Your strong friend is this beautiful, vulnerable individual who is a force to be reckoned with. They take their tears and often turn them into a shield, protecting others from the pain they've been through. Their voice is loud because they're often speaking for the timid and unheard.
To Briana, Leslie, and all of my strong friends.
You are wonderful
You are appreciated
You are heard