How Labeling Some Costumes as “Gender Bending” Erases Trans Identities

Female cosplayers dressed up as genderbent versions of Captain America and Iron Man

Genderbent Captain America and Iron Man. greyloch via Flickr

I love gender-bending cosplays. I love seeing female Spider-Man costumes, male versions of Tomb Raider’s Lara Craft or one of the gems from Steven Universe, and any number of other creative reversals—and I think it’s necessary for people to take claim and gender-bend characters, especially since the world of comic and cartoon characters is dominated by men. Similarly, I also think it’s important for people to lay claim to race-bending characters when the industry is dominated by mostly white folks. Bending characters is important and should be embraced and encouraged.

As a trans guy, though, the bending of a character gets more complicated. While I have been working on a few costumes for some upcoming movie premieres—such as Deadpool, Nightcrawler, and eventually Static Shock—I worry that photos that might be taken of me would be labeled #genderbending or #girlversion.

To make matters worse, there aren’t that many trans characters in comics, and the few that do exist are either minor characters or haven’t been seen very often in the mainstream. When they are there, they often involve something other than the common real-life transgender experience, like when Loki’s body was taken over by the spirit Sif; their body was seen as a woman’s until Loki defeated Sif and was reborn as the male Loki we are familiar with.

An image of Loki when Sif has control over their body (via Marvel comics)

An image of Loki when Sif has control over their body. Marvel Comics

This isn’t as much of a problem for trans people that are read as cisgender (people that are read like the gender their parents chose for them when they were born) but even though I’ve been on testosterone for three months I still get called “she” and “miss” at work on a regular basis and have even been shooed out of restrooms that fit my appropriate gender identity.

Being misgendered can be really stressful for trans people, and makes their identities feel invalid and for many they’re already dealing with political and social bullying that is making them feel like they are less than human. and for many, engaging in cosplay makes them feel more than human, it makes them feel powerful, strong and like the world that’s against them won’t break them down.

It can be really easy to assume a person’s gender identity when they are cosplaying and it looks like they are gender bending, but it’s just as easy to avoid mistaking a trans person’s identity with this one easy suggestion: ask!

Ask Whether You Can Take a Picture of Someone’s Cosplay Before Doing So

This is not just for trans people but for anyone. Some people, for safety and privacy reasons or for personal preference, don’t want pictures of themselves floating around the interweb galaxy.

Ask What Pronouns the Person Wants Used If You Plan to Post a Photo of Them Online

Some people might find this question a bit strange, but for a transgender person, it might just be a big relief for them.

Ask What They Would Like Their Photo to be Tagged With

Some people might want pictures of their cosplay shared to their page so they can see them. Many people who does cosplay puts a good amount of time and effort into their work and love to see people’s comments and feedback, and most people will want to have access to pictures of themselves since they might not have a lot of time to take pictures themselves. (Selfies don’t quite show off the full effect unless you have really long arms or a selfie stick.) So it’s nice to make sure cosplayers get their Instagram, tumblr, and Twitter usernames on their photos if they’d like them there.

Photo of trans cosplayer Tim Fox as Robin the Boy Wonder

Photo of trans cosplayer Tim Fox as Robin the Boy Wonder

Follow these guidelines, and when in doubt, just be respectful. Make sure everyone gets to enjoy their cosplay experience to the fullest!

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