Ororo Munroe Realness: A Crossplay Q&A with Mike & Elio
“Being a geek is all about being honest about what you enjoy and not being afraid to demonstrate that affection. It means never having to play it cool about how much you like something. It’s basically a license to proudly emote on a somewhat childish level rather than behave like a supposed adult. Being a geek is extremely liberating.” —Simon Pegg
I love that quote from Star Trek's Simon Pegg. For my money, it not only sums up the appeal of geekdom in general, but it also very neatly describes what Geeks OUT is doing here—promoting the uncensored, uncynical, and unself-conscious expression of one's full geekdom, not excluding one's queerness. Pegg wasn't speaking specifically to or about LGBT fans, but his message of courage, openness, and participation has special resonance for our community.
Few embody that idea of "proudly emoting" more visibly than cosplayers. From the level of commitment it must take—the time! the work! the expense!—to say nothing of the courage involved, dedicated cosplayers bring to vivid life the creativity, intensity, and sincerity that characterizes true fandom more than any other group. More and more, it's also an arena where lady geeks and queer fans can have fun with gender and sexuality in ways the continuity-bound and market-driven industry can't (or hasn't / won't). Cross-gender cosplay, or "crossplay," continues to evolve as the fan community opens up to more (and more accomplished) female and LBTQ participation.
By now, you've certainly seen photos of Elio Ocasio (above, with Geeks OUT's Danny Bernardo, center). His fierce original-costume Storm brings new meaning to "uncanny." Since his very first foray at 2012's C2E2, he and his boyfriend Mike have become cosplay—and crossplay—superstars. We were immediately enchanted, and all the moreso when who should pop up at Geeks OUT's first Chicago event, but Mike and Elio? In costume as Storm! We reached out immediately to the power couple to show our love and to get an inside look at their boundary-breaking geekery.
Mike and Elio have been together for six years, brought closer by a shared passion for comics, games, and geek culture. Elio, a trained makeup artist, specializes in classic Storm based on a lifelong love for the character. Mike is a gaymer who most often dresses as anime characters or one of the Power Rangers, but he also makes a mean Ultimate Spider-Man. They often cosplay together, as well, and plan to do more duo / couple themes. For their website, Mike covers anime tv and games, and Elio reviews collectibles such as Jem & the Holograms dolls with expert precision.
GO: I'd like to start out by saying how inspiring I find your cosplay / crossplay. On the one hand, it can be jarring to see a male in costume as a female character (especially when played for a joke), but on the other your love for the characters is so apparent and deep, that it seems so simple and, dare I say?, natural. And you're so damn beautiful all done up! Can you briefly describe the transformation process?
M&E: Why thank you for the kinds words. It takes about 3 hours to get ready as Storm and that's due to the detailing of the shading from head to toe. I also like to keep in mind the type of personality the character has, not every one has the same strong look so it helps to sometimes do a softer look with makeup.
Well I have to have some music playing while I'm putting on the makeup. Some good ol' "This woman got attitude" music like Chelly's "I Took The Night" or even some K-pop music like 2NE1's "I'm The Best" will set the mood for the long makeup process.
GO: I also grew up reading comics and loving the strong female characters. To me, they were a different sort of hero than the brawny Captain America-type, and one I could more strongly identify with. What is it about Storm, in particular, that inspires you to crossplay as her so beautifully?
M&E: Out of all Marvel characters, she is the number one for me. It's how she carries herself that gets me, very... regal. Even through all of the drama, both past and recent, she has carried herself like it doesn't effect her. She has drama and she shaves off her hair into a mohawk to center herself. And it's something about the white hair and blue eyes that gets me. I never looked at her as a black woman, I just looked at her the most beautiful character ever. And the reason I cosplay as her is that I haven't seen someone do it correctly.
GO: I would think that any sort of cosplay requires courage, but especially crossplay in geeky environments that aren't always so open-minded about gender stuff. Can you tell me about the courage it took to go out there for the first time as Storm?
M&E: I was so scared. When we were driving to the con, I almost had a breakdown. I was terrified, and didn't think that I would do the character justice. Not to mention Marvel was set up at the con, so it was even more pressure. But Mike told me that I had nothing to worry about and that I was gonna serve them Storm like nobody else, LOL. So as we were walking to the con floor I said, "It's all or nothing" and turned on that runway walk and let them have it!
GO: What are your interactions like as Storm?
M&E: I get mixed reactions. Most of them are positive. People say that they never seen a better Storm and ask if I'm going to do other versions. And when they find out I'm a guy, the number top two questions are "Does it hurt?" and "Where do you hide it?" There are a few people that call me a freak or nasty and even homophobic slurs, but you know what? It doesn't even bother me because I know who I am and I'm comfortable with myself enough not to let the petty and closed-minded people affect me like that. And the kids love me, they just wonder why this "woman" is so tall, LOL!
GO: What other or new characters are you each working on? Would you, Elio, ever try Punk Storm? Do you ever cosplay together as a couple / duo?
M&E: I'm actually doing Punk Storm along with the new Uncanny X-Force Storm, Jim Lee['s "white costume"], and a few others, in April at C2E2. And Look out for Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman form Batman Returns too. I have been working on some Jean Grey costumes and a few other surprises. We plan on doing some couple costumes like Mister Sinister and Goblin Queen, Cyclops and Jean Grey, Wiccan and Hulkling, Northstar and Kyle and Mike is working on his Batman from Batman Returns to go with my Catwoman. We have done the Power Rangers together already, but more to come.
GO: You're a hot gay nerd couple, together 6 years (congrats)! You're two men in love who luckily have all this nerdery in common. Isn't it funny how being a geek now almost requires its own "coming out" process?
M&E: I knew Mike liked geeky things from our first date. We used to talk on the phone and watch anime together at the same time, LOL! We just never knew how much of a geek we both were. I love the fact that we can be ourselves with each other and not worry about being judged. And as for being a geek, it's very hard sometimes because not everyone is accepting of it. So it's hard to fully be yourself. To be a geek is very much like coming out of the closet, some friends don't want to associate with you. I (Elio) lost more friends liking Pokemon than me being gay. Mike's rule is if you don't like geeks, then you don't like him.. and that goes for being gay, too.
GO: Geeks OUT just hosted its first event in Chicago, and you were there! How was it? Chicago seems ready for more!
M&E: This event was amazing. We were honored to attend this event. This is very much needed in Chicago. We didn't know that there were so many GGs (Gay Geeks) around here in Chicago. The great thing was people remembered us from conventions. It is a wonderful experience that we hope would continue to bring everyone closer to enjoy the love of everything geeky. We would love to become a part of Geeks OUT even if it's just representing at conventions or helping with events in Chicago.
GO: Last, I'll tell you (officially) about our upcoming event, Dream Weaver, a celebration in art of Sigourney Weaver as a muse and queer geek icon. Are you fans? Ever thought of Ripley crossplay? You're invited to the event, so we'd love to see you there however you guys are dressed!
M&E: We would love to attend this event it New York. Elio will be working on the photoshoot for this event. He will be doing this picture (see below). We hope everyone will like it.
Thanks you for having us for this interview. We hope that all the GGs (gay geeks) out there will learn to stand strong and stand together. You're just as important to the geek culture as the next person!