Amidst the sea of brightly colored wigs and oversized props flooding any anime, videogame, comic book convention, you can sometimes spot the cosplayers blurring the lines between genders. Crossplayers and genderbent cosplays mingle in the crowd, exchanging tips for passing and complimenting each other’s cosplays. The genderbent cosplay is complex. On the one hand, taking a character who is canonically female and reimagining them as male, vice versa, or giving a genderless character gendered characteristics, the notion of gender is being played with. Yet on the other hand, the genderbend often relies heavily on gender norms and stereotypes.
To create, for example, a Sailor Moon genderbend, the pleated sailor skirt is often forgone in favor of pleated sailor pants, the iconic pigtails in favor of short hair or a low ponytail. Meanwhile, a genderbent Tuxedo Mask may instead be donning a skirt and a suit jacket better fitted for “feminine curves”. Both, while being subversive in its attempt to toy with the gender of a character, rely heavily on gender norms and expectations. Some resort to hyper-masculinization or hyper-feminization in order to portray their character as a different gender. The genderbend is inherently obvious as part of its nature. It relies on the character still being recognizable, along with the switching of the genders.
Crossplay is far less easy to spot. Crossplayers bind their chests and practice their stubble techniques or wear false eyelashes and pack bras. The hope here is to not stand out as a different gender; to present themselves as the gender of the character as seamlessly as possible. The intention is to purposefully blur the line, and though perhaps inadvertently, show that gender is much more fluid than previously assumed. “Why is the word ‘crossplay’ even a thing?” I’ve had interviewees ask me with a laugh. “It’s just cosplay, who cares about the gender of a character?” These is both truth and special consideration to be noted here. In a space in which buttons displaying “they/them” pronouns and trans pride flags are best-sellers, I always heed my close friend’s advice: “I never assume someone is crossplaying” he matter-of-factly tells me with a shrug, “you can never tell where someone is in their own identity”. When asked what their favorite part about the cosplay community is, many cosplayers respond with something similar: the nonjudgmental atmosphere. Conventions are a safe space, one of inclusion, of belonging. Perhaps this is why cosplayers feel more at ease playing with gender norms.
I'm going to say it's a safer space than outside a convention because many people assume crossplay is a joke, but there is still an inherent danger for people crossplaying from cisgender people.
But the thing I enjoy about it is that these characters are imaginary. If they are from another planet, does gender exist there? It's fun to place these characters through the grinder of questioning our assumptions.
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