The world of cosplay, an abbreviation of the words ‘costume’ and ‘play;’ is the highly creative practice revolving around dressing up as one’s favourite character from such wide-range mediums such as comic books, films, anime and even video games. Arguably starting in the 1970s with the spawn of science fiction conventions in America and anime in Japan; cosplay is a creative artform that has been considered to be eccentric interpretations of universal fandom. With many sub-genres being born from this particular expression of culture, one of the most prominent in its rising of these has to be the idea of ‘gender-play’; which embarks on the act of cosplaying as a character of the opposite sex. The coverage of coventions in the media over the past decade have shown an increasing number of cosplayers choosing to delve in to this division; with it even now coining the term ‘crossplay’. However with that being said, one has to question as to whether or not the rise in this could become much more of a normality than that of regular cosplay? The following debate looks to explore this community involved within cosplay through a range of sources depicted from its so-called ‘family-tree’ and the photography that goes along side it in order to uncover exactly whether this will soon over take the true essence of cosplay itself.
When put in to comparison with its mother genre which stemmed from the re-importation of the anime phenomenon in Japan, and later in that of sci-fi conventions in the US; crossplay delves deeper in to the unspoken laws and regulations that this practice provides. When referring to the FAQ section of the website entitled ‘Cosplay.com’, it seems as though there can be many forms of this act that define whether or not a person is honoring this subset altogether. As one of the many examples on this section of the forum under the subset of cosplay, although it is the act of a male or female dressing as a character of their opposite sex; is not considered to be cross-dressing as they are simply honoring the character themselves (Karisu-sama, Cosplay.com,2003) but cosplayers themselves are indeed cross-dressing. Having said this however, what is questioned further is where does the character stop and cosplayer or person begin? In ‘Selling Otaku? Mapping the Relationship between Industry and Fandom in the Australian Cosplay Scene’, it is mentioned that crossplay or gender-play can be seen as ‘closer to drag’ and also mentioning that ‘This is the ‘play’ in ‘cosplay’, a play with identity and more often, a play with gender identity’ (Bainbridge and Norris, 2009). So surely there must be an underlining truth to this matter, where the cosplayer may sub-consciously or not want to play or blur the lines of their gender identity.
In regards to this, it is understandable as to why such cosplayers may find gender-swapping to be more entertaining than someone of their sex; as there can be many alternatives to crossplay that some may find far more stimulating. Apart from a highlight of the sub-conscious desire of the cosplayer, some would see the act of crossplay as having more creative freedom than the average cosplayer. As choosing to be a character of the opposite sex, the cosplayer allows themselves to be creatively free in their interpretation of the character; but still being able to be identified as them by incorporating their key elements. This then creates the approval of them being able to dress as this character in anyway they deem idolizes them in their new gender’s perfection; an example of such a case would be particularly seen in females dressing up as ‘sexy’ female variants of their favourite male characters. Which can only further enhance the honing of the cosplayer’s skill; as crossplayers (female particularly) are ‘highly evaluated, because it takes skill for female cosplayers to convincingly capture the look and mien of male characters’ (Okabe, 2012,p239.). Making them almost like they were the living sculptures of these characters if they were to blur the lines of gender itself. Another of these benefits could be the idea of simply having more to choose from than simply sticking to the cosplayers original sex and feeling that those characters of the opposite sex simply resonate with them more. Which is a notion that is touched on primarily in the documentary ‘Playing Outside the Lines: Race and Gender Cosplay’, which said once again female crossplayers felt that choosing to portray such characters simply because they “identified” with them and saw it as “problematic that there was such a lack of female characters” in their chosen medium. Proving that the crossplay subset seems to appear within its theatrical tendencies and allows them to escape from a mundane reality and thus increasing the rise in gender-play altogether.
However, although there may well be an arguable amount of reasons as to why crossplayers choose to leave behind the classic gender roles for something deemed as more interesting; there is a prominent social stigma that comes with sub-genre as well not only for the individual but also for the community itself. Even though crossplay seems to enhance the ‘play’ aspect of the sub-culture; it can also be quite diminishing in its message to the outside world and angering fellow cosplayers if little to know effort of consuming their original gender. For example, the infamous crossplayer known as Damon Evans or ‘Man-Faye’ to those inside the cosplay community, fell under scrutiny when he cosplayed as a male version of Faye Valentine from the Japanese anime ‘Cowboy Bebop’; depicting the character with his skimpy outfit, hairy male body and out of character behaviour which led to him coining the idea of ironic and parodied form of crossplay. Understandably, the community itself found this act was completely derogatory and looked to solely poke fun at not only gender-play but the sub-culture of cosplay itself as it showed a negative stereotype and misinterpretation of cosplay to the outside world. Looking at images of such parodies of crossplay, it could also be said that this generates the notion of depicting a character as “hyper-feminine or hyper masculine” (Bainbridge J and Norris C, 2009), in that the exaggeration of such crossplay gender roles actually has the potential bring out their own original gender. This cements that although there can be gender liberation in crossplay, there is also destructive way in which this could be seen as distorting their view on reality which ultimately deters others from experimentation with gender-play over normalized cosplay. On the other end of the spectrum, one could also argue that those who choose to crossplay are incorrectly subject to scrutiny of their own sexual orientation; with the general public being under the assumption that if one who chooses to crossplay, then they must obviously be attracted to their own sex or be transgender. A ridiculous theory which is only conceived because those who assume it are prejudice to mainstream forms of gender identity.
With looking at the evidence stated above, it would seem that although the crossplay phenomenon is on a stellar rise in the culture of cosplay; there is no real indication that it has become more of a normality than what people consider is its original formation. Although this could be subject to change in the coming years, with the increasing rate of female to male cosplayers becoming more apparent due to the creative freedom and overall ability to blur the lines of gender itself through feminine versions of male characters. By looking at the debate presented above, it is clear that there is still a prejudice for this particular type of cosplay over what is perceived as more acceptable and normal in this sub-culture. So with that being said, the examples shown in this argument imply that gender-play in the cosplay world has a long way to go before it over-takes its mother-genre.
.Acageekmia.2013.Playing Outside the Lines:Race and Gender Cosplay.[Online].[Date Assessed:December 2013]. Available From:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PtcbuQBqKdo
. Bainbridge, J and Norris, C. 2009. Selling Otaku: Mapping the Relationship between Industry and Fandom in the Australian Cosplay Scene. Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific. p15.
.Cosplay.com.2003.FAQ:What is Cosplay and related word definitions.[Online].[Date Assessed:December 2013]. Available From:http://www.cosplay.com/showthread.php?t=18966
.Knowyourmeme.2011.[Online].[Date Assessed:December 2013]. Available from:http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/man-faye
.Galbraith, P.W. 2013. Cosplay,Lolita and Gender in Japan and Australia. Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific. p2.
.menofcosplay.2013.[Online].[Date Assessed:December 2013]. Available from:http://menofcrossplay.tumblr.com
.Okabe,D.2012. Cosplay, Learning and Cultural Practise.Yale University Press. p239.