Cosplaying as a Woman
When I first came out as a transgender man, some people seemed surprised. They pointed out that I occasionally wore skirts, dresses, and even makeup. What they didn’t understand was whenever I dressed feminine, for me it was like putting on a costume. Sometimes it was fun to dress-up as something else for an evening, but it wasn’t an accurate expression of who I was.
Conforming and cosplaying
For most of my life, before I understood what being transgender meant, I identified as a tomboy. When I expressed my authentic self, it was through masculine or gender-neutral clothing. However, there were times I was expected to dress and present myself as the female I was born as. It was easier for me to conform than to call unwanted attention to myself.
Many people in my life didn’t take much notice of my day-to-day gender expression. It was when I put the effort into looking feminine, then people would comment on my appearance, and even pay me compliments. However, the more feminine I expressed myself, the more out-of-place I felt.
Whenever I put on a dress, did my hair, and wore makeup, I kept expecting someone to point out that I was doing it wrong. I always felt like I was being silently judged for the costume I’d put on. Was I wearing the wrong style of shoe with the dress? Was I holding my purse wrong? Did I do my makeup right?
It reminded me of when I attended a sci-fi convention, attempting to cosplay in a cheap store-bought costume. I was constantly comparing myself to all the cosplayers and their amazing homemade costumes. In the end, I just felt awkward, the way I always felt when trying to dress more feminine.
Sometimes it was fun to dress-up like a woman, even if it never felt quite right. Playing dress-up was a fun way to express myself, whether I was cosplaying as a Jedi Knight or as a woman. That’s all it really was for me — another form of cosplay.
Gender expression and identity
Before you scroll down and leave an angry comment regarding how women can wear masculine clothing and it doesn’t make them transgender, hear me out.
Yes, of course, women can wear masculine clothing, masculine haircuts, not wear makeup, and any of the myriad of other stereotypical things associated with men, and still be women. That’s not my point. While my gender expression is, in large part, driven by my gender identity, that’s not true for everyone. Some women prefer to dress more masculine, and some men prefer to dress more feminine. Their expression isn’t always related to their gender identity.
How we express our gender comes down to a complex mix of personal preferences and current societal norms. Our gender expression doesn’t always align with our gender identities, so we should not make assumptions about someone’s gender identity merely based on their expression.
Would I ever cosplay as a woman again? Perhaps. If the situation and the mood arose. Although, now it may feel a lot more awkward than it used to, since I’ve transitioned. I now have a noticeably male voice and many of my physical features are masculinized. So, if I dressed more feminine, it would be more obvious that I was being gender nonconforming than it was in the past.
Many of my actual cosplay outfits have been gender-neutral or masculine. I’ve been a Jedi, a member of the Stargate SG-1 team, and a mash-up of various Doctor Whos. However, I have done a few cosplays that were more feminine that I also enjoyed. I have a custom-made German dirndl that my aunt in Germany designed for me. I’ve worn it to various Oktoberfest events and used it for Halloween to dress as either Heidi or Swiss Miss, complete with braided blonde wig.
It’s unfair that feminine identifying people can express themselves as masculine with far less discrimination than when masculine identifying people attempt to express themselves as feminine. It’s even more unfair when the person who is expressing themselves as feminine also identifies as feminine, even when the world perceives them as masculine.
What we, as a society, need to normalize is the concept that there is no right or wrong way to express gender. Men can wear nail polish. Women can have short hair. Regardless of biological sex or gender identity, it should be perfectly acceptable for anyone to mix-and-match whatever suits their personality best.