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.”
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
artist 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-
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.
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.