With controversy over the Slave Leia costume heating up to the point where even Carrie Fisher felt obliged to weigh in, sex in nerd culture is once more getting smeared by the media.
Indeed, one could argue that the Slave Leia fight is just one more front in the pervasive panic over nerd sexuality that has been causing incidents like the banning of booth babes and sexy cosplay, at pop culture conventions.
In the midst of this moral panic, it seemed fitting to talk to someone who’s actually been a nerd sex symbol. Haydn Porter, a former Playmate of the Month and Cybergirl for Playboy, first attracted the attention of the internet when she wore the Slave Leia costume to a Playboy Mansion Halloween party back in 2008. Since then, she has made the costume a staple of her appearances at cons, where she’s been everything from a paid booth babe to just a regular attendee. She is certainly one of the best known Slave Leia cosplayers out there, and was even a partial focus of an Entertainment Weekly article on the same topic in 2011.
But Haydn – who is also a card carrying Mensa member, a black belt in Karate, and now an aspiring professional artist – is definitely not one thing: an SJW. In fact, she’s about as firm a cultural libertarian defender of Slave Leia – and of sexy nerds – as you’ll find anywhere. Breitbart Tech was fortunate enough to land an interview with this former model and actress, who spoke to us over Skype this past weekend. A transcript of the conversation is below.
MH: So, Haydn, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk to us.
HP: My pleasure!
MH: So why don’t you give the readers some idea of your history with the Slave Leia costume?
HP: Oh gosh, where to start. Well, I first wore it at the one Playboy Mansion Halloween Party I ever went to. Also, I’m not gonna say I wore it first, but when I wore it, it definitely wasn’t this ubiquitous thing at cons like it is now. I felt like I was doing something fairly unique, and the costuming options were definitely harder to track down. I ended up finding this guy called “Jamin the Slavemaster” who ran a website called “Leia’s Metal Bikini” who was offering a very realistic replica of the original. It wasn’t metal, but honestly, that probably was better, since it made it easier to keep it on.
MH: And since then?
HP: I’ve worn it a couple times at San Diego Comic Con. Back in 2012. I was a booth babe a few times, which is a fun experience. I was fitness Slave Leia this past year at a friend’s Star Wars party.
MH: Wearing a costume like that at the Playboy Mansion seems like a pretty unique experience. Could you talk a bit more about that?
HP: It was! Going to a Halloween party at the Playboy Mansion, you’ve got all the painted ladies, everyone has amazing costumes, and I was mainly thinking for the sake of dancing, so I wore a shorter skirt. Everyone reacted really positively. Mike Tyson was making some intense eye contact. I guess he has a thing for Slave Leia. I went to the Mansion with MC Chris, who had a pretty cool Boba Fett costume. It didn’t make a lot of sense in canon, but it looked cool.
I had one dude who was like, “You like wearing that collar? I love having my women in collars.” I was like, “That sounds like a fun thing for you. This is my costume, though.”
I’m sure there are other stories, but the Playboy Mansion is always so crazy and weird that that’s what stands out in my mind. Being at the mansion is a surreal experience, but that costume enhanced it.
MH: When you say crazy and weird, what do you mean exactly?
You’re surrounded by people you see on the cover of magazines all the time. It’s like, what the f–k am I doing here? I felt like somehow I’d get caught out, like I shouldn’t be there. Kind of like the scene in “Eyes Wide Shut.” They were truly fascinating, and really extravagant, cool experiences. It’s really hard to describe, because it’s just like, so surreal. You’re seeing tons of celebrities all around you. It’s mind boggling. You also get your fair share of lecherous old dudes, but they’re easily dealt with. Once they realize you’re not interested, they move on. But what stands out is how over-the-top all the decorations are, how they went to such great lengths to make a cool Halloween experience. It’s kind of a shame that it was a time when I was so young. I was still a pretty shy person, not nearly as sure of myself, or where I stood in the world, so I was kind of a little bit in my own head, but even so, it was still a good time. Despite that, I think me actually wearing the Leia costume made me feel a lot more powerful. It feels like armor, even though mine isn’t metal like in the movie. It made me walk more proudly while I was wearing it.
MH: Interesting. So you were already attracted to the costume, independent of its sex appeal. Why so?
HP: It just seemed like more of a showstopper! It’s a really pivotal part of the movie, she frees herself from Jabba’s clutches using the very thing he used to chain her up. That shows a lot of resilience and ingenuity. And also, I’d never seen anyone in person wearing it. I see it as like, a really strong female character. And that’s her uprising when she fights back, and she uses her Slave Leia garb to free herself.
I also figured that Slave Leia was most recognizable, and it would allow a lot of movement, because I like to dance a lot. If it were as popular then as it is now, I wouldn’t have chosen it, but like I said before, prior to this, I hadn’t seen anyone else wearing it.
I had also considered – I’m a nerd at heart, and I wanted to do something that stayed true to that – I considered doing the Padme costume that she wears in the Geonosis Battle Arena scene. I thought about wearing that, but I thought it was much less recognizable. There’s a lot of controversy. Some people really hate the prequels. I don’t. But the main thing is that it was less recognizable.
MH: You bring up how the costume as a symbol of Leia’s strength. That runs counter to a lot of criticism that says this is a degrading outfit because it strips Leia of her agency and oversexualizes her. I gather you disagree. What are they missing?
HP: For one, you’re a person who’s made up of many different facets. The idea that you can’t be sexual and strong is really faulty. Granted, when she’s a slave, it’s not out of choice, so she’s not choosing to wear that kind of stuff, but she does choose to not let it limit her. Despite being held captive, she doesn’t give up. She doesn’t allow someone else sexualizing her to be her end point. I don’t understand how people can’t see that.
What concerns me more about it is not so much that Disney’s saying they think this is a costume that paints her in a weaker role. What’s more concerning to me is that they’re kind of veering toward, “well, it’s too exposing to see her midriff and her legs. A woman’s body – it’s just inappropriate. It needs to be hidden away.” That’s what I suspect it has to do with. Never mind that a lot of Disney female characters are sexualized, sometimes in a pretty creepy way. In all Disney movies, there’s very heavy sexual undertones. The fact that they’re trying to get rid of this is so hypocritical. They’re trying to frame it as being morally upright, when it’s really quite the opposite.
MH: But it’s not just the typical prudes. Feminists are arguing for getting rid of this costume because it panders to the male gaze. Why are they wrong?
The issue with that is that you can’t control what other people do or think. To limit the choices you make because you say, “Oh, if I dress a certain way, people are going to respond to me differently,” well, that’s their problem. Don’t outright ban the costume, and stop people from drawing it or having products of it.
The whole, “She’s asking for it ‘cause she’s wearing a short skirt” kind of shit, that’s a terrible way of thinking, but aren’t you sort of succumbing to that if you allow yourself to change how you dress, or what costumes a character wears? Aren’t you succumbing to that line of thinking? That’s the concern I have. I don’t think it’s a good idea for girls to be taught that there’s something inherently wrong with having your midriff exposed. If younger girls don’t grasp that that’s a slave costume, that’d be a problem, but I doubt that’ll happen.
MH: Speaking of not letting how people respond to you be an issue, let’s also talk for a second about your experience with the cosplay community. A lot of conventions are trying to shut down so-called “sexy cosplay” because they think it’s degrading or not body positive. And they’ve already banned booth babes on the same grounds. You’ve been a booth babe and you often cosplay sexy characters. What are your thoughts on this?
I feel like a lot of women who say this isn’t body positive probably feel badly about how they look. The women who are criticizing booth babes feel bad about themselves. I see a lot of girls who are shy and timid come out of their shells and feel really confident and positive when they’re in a booth babe role. It’s not just leering guys they attract. It’s families and kids, and the kids believe you’re the character. I’m sure they have a different title for it, but there are also guys doing the same thing! The idea of having an attractive person working in an environment to bring in potential costumers just makes sense from every angle. It’s fun for the fans, it’s good for the business, it’s good for the girls getting work. The only people it’s bad for are the women who are supposedly defending other women’s rights by saying that job shouldn’t exist. Apparently they’re the only ones upset about it. Maybe they should have their own conventions that eliminate all fun. I mean, really.
MH: Nerdy men have been portrayed as sexual predators a lot lately. Have you been preyed on?
HP: Maybe more so when someone’s protected behind their computer screens, a lot of negativity is directed at me, but I don’t involve myself anymore. At conventions, I’ve always had good experiences. Regarding the kind of people you’re talking about, who are being portrayed in a negative light – for one, there’s always been rapey people throughout history. That’s not cool, but it’s fact. But I don’t think there’s an especially higher ratio of creepers at conventions.
Conventions do draw a certain crowd of people, myself included, who feel more comfortable to be themselves when they’re wearing a costume. Deep down, I’m still a little bit of a shy person, but all of that vanishes when I’m out wearing a costume, because you have sort of a shield. You’re dressed as a character. It’s kind of like a buffer. I’ve seen so many people come out of their shells at these things in a good way. You’ll have weirdos everywhere you go, not just at conventions. You do have more socially awkward people, but that’s not a bad thing, or something inherently associated with being a creep. Being a creep is being a creep; not just being a dork. They can cross over, but they don’t have to.
I’ve had far worse experiences with your typical jock at a club on a Saturday night than I’ve ever had at conventions. People at conventions are very warm. They can be worried about you damaging their costumes, but I don’t think you really get, like, the angry, rapey nerd that’s portrayed in the media so much. It’s not like, I think, “Oh, better gear up to deal with angry, rapey nerds.”
I’ve only experienced anything even approaching nerdy entitlement once, actually. I would never make families or kids wait in line if there’s a crowd to get a picture with me. Once in a while, some guy would get butthurt about waiting for 10 minutes, but aside from that, not so much.
And even when people were creepy, because they didn’t know any better or whatever, I knew how to handle it and actually make them feel better about themselves. There was one boy who was about 13 years old, and I could sense he wasn’t the most popular in the group, and he came to get a picture with me. He was about to pull a hover hand, and I just pulled him in really close, and let him hold my chain. And he was so excited; it’s almost like you’d changed this boy who seconds earlier was afraid to get close to me, and now he was like, Mr. Cool. Later, he told me he was going to put the picture in his locker. So I ended up telling him, ‘cause I wanted to give him some extra cool boy points, “If you’re going to put the picture in your locker, I’m a Playboy model.” His eyes got so big, and he immediately asked how to spell my name, and I’m sure he Googled me afterward.
MH: Let’s shift gears to your art, which is what you’re trying to move to make a living from now. I somehow get the idea from looking at your art that you’re not a fan of political correctness. What are your thoughts on that?
HP: It’s not so much that I don’t like political correctness. I just don’t think it’s wise or acceptable to be limiting your art and your self-expression. If you’re promoting really a hateful message that’s going to result in people getting physically harmed, I personally wouldn’t generate that sort of art. That’s not the direction my mind goes in. I just like drawing whatever might be funny or weird or gross or cute, whatever comes to mind. And when you’re starting to worry about having to adhere to arbitrary rules on political correctness, you’re really limiting your self-expression. It’s hard to be creative when you’re working in particular confines. It’s a risky thing, because you run the risk of people banding against you. People get so angry over it that their angry response to your apparent violation of political correctness is the more dangerous thing than who you may have offended. It much more scares me how people react to things they don’t agree with than what whatever artist might be making in the first place. I’m actually thinking of submitting a piece to an art contest on political correctness. It’s scary because sometimes artists get killed for their work, but any artist throughout history is trying to get the conversation started on certain issues. On South Park, they do it all the time. I think that’s an important thing; I think that’s definitely not something we should be trying to stomp on.
MH: Thanks for your time, Haydn. How do people follow you and stay up to date on your endeavors?
My Twitter account is @GhostieBunny. My Instagram is alienarm. Right now, my website (www.alien-arm.com) redirects to my Etsy page. I only have one T-shirt there now, and I’d love to sell more of that, but look for there to be more in the future. I’ll also have prints of my work available, custom costuming, etc, down the line, once I get on with it. I also plan to do fine art stuff, because while I love cartoons, I can do more than cartoons. I’ve started fashion design classes as well, so I will probably do a lot more with clothing design costumes, and all that kind of stuff.
Mytheos Holt is a contributing editor at the American Spectator. You can follow him on Twitter @MytheosHolt.