The Complexities of Gender and Cosplay

Cosplay (cos·play): the practice of dressing up as a character from a movie, book, or video game.

Quarantine was a time that many of us utilized to learn more about ourselves and explore different hobbies and interests. For me, it was a time I used to discover my gender identity and sexuality, get back into old video games, and the beginning of becoming an avid anime watcher. Those combinations of things led me to a pipeline. I discovered cosplaying; dressing up (in more than just a costume) as different characters, anytime. 

Being a cosplayer while having a complicated gender identity is a fickle thing; sometimes it helps me present myself in a way I think fits how I internally picture myself, more than I could in day-to-day outfits. Other times, it distracts me enough from my internal debates, my thoughts settling while I play the part of a character. But occasionally, it distracts me too much; coming out of cosplay, after being completely content acting as someone else, hits me hard—dealing with being myself can be an exhausting task. Random bursts of gender dysphoria, confusion, and constant contemplation just about your own identity is genuinely difficult to manage in my daily life.

Sometimes it reminds me of how people can pick up small mannerisms, speaking patterns, or other tidbits when spending a lot of time around one person or one group of people. I can easily do this with the  characters I cosplay. It’s easier to think about “what would they say in this situation?” or “how would they stand in this situation?” or “how can I replicate how they look?” instead of “how should I stand in order to be perceived how I want to?” or “how should I adjust my speaking patterns to not be perceived as something I’m not?” or “how can I act differently so people can see me for who I actually am, rather than how I appear to them?”

It doesn’t help that my own gender is quite fluid. I’ve categorized my gender into 4 main components: no gender, midway from boy to full androgyny, off of the chart somewhere but still somewhere neutral, and two guys in a trenchcoat (also known as watered down guy). This may not make sense to you as a reader, especially having it explained in text, but that is a quick rundown on the complexities of my gender as a non-binary person. It’s why I use they/he pronouns, even if sometimes I don’t feel like either fit.

This is a lot to deal with, which is why it’s sometimes more comfortable for me to take a break from being myself. 

Another problem that comes into play is the lack of confidence I get after having fun in a character, which has led to me feeling bad about my own gender identity and being myself. It’s tough on my brain to comprehend that I feel better “using” someone else’s gender identity when I put so much time into thinking about my own gender identity, even after I feel mostly secure and comfortable with it. 

This is not to say that cosplay is awful for my mental well being, or that it’s a temporary “cure” for gender dysphoria. Clearly, there are a lot of pros and cons that I experience when I cosplay. Another thing to note that this is all based on my own experience as a cosplayer; I’m sure there are plenty of other non-binary and transgender cosplayers that don’t run into any issues with their hobby. It’s just very interesting to me that these two parts of who I am can simultaneously be harmonious and have conflict with one another.