Friday, February 23, 2024

Gender Identity in Cosplay: Challenging Stereotypes and Embracing Authenticity

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This is a guest post contributed by author Amanda Winstead

Cosplay has become a safe space where folks can express themselves, celebrate their heroes, and channel their fandom into a shared love of TV shows, mangas, and movies.

The history of cosplay shows that costuming can be used to protest and build comradery for social causes, too. This has empowered famous cosplayers like Reina Valentine to adopt practices like gender-bending and race-bending as they hone their craft and embrace everything that cosplay has to offer.

Using cosplay to break from gender norms can help folks express themselves, too. This is particularly powerful if you have ever felt pressured to conform in your everyday lives but want to experiment with a different kind of gender expression. Cosplaying can give you space to play with gender, challenge stereotypes, and embrace authenticity.

Gender Bending

Cosplay is all about blending self-expression with your love for a particular character. This means you have the freedom to express yourself and your gender however you see fit. No one can judge you for embracing Rule 63 while cosplaying and you should not have to fret about being called out for cosplaying in a way that feels authentic for you.

However, before you show up to a cosplay event while playing a gender-bent version of Lara Croft or Luke Skywalker, be aware that some people still hold on to an outdated bias for “canon” cosplay. This has resulted in some critics making sexist, racist, and otherwise discriminatory remarks based on the identity or appearance of the person behind the cosplay.

You can push back against prejudice and use fashion to advance social issues by cosplaying with inclusion in mind. This promotes more diverse fashion and shows retailers that there is a real demand for clothing that accommodates all body sizes, shapes, sizes, beliefs, and abilities.

Embrace inclusive cosplay by researching your character before dressing as them. This will ensure that you do not accidentally mock religions or cultural heritages outside of your own. This is particularly important if you want to play a gender-bent version of a culturally significant character like Maui, but are not Polynesian yourself. A little research goes a long way and can prevent accidental cultural appropriation.

Be sure to research the venue and event organizers before attending a cosplay event as a gender-bent character. Most event organizers are progressive and inclusive, meaning you should be safe to create any character that you like. If you are unsure of how you will be received, err on the side of caution and email event organizers to double-check that they have adequate inclusion and safety measures in place.

Gender Fluid Cosplay

Being gender-fluid means that your gender expression or gender identity changes over time. For some, being gender-fluid is a step towards settling on a particular gender for life, while others remain fluid indefinitely.

Cosplay can help you practice and play with performative, gendered acts. When putting together your next cosplay outfit, you can choose to make any character you like gender-fluid or you can draw inspiration from some canonically gender-fluid fictional heroes. This puts the theory of gender constitution into practice and helps you find a new way to construct your identity.

Consider, for example, putting together a costume inspired by The Doctor from Doctor Who or Marvel’s Loki. Both of these characters are portrayed by men and women and are canonical gender-fluid. This may be an easy way to launch your passion for gender-fluid cosplay, as you will find plenty of inspiration from TV series, comics, and films.

Cracking the Egg

Experimenting with gender identity within the cosplay world does not necessarily mean you’re on the path toward coming out as trans. However, if you live with the understanding that your gender expression is at odds with your gender identity, you may find that cosplay helps you “crack the egg” and embrace your authentic identity.

Calypso Jetè Balmain, a trans Queen and Contestant on HBO’s Legendary explains that “Cosplay also helped me embrace my femininity,” by “feminizing male characters.” Balmain continues that she can “take any character, regardless of their gender, and portray my own version of them.”

Cosplay also involves an element of roleplaying in addition to dress and makeup. When in character, you take on everything that they embody and find unique ways to show the world who you are. Alex Jenny, LCSW, a Chicago-based drag queen and therapist, explains that this can create “new neural pathways and reprogram our brains to think differently about ourselves.” Over time, this can reduce feelings of anxiety or depression and help you assert control over your own personal narrative.


Today, Pride is an important celebration of self-affirmation that boosts the visibility of the LGBTQ+ community. When attending a Pride event, you should feel free to express your gender and embrace your authentic self. Doing so can help others embrace their own authentic identity.

If you’re thinking about cosplay for Pride, you can draw inspiration from cosplayers like Jynx Tsilevon and GlitchyPixie. Tsilveon explains that cosplaying actually “helped me come out” and “express all facets of my identity.” This kind of self-expression can be helpful for others, too, who may be looking for a role model in the queer cosplay community.

GlitchyPixie, a mixed, trans lesbian, says that cosplaying helps her overcome the “negative representation when it comes to characters I can identify with.” Through cosplay, GlitchyPixie is able to reassert control over the narrative surrounding mixed, trans lesbians to create an “affirming and informed representation” of the characters she loves.

When attending Pride-oriented cosplay events, it is important to take stock of your own identity and practice emotional intelligence. Self-awareness is critical if you want to blend gender-bending cosplay with advocacy and affirmation. When performing as your character, pay attention to non-verbal cues and adopt a non-judgemental mindset. This will ensure that you do not intrude upon anyone who wants to celebrate Pride in a different way from yourself.

Cosplay gives you the creative freedom to experiment with your identity while you pretend to be your greatest hero. This is a particularly powerful practice if you’ve ever questioned your gender identity or simply want to experiment with other forms of expression.

You can use cosplay to push back against harmful stereotypes and embrace a more authentic way of life, too. Just be sure to research your character and move from a place of self-awareness. This will ensure that you embrace your authentic self without accidentally infringing on another cultural group while cosplaying.

Image used with permission

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