by: Tanya Cook

I want to tell you a story. Back in the early 1980s, there was this geeky little girl who lived in small-town Wisconsin. She used to run around her neighborhood pretending to be Luke Skywalker and later Indiana Jones (see ultra embarrassing Exhibit A below.) She would tell her mom that she wanted to be a boy when she grew up because she thought only boys could be heroes. Thankfully she had an awesome feminist mama who helped her understand that girls and women could save the world too.

Tanya circa 1985 as “Indiana Jones.”

But I wish young geeky me had had more inspiring, well-rounded role models and had been able to see herself in TV and movies more than I did. As you can imagine, that nerdy kid who dressed up like Indiana Jones, didn’t conform to gender norms, and went through a chubby stage was mercilessly bullied. It would take me years to realize my bullies were also suffering and to marshal compassion for them.

I am grateful to all the strong women in my life growing up who showed me that society’s narrow definition of what a woman was didn’t have to limit me. I’ve come to understand that I’m more non-binary in my head in terms of gender than how I choose to present, but at age 42, I finally feel like I am who I was meant to be. And an important part of that personal growth for me has been embracing my geek and participating in cosplay, of all things.

I started getting more into cosplay around the time I first started watching Supernatural. For our first major convention, Denver Comic Con 2014, my kids and I threw together a last-minute family cosplay as some of the main characters.

Tanya as Castiel, Oldest as Gabriel, Middle Child as Sam Winchester, and Youngest as Tiny Dean Winchester :)

Shortly after that, I realized that with my hair a bit shorter I could pull off a Jody Mills cosplay. I wore this cosplay to the first Supernatural Convention in Denver in the fall of 2015 and much to my surprise won the costume contest!

Tanya on stage as Jody at Creation Entertainment’s Supernatural Con Denver in November of 2015

I can’t even express what it meant to me to feel represented on TV. Jody Mills was a professional, a mom, a fearless, loving bad-ass and for the first time in a long time, I felt my identity validated in the media I was consuming. I felt that again when Donna was introduced. I often say I may look a bit like Jody (on a good day), but I sound like Donna. When I entered graduate school I once again found myself marginalized for my rural northern-WI accent and then later for having three children while a student. Donna’s no-nonsense, yet fun, personality helped me to say — ‘no I’m good. I’m awesome, in fact. I LOVE my accent and I love being from the Midwest. YOU are the insecure one.’

Tanya as Jody with friend Rebecca as Donna, Denver Comic Con 2016

And so here I am at 42: mother to three wonderful kids, partner to an excellent man who embodies non-toxic masculinity, tenured sociology professor, and extreme geek. Cosplaying as Jody Mills and seeing characters like Jody and Donna on my favorite TV show has helped me to reconcile all of the facets of my personality. I am grateful to have a character I identify with and I see how important and how powerful representation can be for others. This is why we need Wayward Sisters. We need strong and compassionate female heroines of diverse racial-ethnic backgrounds with varying ability statuses and sexual orientations. We need TV to be better so that we can make the world better.

For more information on how you can help #SaveWaywardSisters follow on twitter or check out by Nerds and Beyond.

We (Tanya and Kaela) are two fans and academics who study how fans help and support each other and their communities.