Gender Bent Cross-Plays

I had always wanted to cosplay ever since I found out that dressing up as a character could be more than just a Halloween costume or an obsessive hobby.

And while I have still never been to a con or cosplayed “for real”, a  few years ago I put together a costume of Terra from Teen Titans, may favorite female character. Because I was not going to cut up my under-armour shirt I didn’t do the midriff shirt, but I had the blonde wig and the yellow shorts and some rocking boots.

I wore the costume to a Purim service at my synagogue (Purim is a Jewish holiday where everyone dresses up in costume). When I walking around passing out programs one of the older men of my synagogue was giving me a look like I was suddenly sexy and that because I was wearing boots and shorts that he could comment on my body and my appearance. I knew nothing of feminism then and was just embarrassed and hurt, wondering what I had done wrong to deserve this attention. I didn’t do anything: I had the right to dress as I pleased and looking back on it, that was sexual harassment.

But despite my debut in cosplaying being less than satisfactory, my Terra costume was (and still is) a staple in my life. It’s the friendly clothes I go back to when I need a boost, comfortable in the way only a second skin can be.

And for a while this was my only attempt to cosplay because there weren’t any other characters I so wholeheartedly identified with or struggled to become not just in appearance but personality as well. I dressed up as Captain Hook once,. Another time I went with a group as the Three Musketeers, but it didn’t have the same emotional impact that Terra did.

Then the movie The Avengers came out and I was quickly introduced to the beauty that can only be known to the world as Science Bros. This wonderful friendship between Tony Stark and Bruce Banner was the highlight of the film for me and even a year later I am still so deeply invested in that friendship that it is more than just actors on a screen.

It feels as real to me as Terra does because there is so much to unpack from their interactions.

I am lucky enough to have a friend who is legitimately Tony Stark as a woman. And because I’m the quieter one, the one who responds to her snark and keeps her in check, I am Bruce Banner in this relationship. Together we are: Gender Swapped Science Bros.

It didn’t take long for us to come up with a cosplay for this and it was the first time I had felt truly comfortable in a costume since Terra. What I loved the most is that we weren’t playing male attributes. We didn’t go into this idea thinking that Tony and Bruce are inherently  male characters and that even if we change their gender they’d still act like men. We were able to embrace the aspects of their personalities we already had and work to push ourselves for what we did not, but we were never forgoing our femininity in favor of popular maleness.

Our female versions of these characters were not marked or othered because of the gender we played them as. It was such an excellent experience to wear a skirt and carry a purse, but feel that my version of a female Bruce would still use the name Bruce  maybe as a nickname. So I was still Bruce Banner. My partner in crime wore a Pink Floyd Shirt, jeans and sneakers, jazzed up with a headband and sunglasses. Though she was technically Antonia Stark, Toni was every bit the Tony Stark we know and love from the films and comics just gender bent.

It was a brilliant experience to feel at once wonderfully androgynous and at the same time so aware that I was playing a woman and doing her justice.

I love gender bent cross-plays because they challenge gender and sexuality in ways few other things can. They’re messy and complicated, but that’s the best part. It would feel so easy to bind my breasts and put on a man’s clothes and cosplay as a male character, but then I’m ignoring my own sense of being a woman. I’m disregarding female characters that way. And this is why I love gender bending fandoms: you’re not doing disservice to women, but expanding what a woman can be.

Because I had such a great time being Bruce, I’ve been drawing up doodle comic strips of my adventures with Tony. Take a look below: we’re women in all but name and proud to express our gender in this expanding medium of cross-plays.

doodle comics I drew of my friend and myself.

 

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Gender is Not the Only Box

I had a conversation today with a Native American friend of mine which illuminated the idea that oppressive constraints of identity are not limited to gender or sexuality. This wasn’t news by any means, but the parallels between our experiences was incredible and definitely worth sharing.

He told me how he had wanted to buy  me a Batman ribbon for my birthday but that the ribbons were divided up between those for boys and those for girls. He didn’t want to get me the boys’ ribbon because he didn’t want to be rude, but he didn’t want to get me the girls’ ribbon because he knows I “hate pink”. I explained that I didn’t hate pink, but it ticks me off when marketing companies gender products. A thing does not need to be gendered. A boy should be able to wear the pink ribbon just as easily as the girl should be able to wear the blue. Items of clothing don’t have gender, so why do we assign the labels of “boys’ clothes” and “girls’ clothes”? I continued that it’s all just a way to enforce heteronormativity and traditional gender roles.

He began to talk about how frustrating being put into a box is. He made the point that if he listens to country music, for instance, people will come up to him and say “What are you listening to that for? That music’s not for you.” It’s as if his dark skin and traditional choices in dress and appearance are rigid markers of identity. Native Americans don’t listen to country music, what he is trying to do? He said that when he used to wear his long hair pulled back in a pony tail (instead of the double braids he wears now) people would ask him “why are you trying to look like a Chinese man?” And I know these were not the only stories, though these were the ones he decided to tell.

It reminds me of standardized tests: you check a nice little box next to your gender, your race and your religion. You are then wrapped, and shipped off to belong to someone else’s perception of your gender, your race and your religion. You suddenly represent what your identity markers say you should act like, talk like, or enjoy. You either fit the mold and perpetuate stereotypes or become an outlier to critique.

It can seem like there is no way to win when the world holds up a checklist and controls the pencil saying “yes, you’re a woman so you must be…” and “no, you’re not black, so you can’t be…” or “you’re transgender that means…”

Boxes are more than the over used figure of speech. They’re a real concept that damages people of every identity and are always oppressing with preconceived notions of who you should be by someone else’s definition. Gender and sexuality are not the only means of oppression.