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Tranquil AShes (Washington DC)

( photo: ccthegeek )

Tranquil Ashes’s name may suggest a certain calmness; however, it’s fair to say with her strong work ethic, and her life goal to seek out incredible life experiences, while simultaneously working to build and expand spaces to help marginalized communities, her life rarely stays tranquil for long. From her body positivity panels, to her work establishing and celebrating Black MerMay, and the creation of CosGala, Tranquil is consistently working on finding ways to provide safe spaces and platforms for those who need it most. I asked about her experiences developing these platforms, her panels, her advice for the next generation, and so much more..

Starting off I was curious about her name, and when asked about the origins of Tranquil Ashes she replied, “I’ve kind of always enjoyed names and combos of names that are kind of oxymoronic to each other. You put two concepts together that normally aren’t in the same sentence, and I really like that dynamic. It’s because I’ve always had a Phoenix motif in my life. I’m really big on a rebirth, and [I’m a] new experiences type of individual. I call myself a collector of experiences and I feel like that fits the Phoenix Motif. That’s why I’m tranquil and ashes.”

Tranquil’s collection of experiences is vast, and really seemed to take off in earnest when she began to travel around the world.

Tranquil recalled, “My first time I got to travel outside of the country I was actually a junior in high school. I was taking French because I didn’t wanna take Spanish because everybody took Spanish. At my particular school there was a program where if you got straight A’s for three years in a row and you did all you’re supposed to do for school then you have the opportunity to go on a trip to France with the school with your French class. So I got my As and I was like, ‘Hey parents, please send me across the country.’ So that’s how I ended up going, and it was my first time ever traveling.”

When asked if that trip to France was the first time she ever really thought about what she could do to create communities, she replied, “That was a little bit later in my life after college. I got to live in Japan for a little while, and I think I just realized that I didn’t wanna wait for the things that I wanted to do. So I was like well if there isn’t a group of plus-sized people that I want to talk to available I’ll make it.”

Since that time it’s become just a part of how Tranquil operates, as she routinely see’s what she can achieve to help lift up others.

Tranquil said, “If I don’t see representation in some particular area, and if I’m capable and I’m interested, I’ll do it. I don’t even really think about it. I just kind of jump in with everything,  because I don’t like being told no, and I don’t think anyone should really, unless it’s something harmful. So I want everyone to have those experiences just like me.”

I had heard Tranquil mention elsewhere she hadn’t considered herself to be an activist, till the culture changed over the past few years, and I wanted to enquire what she thinks about her work and activism now?

Tranquil responded, “I think because of the timeframe we are in, it’s hard not to be at least a little political, especially if you fall into a minority camp. Whether it’s your skin color or your gender issues or any of those things that you fall into. I like to say my activism is my body walking out the door. My activism is me showing up and doing it and having people see that I’m doing it, [thinking] ‘Hey, I can do this too’. It’s without the bullhorn or the major speeches or anything else that goes with that, but I try to stay firm [by saying] everybody deserves to do what they want and to be free to do what they want. Critique is fine, but no one else has a right to tell you what to do. So for me that’s kind of how my activism kind of plays out. The world says that this thing here is not appropriate, so I’m gonna go ahead and do that now. And everyone’s gonna go see it and they can be mad about it if they want to be mad about it”

I knew one facet of Tranquil’s work had been to establish Black MerMay, and so I was curious to learn more about her work in that movement and her visit to MomoCon where she was a guest who organized a Black MerMay and MerMay presence at the con.

Tranquil shared, “This was my first MomoCon, so it was really cool. I was definitely a little bit of fish outta water only because I had never been to that convention before and the convention center itself is humongous. I was very grateful that MomoCon wanted to host a MerMay gathering. I just asked them and they were like, yes, yes, yes. So I was really pleased that they wanted to have this type of programming in their convention.”

Though MerMay had been around for sometime in one form or another, Tranquil shared a story that really impacted her and inspired her to push for the inclusion of Black MerMay.

Tranquil noted, “I love to swim and what really kind of broke the idea for me to really try to like make a space with Black MerMay was during 2020, when everything in the world was going absolutely horrible, and there was a rash of drownings of Black kids. There has always been something of a stigma on Black people suggesting that we can’t swim, so I wanted to have an event to enjoy the fun, the fantasy of it all, but the impetus is to encourage people to learn how to swim. Ultimately [the goal is] to save their lives because if you’re going swimming in a lick and you’re the only one that can’t swim and you wanna have fun with your friends, but you can’t and you fall in a body of water, then you wanna be able to save yourself.”

Tranquil continued, “So basically I’m trying to get Black people and people of color in the communities to find their way back to the water. In addition to life saving there is the therapeutic part of swimming. It’s scientifically proven that if you stare at water for like 20 minutes your blood pressure goes down. There’s a lot of positives to swimming. So I was like, ‘how can I combo those two things together?’ And that’s how I got Black MerMay”

Black MerMay started in 2021 as a small group of friends, but Tranquil said it got more attention than she expected which inspired her to go further.

Tranquil said, “It was a small group of friends that came out, and we all had good food, partied and swam. But it got a lot of eyes on [the event], and I was like maybe this is bigger than I think. So I thought alright, how about I try to make it into an official day and get the information out to as many people as I can.”

Now Black MerMay’s become a much larger event, and as with MomoCon’s MerMay event Tranquil’s been able to really incorporate educational components as well as the fun of hanging out together and swimming together.

“It was really nice to have a panel where we talked about the history of Black mermaids, places you could go to start learning how to swim, things of that nature as well as the fun part like where can you get your tails, where you can get fun, pretty crowns to wear for your pictures and so on. So I’m trying to mix education and fantasy together,” Tranquil stated.

Prior to Black MerMay, Tranquil had already established herself on the con circuit, and at New York Comic-Con in particular, with her panels. One in particular on body positivity has become a favorite at NYCC for many.

Tranquil said, “Probably people know me most in terms of either activism or representation as being a plus size girl. I don’t see a lot of programming in general that has us in mind or incorporates us with whatever else is going on like panels and activities like that. So I wanted to create a panel [so I did.], It’s called ‘Cosplaying While Plus Ultra’, and I host it at New York Comic-Con. I’ve actually been asked to bring it to other cons and for some reason I was like, ‘why haven’t I brought that to other cons yet?’ We get a full house every year. I’m waiting on the approval for this year, so hopefully I get it this year again. It’ll be our fourth year if we get it.”

Tranquil continued, “The panel is really there to encourage folks that don’t necessarily look like society’s standards. [The message is] if this is something you enjoy, there’s no reason to not do it, and let me show you some ways on how you can. Llet me show you some accommodations that I know for people that are plus size that aren’t discussed in normal coplay panels. Whether it be like heat, adjusting the sizes of your clothes, makeup choices, all of those things on top of pushing the idea that there is not a set character for you. Are there plenty of plus-sized characters? No. But you can find a few and you don’t have to stick to those. Yeah. Just like you don’t have to stick to only brown characters. Same concept. So that’s basically what I’m trying to push and it’s been really successful. I really, really enjoy that panel.”

Tranquil’s life as a panelist is comparatively a recent addition to her life, considering she started going to conventions at a considerably young age.

When asked about the first con she attended, she recalled “It was during middle school, age 11 or 12, and it was Otakon as it was originally in Baltimore. It was a local con. It’s in DC now, so it’s still local, but that was my home con so I’m kind of used to big conventions. At that time I was going to one con a year. It was my vacation I did during the summer. It wasn’t until I got back from living in Japan that I was like, ‘Oh I could do more than just one con”. That’s when I started finding out about more cons like KatsuCon and NYCC. I was like ‘Oh snap, I wanted to go do all of these things now.’” 

I was curious then since Tranquil had spent so much time now in conventions, if she had seen them evolve for the better especially with the creation of safe spaces and representation for marginalized groups.

Tranquil said, “I think being plus size is perpetually going to be marginalized. Not necessarily because people are putting the narrative out, but just as a greater society, even outside of fandom, [the world says] this is what you’re supposed to look like and I always think that plus size people very rarely get a spotlight. And if they do it quickly turns into tokenism. It’s like ‘okay they’ll get that one plus size person,’ and it might be the same one every time. Or they’re plus size in the sense that they’re just not thin, but they’re not actually plus size. They’re just big enough to fall in the category. Yeah. So not real representation of being a plus size person.”

Tranquil then continued, “I think being a Black individual in fandom is just hard, because if you’re not cosplaying someone that doesn’t look like you there are a lot of words that people have to say, and sometimes when you cosplay someone that looks exactly like you sometimes get backlash. For example, I don’t think I could have looked anymore like Korra from The Legend of Korra, but it’s the cosplay that I got the most hate on out of any cosplay I’ve ever done. And that’s because I wasn’t thin. So I think is it better? Absolutely. It’s better than cons were 10 years ago, but they still have a long way to go.”

I was curious with this in mind then, how Tranquil approached creating the CosGala, an annual event that takes the MetGala concept to cosplay.

“The CosGala is half me and my desires of what I want to see and the other half is me building on how I can help the community, while still doing things that I enjoy,” Tranquil replied. “I always think I’ve been a bougie person, but in another life when I had Queen money or whatever. But I don’t see a lot of high end events in fandom. They just really don’t exist. And even things that are labeled high end are not quite. For example a lot of cons will say that they’ll have a prom or a gala or something like that, but it’s literally just dress nice and come to this room and we’ll play music, which is fun but that’s not what I think about when I think of an actual gala or a ball. So I was like well we don’t really have that period.”

Tranquil continued by emphasizing how this contrasts with what conventions offer, when she stated, “There’s also nothing that’s kind of separated from a convention that [doesn’t require] you to be at this convention to go to this thing. This is a completely separate stand alone entity this CosGala. So I think that it gives me the opportunity to push the boundaries and the rules of what we want to see at a convention. It’s not just ‘Hey, wear this costume.’ It’s ‘Hey here’s this theme. What can you think of? You can be an original character or a character from any genre or any fandom. What can you do to mix these two?”

This idea of really getting creative with one’s approach to cosplay stems from her own personal approach to her cosplays.

( photo: DTJAAAAM )

Tranquil stated, “I like to say I have never been a replicator cosplayer, and what I mean by that is I’m not obsessed with making everything look exactly like the picture. I’ve never been that person. I’ve always expanded on the character. Like how can I freak this character a bit? How can I put my own little spin on it? Rose Quartz is a good example. She’s never had armor, but we know she had a 5,000 year war you know what I mean? So it’s like what would her armor look like? That’s the direction I went. So I’m trying to get that with fashion and couture, but for fandom.”

Tranquil is also always remembering to raise up her partners, and those who make the event such a success year after year.

“I also have the desire to make sure that I push my guests, my street teams, and I promote them all year,” Tranquil emphasized. “I still promote them because the goal is to give people platforms so people can get their eyes on this new artist, this cosplayer, this burlesque dancer, or whoever is participating. I’m trying to just get people pushed, especially folks that don’t normally get pushed. Do I have some superstars? Of course I have some superstars, but I think the goal is for everyone to feel special in some way and I’m doing that.”

This year will be the third CosGala, and Tranquil selected the theme of monsters to inspire attendees this year.

Tranquil explained how she picks the themes, and said “It’s interesting because I pick my themes the year before and I try to do a lot of research based off of what I feel is coming out the next year, or what I feel people are going to be into the next year. So the fandom or fandoms overall kind of match the theme this year. [Even so], I had no idea there would be so many horror movies coming out this year. I haven’t seen this many in one year I think ever. I was like, ‘Well look at me how perfect it is that this year is a Monster ball.” And last year it was Cyperpunk everything, Cyberpunk 2077, Cyberpunk Edge Runner, etc, so I try to move with what’s in the air.”

It was clear to me that Tranquil had succeeded in putting herself out there to host panels, building successful events, and more, but I knew has had hard times too. So I wanted to know what that had been like dealing with the low points of life, and what motivation keeps her going strong?

Tranquil answered, “I have my downtimes too like everyone. The pandemic was hard for me. It was hard for me because a lot of the things that I do are external, so not being able to do those things was sad for me during that time. But I think as cliche as it sounds my parents told me that I could do or be anything that I wanted and I believe them. I actually believe them. And I don’t know why I can’t do something. It’s just kind of in me to [think] why can’t I? Unless there’s something physically stopping me or it’s literally something I can’t act on that’s actually impossible, then I’m like why not? Is it going to be fun? Do you want to do it? Is it going to be enjoyable? Is it going to elevate people? If the answer is yes to any of those questions, why not?”

When asked what Tranquil would recommend to others looking to forge their own path as she has, she responded, “I really honestly attack life with as much fervor as possible, and it’s all up to you. It really is all up to you. Is it important to have an amazing support group and everything? Absolutely. but at the end of the day you are the one who drives. So if there’s something you want to do, do it. Don’t let anyone stop you. And if you need help, don’t hesitate to ask. I’m terrible at asking for help, but I highly would advise folks to make sure that they ask for help because there are people there who will believe in your cause or your mission or just believe in who you are as a person and they’ll help you. I don’t think anyone should deprive themselves of life enjoyment because someone else says so.”

(Tranquil Ashes will be busy through the rest of 2023 as expected, as she’s working on an exciting cosplay for NYCC, and she just recently attended DreamCon. She’s also working hard on preparation for the CosGala, which will take place September 23rd 2023 at Martin’s West in Baltimore, MD.)