My Year as Slave Leo

Almost a year ago, I put up a post about my genderbent Slave Leia costume. I talked a lot about why I decided to create it and my insecurities around exposing myself on the internet. It got a little more attention than I expected, and when I was finished hiding under my bed, I started wearing the costume to cons and costume parties. I thought I’d share some of my frightening and enlightening experiences here.

The Initial Monsoon
This blog doesn’t get that much traffic. We have a lovely group of loyal readers, but we’re not Skepchick or The Mary Sue and definitely not Kotaku or Boingboing. So when I put up my post, I thought that I was sharing it with with our niche audience of friends and fans. There are handsomer, nakeder men on the internet, so I couldn’t see why my little post would garner much attention. I was mistaken.

Very mistaken.

The post got picked up by The Mary Sue and Io9 only a couple hours after I posted and then every aggregator on the planet seemed to jump on the bandwagon before our blog crashed from the traffic. I was dubbed the new king of crossplay, a fact which cosplay pedants have repeatedly informed me is incorrect. I wasn’t crossplaying, I was genderbending. Thank you, I know, I didn’t title the articles on other sites.

Here’s the short list.
The Mary Sue
MTV Geek

I was even featured in a NSFW women’s magazine called PoolBoy. Which included the charming phrase “OMG i want to fuck your face.” This is not something I was adequately prepared for. I have been informed that I have appeared in some even less family-friendly publications, but I hesitate to search too hard.

After the initial shock, and some of the secondary shock, I braved the comment sections and they were… broadly complimentary, or strangely neutral, and oddly obsessed with my body hair:

Yggdrasil hair

elf tree hair

wookie lightsaber

I also learned what an otter is.

The Con-Experience
Being mostly naked on the internet is very different than going out in real life. Not strictly easier or harder, just different. For example, digital images do not need to worry about the weather. The first con to which I wore the costume was in February, in Ontario… Canada. Also, feedback is immediate.

I definitely turned a few heads, some in shock and confusion, some in appreciation for my work. My favourite reactions came from the men who had fetishized the Slave Leia costume to such a degree that my interpretation of it caused severe and uncomfortable cognitive dissonance. I had no end of people explain to me why my interpretation was wrong, with wildly varying degrees of diplomacy and tact. For the most part, however, people were amused and appreciative of my work, which was nice and heartening.

As is custom with cosplay, many people want to take your picture, and some want to have their picture taken with you. What amused me was that I usually got more requests, and more lustful requests, dressed like this

Photo Credit: Russ Creech

Than I do like this

Photo Credit: Jamie Bernstien
Photo Credit: Jamie Bernstien

I’ve gathered from my interactions that there are two main reasons for this. The first, and probably the larger one, is that The Doctor is a fetishized icon for women. Princess Leia is not. While a rather large portion of the male population have the image of Carrie Fisher in a gold bikini indelibly branded into their pituitary gland, few women have spent lonely nights imagining her as a man.

The other reason is that it seems more socially acceptable to want a picture taken with a man in a suit than a man in a birthday suit. Unlike when I’m fully clothed, I noticed several times that there were girls that would stare, fidget with their camera, and then flee when I made eye contact. I fully accept that it is possible that it was shocked revultion that had them looking my way to begin with, but I think at least a few felt guilty about wanting a photo of or with a highly sexualized costume.

The Photoshoot
Among the events I attended in Slave Leo garb, was the Slave Leia Photoshoot at Dragon*Con. I felt a little weird going but I thought that journalistic rigor demanded it. It was an odd experience.

It is a carefully managed event. It is not officially on any schedule, but it has clearly been happening for years. First, pro and semi-pro photographers take turns snapping shots of individuals and small groups of Leias. Then, the whole group of Leias pose on and around a couch and, a few at a time, the amateur photographers are allowed – read that again, “allowed” – a few moments to snap pictures before being shuffled off so the next members of the long line of men, almost universally men, can have their turn. The fact that the event is so carefully controlled and so many men are willing to follow the structured rules just to be allowed the right to take a photo speaks to the power of this costume.

My reception at the event was mixed. Some of the costumers were amused or impressed with my handiwork and we discussed my interpretation and our mutual challenges in crafting. Others gave me stink eye from the start. I think I understand why, though. The Slave Leia shoot is not about the costume, it’s about the ladies.

I knew that was true from the perspective of the drooling line of photographers. But I didn’t understand until I got there that it’s not just for the men, it’s also a moment for the women to be fetishized and ogled on their own term. There is power and pride in being able to wear that costume as a woman and there is something of a sisterhood among those bold enough to try. When I showed up and arrogantly expected to be allowed to play with them, I was undermining that sisterhood.

The organizers had treated myself and the other two male Leias in basically the same way they treated the rest of the costumed men that hoped to have their pictures taken with the lounging ladies, we got our turn, but it was a brief privilege offered to us rather than a right. We were not one of them, and I suppose that is probably right.

Phot by Danny Hunter
Phot by Danny Hunter

One of the things I was curious about when putting on this costume was how similar or different my experience would be to women in similar garb. I think my experiences with being groped are worth a post on their own, but worth mentioning here.

Yes, I got grabbed by strangers without my consent.

No, it is not at all the same as when it happens to a woman. More on that later.

Best Photo Ever
To end on a happy note, this is the best photo ever.

Photo Credit: Jamie Bernstien
Photo Credit: Jamie Bernstien


Ryan is a professional nerd, teaching engineering in the frozen north. Somewhat less professionally, he is a costumer, author, blacksmith, juggler, gamer, serial enthusiast, and supporter of the Oxford comma. He can be found on twitter and instagram @studentofwhim. If you like what I do here, feel free to leave a tip in my tipjar.

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  1. I think this was an honest and earnest attempt to gain perspective and start a dialogue and that deserves a hearty “kudos!” I also like to think that we, as nerds, are slightly more enlightened and accepting than non nerds and it saddens me when I am proven “optimistic”. Nevertheless, your blogs on this topic are interesting and illuminating – thanks!

    PS – where in “cosplay rules” does it say the player must stick to his/her gender? This would sadden many a female Castiels, Doctors and Iron Mans (Men?)

  2. Thanks for the followup, Ryan. It’s very interesting, and a valuable insight. Of course I hope you’ll make good on your suggested followup post on the groping issue.

  3. If feasible, it might also be interesting to compare experiences/notes with someone who’s cosplayed as one of the Spartans from “300”, since that’s also a very revealing/”fleshy” costume yet taken in stride as a typically masculine outfit at cons.

  4. You make an excellent point Tom, but I know of none, personally. If anyone does, send them this way.

  5. I’ve never done cosplay but, having just come off NYCC 2017 super-inspired, I decided my first foray would be a genderbent version of “A New Hope”’s Leia. I did a web search for madculinized versions of the white hoodie gown and, a few clicks down the internet rabbit hole later, landed here.

    Fascinating article, as was the follow up on groping!

    First, while you certainly have me beat in the looks department, thanks for the warning about groping. I wouldn’t have thought of or been prepared for that.

    Second, while you kind of focused on the negative side of reaction, I can guess by that final joyous photo that a lot of people really enjoyed your cosplay! Can you write about that? Was the experience eye-opening in a positive way at all? Did you learn anything cool about yourself or about fans, either male or female? About gender or gender expression? Again, as much as I enjoyed reading about what you learned about groping and your own experience that “cosplay is not consent,” I would love to hear if you got any positive affirmation and how flattering and/or awkward it can be to be appropriately and respectfully appreciated for your costume. I find it very awkward to be flirted with, even when it’s entirely welcome, and sometimes I feel like I’m the only person who feels that way. Something tells me I’m not. Lol

    Great blog you have. I know this is several years old so if you’ve already addressed my questions, please give me a link.

    Finalky, any advice on a genderbent white-hoodie-gown Leia cosplay?





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