My Problems with Genderbent Cosplay

My friends know what I like, and this is especially true when it comes to the sort of content they post to my Facebook profile. Just two days ago one of them left a link to an article Facebook shortened to “Meet the gender bending men who cosplay”, apparently for the sole reason that it featured a “picture of the two dudes dressed as Max and Caroline from [sic] Two Broke Girls.”

Here’s that picture, so we can get that out of the way and move on to the actual topic at hand. Also, as someone who considers himself the internet’s foremost 2 Broke Girls-ologist, I need to express my disappointment that the guy playing Caroline is missing her iconic pearls.

Anyway, the focus of the article was the burgeoning presence of genderbent cosplay. I’m not sure I should have to explain what that is, but I’m going to anyway: it’s when a person dresses up as a character, fictional or otherwise, who is of a different gender than they are, which we’re going to view for the sake of this post as being an either/or distinction.

This follows the 63rd Rule of the Internet, which stipulates that “for every given male character, there is a female version of that character” and vice versa. This may or may not surprise you, but I kind of love that rule. I mean, it’s the reason that the pretty amazing Adventure Time with Fiona and Cake exists, and that’s a gosh darn national treasure.

There’s also all of the unofficial [can I say again how great the above existing is?] fanart out there, like this drawing of Tinkerbell from a Petra Pan universe the
tinkartist created [click on the image itself to link to a masterpost of all the other characters]. It’s a way for artists to stretch their creative muscles in designing costumes that are decidedly masculine or feminine while still preserving all that is inherent in their character. All that being said, I’ve gotta say that I’m not such a huge fan of genderbent cosplay.

Now, true, what I just mentioned as far as artists certainly extends to those cosplayers who glue, sew, weld, etc. to piece their elaborate getups together. The issue is that, for the most part, the trend in Rule 63 cosplay appears to revolve around sexuality in two distinct ways. The rest of this post is going to be at least a little bit NSFW.

1. Females Dressed as Males are Sexy

This feels like another of those things that I shouldn’t really have to explain but will anyway. The overwhelming tendency, I feel, when a female decides to deck herself out as one of the, granted, very many male heroes appears to be to wear as little as possible.

If someone asked you to answer in two words who the character the young woman on the left is dressed up as you’d probably say Captain America. Given an adjective, though, I can guarantee that “sexy” would be the number one pick for the vast majority of you [maybe “cold” as a close second?]. Furthermore, when viewing this strictly as Steve Rogers being born, I dunno, Stevia or something, it makes little to no sense. This isn’t an outfit that would stand up to the carnage of World War II, let alone a brisk jog.

Look, women dressing up as sexy anything is pretty commonplace, and we covered that in our talk on Halloween costumes way back last October. I just want to keep the focus a little more narrow and note that, as the section heading reads, a lot of women dress up as anyone from Aquaman to Thor and concentrate on, well, showing off their assets. Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that. It’s only that this isn’t exactly in line with what makes Rule 63 stuff so appealing to me in the first place.

They’re not really characters translations, answering the question of “What if the Kents adopted a Kryptonian baby girl?” or “What if that kid with the eye beams had two x chromosomes?” The vastly simpler question they choose to address is instead “How can I make ______ sexier?”

2. Males Dressed as Females are Ridiculous [and Have an Agenda]

I’ve been putting off delving into the article itself until now, because this is primarily what it’s all about. As opposed to women who will strip a costume down to its barest essentials, many of the men engaging in genderbent cosplay don the original garments as is. The two men way up above are a fine example of this, as they have on the waitress uniforms the titular pair wear on the show. So is “manly Misty”, below-

Gotta catch 'em all: Bodybuilder and cosplayer Zeek dressed up as Misty from Pokemon for Supanova Pop Culture Expo in Sydney

First of all, yeah, this is ridiculous. In most cultures around the world beefy dudes were never meant to don spaghetti straps, suspenders, and Daisy Dukes. It’s meant to be funny, and what it really boils down to is cross-dressing, not so much genderbent cosplay.

In addition to that, it seems like another reason to do this is to draw attention to how truly absurd the original costumes are. I’m going to put this in bold to emphasize it: this is not a bad thing. Oversexualization of female characters in comic books and movies, etc. is terrible. Putting a man in the few strips of fabric a superheroine wears to fight crime can really underscore that, which is great.

The agenda itself is fine, if not worth a fair amount of praise. It’s working alongside other movements like the Hawkeye Initiative to criticize a widespread aspect of the industry, hopefully moving us that much closer to outright ending it. The thing is that I want, well, actual genderbent cosplay.

The Dream

How hard this was for me to Google Image Search really just proves my point. There on the left is the ideal, though. She’s clearly a hobbit, and taking into account the colours she’s wearing and the sword she’s wielding I think it’s fairly obvious to say she’s Bilbo Baggins. That is some Rule 63-type stuff there. That took time and effor, and didn’t involve anyone hemming a waistcoat so that there would be more midriff showing, or looking around for the collared shirt that would exhibit just the right amount of cleavage. She’s not sexy because the character she’s dressed up as isn’t particularly sexy [honestly, your mileage may vary]. It’s an accurate translation and  it’s the greatest.

As far as going the other way, this becomes even more difficult. For the most part the internet is full of pictures of dudes dressed as “Miley Guy-rus”. To be perfectly fair, and as I sort of mentioned earlier, this kind of makes sense given what they have to work with. Luckily for me the Daily Mail, where the first article linked to, really came through for me, because there before you stands Cruel . . . o? Cruelo de Vil. It’s maybe not quite as stylish as a fashion-obsessed villain might actually appear, but it’s an effort, and a laudable one for sure.

Sexiness isn’t bad. Calling attention to unnecessary isn’t bad. What is unfortunate is how when it comes to genderbent/Rule 63 cosplay a lot of what we’re getting is people who are all about their own sexiness, or that of the character in a critical way. There’s nothing wrong with the aforementioned, but I think it’s time for something different.


11 responses to “My Problems with Genderbent Cosplay

  1. I do a lot of costuming and I love the challenge of adapting a character to another gender/time period/style/etc. My sister and I put together cosplays of Sam and Dean (Samantha and Deanna) Winchester from the show ‘Supernatural’. It’s a lot of fun because we enjoy the show, and because we actually are siblings playing siblings. But one thing that we kept in mind in designing the cosplays was the fact that you actually have to be able to fight monsters and demons while wearing these. As attractive and sexy as the characters may be, they also know how to dress for the job. Here’s a picture from a shoot we did:


    (Evan had asked me to use this for the blog but I didn’t see his message in time =( sad day)

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  3. Evan, I agree.
    I won’t lie, upon entering the blog I thought this was going to be just another mindless rant, in particular aimed at beefy and hairy men dressing up as overly feminine anime characters.
    You proved me wrong though.
    There is nothing wrong with wearing a costume of the opposite sex if you do it right! Whether you make it sexy or Man-Sexy(?) do the character justice, dot do it just because you want to show of those DDs (in both cases).

    As a woman, I won’t lie, I do want to grab the sexiest Disney Princess dress/ Superhero Costume I can find and parade. It’s fun, and I’m sure all women won’t deny that the idea of being eyed in that different kid of light is a thrill, But just because we have boobs, should we really demean a great character like that?
    For a couple of years now I’ve wanted to dress as Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z.
    I have the height down pact the curved however… Well should Vegeta really be ‘Bootylicious’? I could slim to an extreme so I look like a stick on legs, but A) it’s not healthy, as although I’m not super thin, I am not fat in anyway either. I’m a comfortable size 16 in an hourglass shape. I don’t look unhealthy and frankly my curves are nice.
    B) isn’t it extreme for a day in a blue Lycra suit?

    It is depressing sometimes, this article does poke flaws into stuff I’m sure ALOT of people do want to try, (And no I’m not implying anyone is Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, Transgender or even Heterosexual- cause we all know that’ll soon be an insult) but perhaps it’s something people do daydream about, with the vision of having fun.
    Just because a man wants to put on Bulmas bunny outfit, doesn’t mean he’s any of the above except a man who doesn’t care what people think, and just wants to embrace a character he really does love!
    After all, we dress up to have fun in the first place right?

    So I’m going to stay on the fence. While I do agree with you and say you make a more then valid argument, just remember, these people wouldn’t dress up at all of they didn’t love the character! …well except maybe that Captain America… She has other things on her mind.

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  5. meh, It is what it is. People will do what they are into also based on their original lifestyle to begin with. Take into account the vast huge amount of lesbian Cosplayers there are out there that dress like a man daily. It would only make sense that they always choose to gender-bend male characters and don’t focus on being sexy. Even many women who may not be gay but are uncomfortable with their looks or don’t have a cookie cutter body are often more likely to gender-bend costumes.

  6. Although I will admit my Lady Khan outfit is tight (have you seen what Benedict Cumberbatch has on in the brig scene?), it is not revealing. As for my Lady Sherlock outfit, I was able to literally pull out professional work clothes from my closet–the kind I would not be even slightly worried about wearing in front of company executives at a meeting.

    What I am really looking forward to doing soon is pulling off a Samus Aran effect in a Kylo Ren costume. (In case you’ve never heard of Samus Aran, you play this serious, heavily armored character and only find out at the end of Metroid when Samus unmasks that this dangerous fighter in a mech-like suit is a woman.) I am a bit short so that might suggest to some that something’s up, but I am otherwise going for screen-accurate. It also helps that I am naturally small-cheated enough to be able to wear men’s shirts with no trouble as long as they aren’t super tight. It will be funny to see how anyone who doesn’t hear my voice will react when the mask comes off to realize that the Knight of Ren is a woman.

    Beinh female is NOT going to stop me from taking the character or cosplay seriously.

  7. You’re right, what you showed in the second part of your list isn’t genderbent cosplay, it’s crossplay.
    Crossplay means you cosplay as a character of the opposite sex,
    while genderbent cosplay means you dress up as a gender bent version of a character.
    It’s an actual thing. Thing is, if you do it too well, people might mistake you for a member of the opposite sex, so it might be better to make it somewhat obvious that you’re not.

  8. jedimasterkaitlin

    Omg totally agree!! I’m genderbending Kakashi Hatake from Naruto, however, I’m not wearing the shortest skirt a shinobi can wear, and I’m definitely not showing any cleavage as he wears a turtleneck up to his nose basically. I mean, sexy is fine, you do you, but I love adhering to the original character as much as possible.

    • Haha…i am fan of Bleach and genderbend Ichigo…never did cosplay…but make art on my favourite genderbend character and i stay true to the original as much as possible.

  9. So…I want to point out I am the female bilbo that was used in this and i would like to say i am so happy my bilbo cosplay is seen as “the dream” i did put a lot of thought and effort into my costume and i really didnt want to sexualize it (nor do i ever want to sexualize my genderbend cosplays unless that is part of the original character) i want it to be as accuratr as possible. i fully agree with your points and am glad there are more people out there with the same views as me! Nothing wrong with sexy-ness, i just choose to be as accurate as possible ❤

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