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Friday, June 23, 2017

PERSONAL: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dress


This is a story I've told many times before in person and on my Facebook, but I've had requests for it so I feel it should be here for posterity.

I love pretty things.

I love fluffy dresses. Shiny earrings. Pretty makeup. Sparkly nails. Fluffy socks. Colours in my hair. I love it all.

I also love giant robots and explosions and monster trucks and action movies and propane porn. And for many, many years, I believed that I was not allowed to have both.

In all fairness, no one in my family ever made me think this. My grandmother made all my school clothes when I was in preschool and enrolled me in cotillion. My grandfather taught me how to bait a hook and took me out to the local football field to fly RC planes. My uncle introduced me to the ability to watch basically anything I liked and find some meaning in it. And none of them discouraged the others from what they were doing.

It was more when I got into high school. The mean girls all wore lipstick and smelled of Bath and Body Works, and all I knew was that I wanted to be the opposite of them. When I got to college and into the con scene, I found that most of my friends were guys. And I found that, overall, I got the best reaction from them when they forgot I was a girl. Or, at least, I thought that's what I got. In fairness to them, I never did anything else that would give me data to judge otherwise.

All I knew was, at the time, being more "masculine," or at least more "gender neutral," got me by. I didn't want to end up like the girly-girls who were mean to me in school. I didn't want to share any traits with them. Occasionally I'd do magical girl cosplay (because it was cosplay, so it was okay). Sometimes I'd stare at my friend Yunmao in her adorable outfits, or look at fluffy dresses at shops, and wish I could indulge. But I couldn't. Not as far as I was concerned.

And then, Fran Scott happened.


I was in London, attending Brian Cox and Robin Ince's annual "Christmas Compendium of Reason" with my friend Nette. It's a sort of rock concert slash science lecture slash comedy hour, and if you can go, I recommend it. I'd never heard of this lady before -- she was one of a string of unannounced guests, as part of the show is not knowing who you're going to see.

She came onstage in a cute little black dress and heels, all done up as though she was going out for a posh dinner. And then she started launching hydrogen bottle rockets into the audience with her fingers.

I was amazed. In retrospect, I feel utterly ridiculous that I was amazed. But I was. Here was a woman wearing something I quite honestly would kill to go out and wear, up onstage doing crazy science in heels and just generally being awesome. And in that moment it hit me.

I can have both, too.

When I started working more with conventions as a host, I knew I needed nicer clothes. So I got dresses. I got my friend Emily to teach me to do my own makeup. I got more adventurous with my hair. Eventually I somehow developed my "frilly dress and Docs" style that people are used to seeing on me at cons. And, best of all... no one batted an eyelid. My best friends of years, regardless of gender, gave me nothing beyond compliments. No one was upset or weirded or wanted to know why Kara wasn't "one of the boys" anymore.

Granted, on my days off I'm still a slug in sweatpants and tee shirts. The dresses are my "on" outfit, almost my indication that I'm okay with being seen. But the revelation (long overdue) that hobbies and wardrobes are unconnected by any standards was one of the best days of my life.

Beyond that, I'm happy, so happy, to hear that I'm doing for little girls at cons what Ms. Scott did for me. I'll probably never meet her, but she did me an amazing service. And I am grateful for that.

My wallet isn't, but I sure am.