Cosplay, the art-cum-lifestyle of bringing fictional characters to life through costuming and play-acting, is first and foremost about having fun. Heroes of Cosplay may present a competitive aspect, and everyone can have their own personal standards, but at its core, cosplay is something you do for fun.
With that said, there is a prevalence within the cosplay community that is being given more credit than I feel it is due. I refer to gender-bending, meaning changing a character’s gender to befit the cosplayers and altering their appearance to match. While cosplay is without question a personal passion that no one has the right to judge anyone else on (unless you’re actually in a contest or asking for critique), there is a mistake being made in the way we as a community are legitimizing gender-bending as a facet of craft.
When we cosplay, we are expressing our love or respect for a character, and what is a character but someone else’s creation? Choosing to put the hours, days or even months into becoming an established character – every hot-glue-burned fingertip, every heel rubbed raw from terribly improbable shoes – is a display of honor and dedication to who that character was created as.
Gender-bending, on the other hand, undercuts this and generally tends to court a very different stance. We cosplay characters because they mean something to us, not as we imagine they could be, but because of who they already are. I don’t see Final Fantasy VII’s Barret Wallace as a list of potential improvements; I take the character for all that he is. I appreciate the character he was created as, unlikelinesses and all.
Maybe this is taking cosplay too seriously, but it seems that when someone gender-bends a character, in many cases the cosplay stops being about the character and starts being about the person. Suddenly it isn’t the character who is important. You aren’t cosplaying to honor the character anymore, but are in fact just using the character as a filter through which to glorify yourself. This is the impression a gender-bent cosplay tends to give off, yet the style continues to find its way into repertoire after repertoire. Jessica Nigri, for one, is infamous for this, and a perfect example of the detriment gender-bending can be to a cosplayer’s integrity. Of course, there are always exceptions to this (or have you not seen Miss Sinister’s face-melting Sagat?).
If you love a character, the last thing in your mind should be how you can change them to better accentuate yourself. Cloud Strife, even as a woman, is not the kind of character who would flaunt his body. This is not some Alice Through the Looking Glass mirror-world, where characters are cosplaying us. We are the ones choosing who to honor with our time and efforts. Changing a character’s gender and attire-bound personality is as much a slight to the character as it is a disservice to one’s own image and reputation.
If you love a character, focus on how you can best become them, how you can best represent them. If bent on gender-bending, do so in a way that’s in keeping with their personality. There’s also crossplaying (or, cosplaying as the character’s gender, not your own). There’s rarely a need to so drastically change a character if you want to cosplay them.
Yes, cosplay is freedom and you have the right to cosplay however you like. Never let anyone take the fun out your cosplay. If cosplay is something you take seriously though, just know that your decisions will reflect upon you as a cosplayer, for good or bad.
Anyway, there are cons to prep for and cosplays to complete. If I don’t get back to work soon, all this gender-swapping talk is liable to have me end up a steel-corseted brute with a gun-arm and a parasol.
It’s scary how appealing that is.