Being Black and Finding a New Queerness at Dragon*Con

When people think of queerness, they usually think of the word in regards to sexuality and gender expression as opposed to its original definition of unusually different or odd. For me, that's what I did until I had a conversation with the 50 Shades of BLACK creator, Carlton Mackey, about this past weekend's Dragon*Con convention.

While being asked about the geek experience as a black gay man, he described the event as queer. I'd honestly never thought to describe a convention of geeks, freaks and gamers as queer. But if you think about Dragon*Con, really, there isn't much around that's as fundamentally queer as that.

For one weekend in Atlanta, Labor Day Weekend, over 100,000 people flood the city for NASCAR racing, football, Black Pride Weekend, and, of course, Dragon*Con, the biggest sci-fi gaming convention in the Southeast region.

It's quite a sight to see as the jocks, the gays, the trans, bisexuals, the drag queens, and the geeks all come out into the streets at once and paint the town a bright rainbow palette of diversity.

And that's just on the streets. Once you go inside the convention, you're immersed inside a world where being a regular human is just an option, and the simple act of cosplaying can transform you into any race, any gender, any species, or any object that you want to be.

But despite such diversity in creatures, styles, and looks, what many people outside of the geek culture still don't seem to see is the growing number of black people who are unabashed geeks and love comic books, cartoons, video games, manga, and anime.  

For many of us black geeks, we are a different version of queer. We are anomalies both in and outside of our race who embrace blackness, but also embrace being infinitely more; as much as our fantasy-loving, child-like imaginations can allow. 

And for me and my crew of bleeks (black geeks) and blerds (black nerds), a crew which we've given the awesome title Sasuke Hate, conventions like Dragon*Con are nothing short of an indulgence in that new queerness, that new anomalous existence. It's a place that, while not devoid of social issues surrounding race and queerness, bends them in ways that allows for a new way of seeing the world.

Walking the lobbies and bars of the Hilton, the Hyatt, the Marriott and the Westin, it felt amazing to see so many geeks out and about in the real world, drinking, dancing and posing for row after row of cameras in their cosplay creations. 

Though diversity is praised at these conventions, it'd be foolish to dismiss the fact that it's been a struggle to find diverse black representation in the world of comics, anime and gaming. Although characters like Storm, Blade, Black Panther, Miles Morales/Spider-Man, and Spawn have paved the way for black mainstream superheroes, we still have a ways to go when it comes to seeing these superheroes take center stage and lead films and TV shows. It's can be even harder to find well-rounded and respectable representations of black people overseas in Japan, where black anime characters are often played to stereotypes based around hip-hop and 70s Blaxploitation.

For that reason, and because it feels damn good to see ourselves as authentic and powerful, there's an extra sense of pride taken when we bleeks can cosplay as black characters and show that we can be superheroes, villains and all-around cool characters as well . And my friends definitely represented that idea to the fullest as they cosplayed as iconic black superheroes like Green Lantern, Aqualad and Static Shock and got praise from geeks of every color. 

But race isn't the only thing that's skewed and warped by these conventions. Ideas of gender are played with and twisted as well. When walking through crowds of cosplayers, it's absolutely normal to geeks of all races gender bending to their hearts desire. At Dragon*Con alone, my friends and I saw men as Wonder Woman and the Sailor Scouts, or women dressed as Deadpool and The Flash. Sometimes it was simply bold expressions of sexuality as women dressed in nothing but body paint and underwear, and men donned their own tiny undies and oiled themselves up to show off their bodies.

Truly, it was an anything goes kind of affair.

But no place is a paradise, and as with any convention, there were times when the racial issues of the regular world reared their ugly head.

For us, that moment came not while doing anything particularly geeky, but instead during Saturday night's hotel rave. Not to toot my own horn or the horn of my crew too much, but being the charismatic and fun-seeking people that we are, we happened to dominate an entire side of the dance floor and had nearly half the crowd circling us and trying to dance with us as we grooved, twerked, bounced, and rocked to good ol' hip-hop music. But after perhaps 15 minutes of that dance floor dominance, the DJ abruptly changed the music to softer pop and dance thusly killed our dance circle. Although the DJ could've simply wanted to change the mood and allow for every genre of music to shine, for us it seemed weird that any DJ would want to kill the vibe of a raucous party. For us, it came off as a small reminder that we can't be too black, too unabashed and too in control of the scene. 

As that instance shows, perhaps there are always limits to how queer an event can be and how high those usually on the bottom can soar, but as minorities, it's no unfamiliar script to us. 

As bleeks, though, there's still so much to be said still for the freedom that's enjoyed just taking ownership in expressing different versions of blackness, different versions of gender and sexuality, and different versions of self. 

For us, the new frontier of identity expression lies in the realm of fantasy. Because, as another character, we find ways to tap into parts of ourselves that we may never know or never express. More importantly, we find ways to be bigger than the way society sees us....embracing our blackness, embracing queerness, while at the same time being bigger than it all. 

Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK

Posted on September 6, 2014 and filed under community, Identity, LGBT, race, skin tone.