I was recently inspired to write this as a response to some good friends of mine who received some… let’s say, unusual flack for a couple of costumes they made. Without giving away too much information pertaining to anyone’s identities, said friends are part of a planned group cosplay where we’ve made a bunch of female character costumes that are going to be worn by very obviously male cosplayers. After announcing and displaying the finished costumes on social media, an acquaintance of my friends decided to take it upon their-self and confront my friends about it, saying they were questioning my friends’ motives behind this group cosplay and whether it’s “for the right reasons.” Basically, this person (who is not transgendered), thought my cis-male friends were going to offend (specifically) transgendered people by dressing in female characters’ costumes.
There is quite a bit to unpack in this situation, but one thing that bothers me the most is how this person, (and some folks in general) seem to think it’s no longer okay to cosplay as a character you don’t resemble. One of the core ideas behind cosplay is to emulate someone you’re not. Crossplay (dressing up as a character whose gender is different from the one you identify as) is even a time-honored tradition in the cosplay community, but suddenly, in the name of political correctness, a man can’t dress as a female character because it might offend someone. I mean, why stop there? By that logic, I should no longer dress as Tracer (Overwatch) because I’m American and not British or Raven (Teen Titans) because I’m 32 and not a teenager. By telling someone they can’t dress as a specific character because they identify as something different than that character is taking away the reason why people like to cosplay in the first place. We cosplay because we want to emulate characters we love, regardless of whether we physically resemble them.
Going back to the issue of possibly offending anyone transgendered in the costuming community, I really have to wonder: wouldn’t conflating cross-dressing with transgendered be more offensive? A transgendered person generally wants to embody and appear as the gender that they identify as, do they not? So would a man who is crossplaying as a female character really offend a trans cosplayer? To even go a step further, my friends who are dressing in these costumes have no intention of trying to pose as trans or anyone other than themselves.
It also only appears to be men dressing as feminine characters that this acquaintance of my friends apparently has a problem with; women dressing as male characters get a pass. Now that’s a whole other issue about gender politics that can honestly have a whole post by itself, so I won’t dive into it here. I guess I thought that the cosplay/costuming community was supposed to be based in inclusion, and dressing up was supposed to be about having fun with friends and doing things you enjoy. Maybe I’m just way off base.