David Stehman ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Speaking at NYCC’s “Cosplay Rule 63” panel on Thursday were Kim Possible, Garnet, and The Doctor. What they were not were “The Male Latino Kim Possible,” “The Male Garnet,” or “The Black Female Doctor.”
Cosplay is a cultural must at Con, and has since the early days of Fandom during Trekkie conventions in the 60s. But what happens when gender boundaries are crossed to become one’s favorite characters? That’s when the problems arise.
Jay Justice, sporting a flawless Doctor cosplay, a role traditionally played by men in the TV series Doctor Who, distinguished the different types of gender-defying cosplay, “Cross-play is when someone interprets the character as a different gender.” An example of this is a man dressing up as a male version of Black Widow.
Gender-bending, on the other hand, is simply dressing up as the character, despite one’s gender identification. Jay explained a scenario when she was harassed for “crossplaying” as “The Female Bruce Banner,” which was accused of being non-canon. Jay retorted by establishing that she was portraying “She-Hulk,” countering with “Stan Lee created her before you were born. It’s canon!”
The debate over cosplay genders stems from the same issues Drag performers face. When you gender-bend cosplay, you are the gender of the character, despite your preference outside the Con. When you cross-play, you could could maintain your gender preference, but fight canonical portrayals loved by devoted fans. Both sides face harassment.
Gender-benders have problems, since part of the performance requires you to identify as the character themselves. Bryan Vasquez, cosplaying as a fabulously extravagant Kim Possible, gave an anecdote about using the Men’s room to change into a cosplay and the anxiety he faced leaving the stall, dressed as a different female character, to the shock of male congoers.
Cross-play faces opposition as well. “Female Captain America” and “Male Lara Croft” are perfectly acceptable costume choices, but only if they really are cross-playing. A trans woman with masculine body features might be accused of cross-playing a male version of a female character, without realizing she is not portraying “Male Princess Peach” but “Princess Peach” herself.
Even if a cross-player does dress against their gender preference, they face issues of a different kind. Tony Ray, dressed as Garnet, amazing shades and all, talked about anxiety walking through his neighborhood, one he describes as “uber masculine,” cross-playing as a woman.
“Try going to Con with a friend,” Bryan said. “You could aways use someone to hold your shoulder and get you through this. It’s better than trying to cross-play for the first time alone. Support is necessary.”
“What we want to give is a safe space for you express your character the way you wan,” Jay concluded. “Authenticity isn’t important, just as cheap fabric doesn’t equal a real superhero uniform or a wig equals real hair. At Con, no one should be focused on who the person is underneath the cosplay. You should only be addressed as your character. You don’t say that’s a woman or a man. You say that’s the Cap.”