Exploring sexuality and gender in the (mostly) wonderful world of cosplay
Most LGBTQ+ people have dressed up as a different gender at some point in their lives. A lot of adults still do. This doesn’t just happen in the drag world, it’s common to see in the (mostly) wonderful world of cosplay.
And for some young people, there’s more at stake than just dressing up as their favourite characters. For some people it’s the perfect place to explore their gender identity.
Andrew is a 21 year old pansexual transgender man from Wales. He says cosplay was a place that helped him discover his true self.
“Before I came out as trans I was definitely more comfortable cosplaying male-aligned characters,” he says.
“That fact started to make sense when I came out as transgender.”
Other cosplayers agree, including Sakurakiss. he says cosplay can provide a safe environment for young people to explore their gender.
“In some ways yes. You can meet other people who have been through what you are going through,” he says.
“You’re able to ask questions and find out answers from other cosplayers.”
And it’s not just gender that cosplayers are exploring with crazy costumes and huge conventions. Behind the elaborate outfits, some people are discovering their true sexuality through cosplay.
Some thought they were cosplaying as different genders because they thought the characters were just so cool. Turns out, there was more to it than that.
“There are a lot of male characters in movies and video games that I’ve wanted to portray because I find them so inspiring,” says Jen. She’s a bisexual, cis-gendered woman.
“I think that in turn, it definitely made me more open about my sexual orientation and how I feel about it.”
Not every cosplayer is exploring their sexuality under their wig
But for some cosplayers, it’s all about the costume. Dressing as male or female made no difference to their sexual preference at all. They just did it because it looked so damn cool.
“I don’t cosplay for gender. I cosplay for characters I like or characters that have great detail to improve my own skills when making costumes,” says Jay, an asexual cis-gendered woman.
“The characters I choose to cosplay as don’t represent my gender or sexual orientation. It’s just from things I love and enjoy or a character I relate to in the franchise. If I connect with the character I feel more inclined to cosplay as them.”
Mostly, cosplay conventions are positive spaces for people to dress up as whoever the hell they want, regardless of gender or sexuality. But there are also tales of cosplayers who aren’t shy to share their backwards opinions.
“There are definitely people in the Cosplay community who believe gender is all binary,” says Fujicosplay.
Others have had experiences of being misgendered at conventions.
“Older cosplayers can sometimes need to work on pronouns,” says a cosplayer named Phoenix, rolling his eyes.
Sadly, transphobia can rear it’s ugly head in cosplay
And Andrew (a trans man) has experienced transphobia from other cosplayers because he’s turned up as an event dressed as a male character.
“There are always going to be horrible bigots who will make comments and refuse to accept that you are non-cis gender,” he says.
“I’ve had people refuse to believe I’m a trans man because I’m cosplaying a male character, which makes, like, no sense.”
Despite creating a world of fun, fantasy and seriously fierce costumes, often the cosplay world reflects the same attitudes we find every day.
“I’ve learned that it’s very naive to expect the cosplay community to be all-accepting and all-loving,” says Jen.
“Some may beg to differ, but that’s either sheer ignorance or denial.
“As a whole, everyone may like the same things, but we are talking about a gathering of different people from different walks of life, with different beliefs.”
For many people, cosplay is the perfect place to disappear, into a world of wigs and wonder and there is a lot of positivity in the community. But sadly, it’s not all fun, games and Hello Kitty. That’s only really something you get to grips with by talking to people about and exposing it.
It’s a shame to see this negativity expressed in this microcosmic society. At the end of the day, they all gather to enjoy their common interests.
So here are a few words of advice. If you’re into cosplay, next time you engage with other cosplayers at your next con make sure you spread the love. The person inside the costume might be stepping out and trying something new, for themselves and their soul, or just trying to have a good time outside of their usual lives.