Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Interview Time: Alexa Heart

Interview Introduction
I've been curious about cosplay for some time, but haven't written about it much on the blog as my knowledge regarding the subject is just so minimal. I met cosplayer Alexa Heart at a previous Wizard World Convention where I found her very fun to talk with and extremely knowledgeable regarding cosplay. I asked if she would be willing to do an interview about Cosplay, her life, and our mutual love of the video-game, "Overwatch," and I was overjoyed when she agreed! I have her official biography she gave me below followed by our Interview!

About Alexa Heart
Alexa Heart is a transgender cosplayer based out of St. Louis and is the owner and operator of Everyday Geek, a convention based etched glassware business catering to a wide variety of fandoms.

Growing up in western Kentucky as Richard, Alexa constantly imagined she was in costume, often times “transforming” into Optimus Prime on the playground and He-Man when she felt bullied for being the “weird geeky kid”. It wasn’t until about age 20 while she was living in St. Louis that Alexa started exploring costuming at theaters, comic book stores, and meet ups with others. At the same time she discovered costuming outside of Halloween, Alexa also started exploring costuming as the female characters she connected with and dressed as Wonder Woman and pop culture icon Britney Spears and eventually Josie from Josie and the Pussycats.

It was the Josie costume that was a turning point in Alexa’s love for costuming and the geek community. While attending a midnight opening at a comic store around 2005, Alexa dressed as Josie and appeared at the comic store, only to be made fun of for being “a boy dressed as Josie”. After the experience, Alexa dropped costuming out of fear of being tormented. It wasn’t until the arrival of Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises that she found the motivation to return to the costuming world.

While doing her research for Catwoman, Alexa discovered the costuming resource The RPF, the world of cosplay, and the gigantic community of people that love portraying their favorite characters. She began researching cons and found a convention would be taking place in early 2013. After being accepted with open arms at her first convention by the geek community, Alexa set out to attend even more conventions. It was at this time that she also began to become more and more comfortable as Alexa than she was as Richard.

After attending over a half dozen conventions in 2013 and becoming extremely comfortable with her desire to be her female self full-time, Alexa began the journey of transitioning in early 2014. Overwhelmed by the support of the cosplay, and in general, the geek community, Alexa attended more and more conventions in 2014. Since that time, she has been asked to appear on several LGBT and body positivity panels at conventions like New York Comic Con, Stan Lee’s Comikaze, C2E2, Texas’ first LGBT convention – HavenCon, and many more. She has also been a guest at several conventions in the US and Canada, representing both the cosplay and LGBT communites.

Since her cosplay debut in 2013, Alexa has created over 30 costumes of the characters that she connects with and inspire her. Although her career has not been focused on competition, she is a very competitive spirit that focuses on quality of creation over quantity of costumes produced, constantly striving to improve her craft and use new techniques and unusual materials in her costumes.

When she’s not busy with her business or creating a new costume, Alexa is a huge dog lover, hockey fan, and cooks whenever possible.

Main Interview
Alexa, for my readers who haven't heard of it (even though engaging in it is now much more popular), what exactly is cosplay? Also, what does cosplay mean to you as an individual? What got you personally into cosplay? How long have you been cosplaying? 
Cosplay is short for costume play. It's when someone puts on a costume of a character and goes to have fun. It can be a wig, a hat, or whatever you feel like. Cosplay for me is an opportunity to escape my day to day hum drum and become a character I connect with. It also began as a way to express myself as a female before I transitioned (or had told anyone else I wanted to). I ended up finding the cosplay community by chance while I was making a Catwoman costume in 2012. I stumbled across a site called the RPF when looking for reference pictures and found out that there were tons of people doing what I liked to do - dress up like fictional characters!

I've talked with people who have expressed interest about getting into cosplay and 9 out of 10 times I'll hear, "But I don't think I can make a good enough costume and don't want to just buy the same outfit everyone else will be wearing." What would you say to those people who want to try cosplaying but feel they aren't skillful enough to craft an outfit?
My first costume that I wore to a con was a store bought Catwoman suit and handmade goggles. It was bad. BAD. You're not going to come out of the gate and look like one of the professionals(and if you do...BRAVO!). They have spent time developing their craft. If you want to wear a costume, do it. Who cares if it's perfect or, "good enough?" If you are wearing it, it's good enough.

That Catwoman costume sounds like it was a labor of love and an learning experience! How can people get better at making costumes? Are there good internet tutorials for making costumes, for example? I imagine it depends on the kind of costume you wear--e.g. I've seen outfits that looked like they required metal-working and electronic know-how for the special effect and light-up features. It takes time to get better. Part of the fun of cosplay (for me) is learning new skills. 
There are good tutorials everywhere for practically everything on Pinterest and Youtube. Other cosplayers have taken to Patreon to share their tutorials (among other things) with fans for a monthly fee.

In the past years a lot of discussion has emerged about how, "Cosplay is not consent." In regards to this I've heard statements like, "Well if they didn't want that kind of attention why did they dress that way?" and the like. How would you respond to someone who claims that if a person is cosplaying in a, "Sexy," or, "Attention-getting," manner that they deserve unwanted harassment (I know it is stupid we even have to discuss such a thing in this day and age)?
My opinion on this isn't a popular one. When I put on a sexy outfit, costume or not, I know there might be comments. I prepare myself for them, good or bad. I know that not everyone has the same moral compass between what's acceptable to say/do and what's not. I also know that, "harassment," has taken on a life of its own in terms of definition. Some people think harassment is someone looking you up and down, some think it's a comment about your appearance, and so on. Honestly, if you persist in saying things to me after I've expressed the comments are unwanted, that's harassment. (Some women LOVE the attention, good or bad.) If you touch me without permission, that's harassment. So...to answer the question...I educate them.

I can picture (but don't approve of) people making comments about a cosplay outfit, but you've seriously had people reach-out and touch you without asking for any sort of permission? That just sounds terrible! In everyday life we know not to grope strangers but for some reason when someone is in an outfit all common-courtesy goes out the window. How do you educate these people who can't keep their hands to themselves?
Believe it or not, I have more incidents of someone making unwelcome contact in daily life than I do in costume (makes for weird elevator rides). In either instance, I stop right there and call them out and try to educate them (usually, they get upset because you called them out). If we aren't making it unacceptable and pointing it out right away, they'll continue to do it. 

You have been open about how you are a transgender woman. When you started to tell people about being transgender who was most supportive, how did you handle those people who were negative? Do you still receive negative (and hopefully positive) messages to this day in regards to your being a transgender female?
My friends in the nerd community were most supportive, as we're a group that accepts differences. The people that weren't accepting either didn't understand or they have deeply rooted (although misled) religious beliefs. Whenever someone like that sends me a message or makes a comment, I just smile and be as nice as possible. I'm an ambassador for the LGBT community and if I can change someone's mind, it won't be with nastiness.
That is awesome how you want to work to change people's minds and said how it can't be done with nastiness. May I ask how often you get messages of support or negativity? I would hope you get more supportive ones! 
I receive nasty messages almost daily. There's a lot of people who don't support the LGBT community, let alone the trans community. Couple that with guys that feel their masculinity has been threatened and internet trolls, and there's a whole bunch of negativity. The good messages come about once a week. People always talk about what they don't like, and less about what they do.

In this pop-culture field of, "Geekdom," there has often been a lot of open and accepting people and plenty of jerks. How has been a transgender woman in this field been impacted by what I imagine is quite a mixture of awesome and supportive people as well as--excuse my language--hateful and ignorant assholes?
Honestly, the people that are lifelong "geeks" are totally cool, but since nerd culture has gotten so mainstream, not everyone that is attending cons is as accepting. I've had several guys freak out when they find out I'm trans because they felt threatened in their sexuality (that happens on an everyday basis though, tbh) and either walk away making fun of me or tell me over and over they're not gay. All of those people, regardless of if they're accepting or not, haven't impacted what I do and the message I bring to conventions. The larger problem is the promoters that are fearful that bringing a (attractive, not to sound big headed) transwoman to an event might cause controversy. I've had promoters not realize I'm trans, invite my with a verbal offer, and when they realize I'm trans, conveniently rescind the offer. It's more of the, "Old, set in his ways promoters," that are the ones that aren't supportive. MOST cons are pretty awesome, and some want the LGBT community involved. 

I honestly hadn't thought about how the, "Mainstreaming," of our, "Geek-culture," could actually have the effect of less understanding and accepting people flooding into fandoms and making them less inclusive. It is funny to picture a scene of someone telling you they think you are pretty, and then upon learning you are trans to suddenly state how heterosexual and cis-gender they are, as if you can't view someone as attractive without wanting to have sex with them. Our society is of course obsessed with binaries, however. The idea of con-promoters freaking-out upon learning you are trans is striking though. Your wording almost makes it sound like they would prefer they book someone who is, "Obviously," transgender in a stereotypical way as if to prove their faux-inclusiveness as opposed to inviting an awesome cosplayer who also happens to be trans. This long lead-up brings us to my question: Have you ever felt invited to a con because you were trans and it felt like it was a case of tokenism, and on the other hand have there been many cons you were explicitly not invited to due to your being trans?
Honestly, for the longest time, I used the fact I am trans as a reason to invite me, not as a side benefit to inviting a skilled crafter and cosplayer. I feel like a lot of my invites were because they were wanting to be looked at as inclusive. Now, since I've progressed in my transition and pass more easily, I think some cons have shied away from me because it's less obvious (and it's not my main platform).

In your opinion is it possible for a character to become, "Too popular," to the degree that you just get sick of seeing people dressed as it? On the opposite end of that spectrum can a character be too obscure to be, "Worth," cosplaying as?
In all honesty, it gets frustrating to see people latch on to a costume because it's popular BUT that is their perspective and if they like the costume, let them do their thing! I have been told D.va is overdone, but I'm going to wear her till the cows come home! On the opposite end of the spectrum, I think any character you like is worth cosplaying, regardless of popularity. I have a cosplay from a character named Molli in a 5 issue series called Bubble Gun. I've had exactly 3 people recognize me, and the creators of the series of course. They ALL got super stoked to see her. Point being - if you love a character, someone else does too and it will make their day to see you as them. 
Who is your favorite individual to cosplay?
It was (and probably always will be) Samus Aran, but D.va from Overwatch is super comfy and cute AND people recognize her. So....currently it's definitely D.va, especially since I need to make a new Zero Suit for Samus. 

You told me your favorite character to cosplay as, but did you ever have an outfit that just did not work for some reason or the other? Either it wasn't comfy, you didn't like how it looked, so forth? If so, has that happened often, and does it make you angry when you do all that work and aren't satisfied, or do you view it as a learning experience?
The only time I've had an outfit I didn't like was when I created a fan-created concept of a League of Legends character. I built the outfit in less than 2 weeks, props and all. I didn't like the look of the costume on me (I felt it didn't flatter me at all) and only wore it once. When it was all said and done, the experience made me put more effort into the planning side of making the costume, as if I hadn't rushed the costume, most likely I would have realized it wasn't the right one for me.

This question isn't directly related to cosplay, but on your Facebook page you talk often about, "Overwatch," and you've cosplayed as one of my favorite characters,D.va. I have to ask an extremely controversial question: Is D.va overpowered currently in, "Overwatch," and in need of a nerf?
Nah. People are just mad it's a girl who's got some clout. If it were Reaper or heck, even Genji, no one would say anything.

For you personally is cosplaying a hobby, a business, a way of life, or, "All of the above?"
At first it was just as a hobby, but quickly escalated into both a business and a way of life. Most of my current friends are in the cosplay community, something that I never thought would happen when I first started. Once I started being invited as a guest, the opportunities to make money to cover costume expenses presented itself. I've actually created several lines of business because of my ties with the geek world including a nerdy glassware business and an upcoming makeup line geared toward the trans and geek communities.

That makeup line sounds neat! What more can you share?
All I can share right now is that I'm working with a private label to create geek community/cosplay perfect makeup as well as makeup that is affordable and great for the trans community.

Do you have a favorite con to attend, or is that an unfair question as I imagine each con has its own great attributes? 
In all honesty, it depends on what capacity I'm attending in. If it's from a vendor's point of view, C2E2 in Chicago. As an attendee, DragonCon in Atlanta because of how big the con is and how much people are into the costuming aspect. As a speaker, New York Comic Con. NYCC is a big draw for the LGBT community, which gives my panels a little more, "Umpf," if you will. The panels I've been a part of have had well over 400 attendees each and were standing room only. I couldn't move for a few hours after them because the amount of questions and positive comments people were stopping by outside to give. As a guest, it's tough to say. I've had great experiences with almost every con I've been a guest at. If I had to choose one, it would be a pair of shows a single company puts on - Edmonton and Calgary Expo. Both are 2 of the largest shows in Canada, and the company that produces them treat cosplayers like celebrity guests, something that many conventions refuse to do because they don't understand the value experienced cosplay guests bring. 
What current pieces of popular-culture are you enjoying? Any comics, video-games, movies, music, or television you'd recommend? Do you draw inspiration for cosplay from popular-culture or do you have a special super-secret mental-process for picking who to cosplay as? 
I just finished Stranger Things and am currently getting addicted to Overwatch after watching everyone stream it. I also relive every season of Stargate: SG1 over several months (definitely my favorite sci-fi show that is getting a Marvel mashup soon)! As far as my creative process, I just think of things I like and then throw on some Metroid Metal or some pirate music and go to town. I usually rough sketch my idea to understand how the outfit will go together and then work from there. I take a lot of inspiration from fan art and from the work of others. One of my latest designs, Barbarian Charizard, was the combination of 3 different concepts and some additions by me.

I imagine cosplaying can be expensive, do you have any tips on how to make it an affordable activity, and how can fans help support you in further creation of your own outfits?
Cosplaying can be a bottomless money pit. When I make a concept, I make a budget for it an work from there by deciding on materials and what not. There are tons of ways to repurpose things you can find at Goodwill and thrift/dollar stores. I like using craft foam to create armor and other pieces since it's light and cheap. The key to a convincing prop/armor set is mostly in the paint job. If you're looking to keep cosplay on the cheap, look at budget cosplay tutorials on Pinterest. As far as how fans can support me, I have a few different areas: My glassware business - Everyday Geek, My cosplay print store on Etsy, my Patreon (launching Sept 20th), and soon, through my makeup line. 

What upcoming conventions can people see you at? 
I attend a ton of cons across the US. I'll be at Edmonton Expo in late September, and I'll be making my west coast trek in October to include Santa Fe Comic Con, Comikaze, and Rocky Mountain Con. November is light, but I'll be in Indianapolis for Thanksgiving weekend at Starbase Indy!

Here are the links to pages Alexa mentioned in our interview!

Alexa's Patreon can be found at this link.

Alexa's Heart and Soul Cosplay page can be found on Facebook here.

Alexa's Twitter-page is located at this link.

Alexa's Instragram account can be found here.

Alexa's Everyday Geek Glassware is located at this link.

Alexa's Etsy Store is here.

Thanks to Alexa Heart!
I just want to thank Alexa Heart again for a stellar interview! Her willingness to go in-depth about cosplay for someone who knows very little such as myself and comfort in discussing the obstacles she has faced resulted in an interview that I had as much fun doing as I hope you did reading.

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