Amber Love 08-MAR-2012 I’ve devoted a huge amount of my time to costuming and one thing I don’t really understand is crossplay, gender swapping and sex swapping costuming. It frustrates me and I want to shout, “CAN’T WOMEN HAVE ANYTHING THAT’S OURS?”

Rule 63 is NOT the same as gender swapping but seems to be the launch point theme held in comics’ history. It’s the place on the cosplay gameboard where someone decided to flip the switch. A male cosplayer dressed as a male version of a female character that is already “Rule 63” of a male character — pardon me while my head explodes in this Mobius circle of spandex.

PHOTO BY FRANK, 2006 DRAGON*CON

From UrbanDictionary.com:

Rule 63 is a rule of the internet that reads as follows: “For any given male character, there is a female version of that character.” This rule’s exceptions are only in the instance that A: the male character is already so androgynous that a female version would be basically the same, or B: the female version hasn’t been drawn yet.

Last year I read Mike Madrid’s book THE SUPERGIRLS: FASHION, FEMINISM, FANTASY AND THE HISTORY OF COMIC BOOK HEROINES. The book didn’t exactly win my praises for its writing which came off as a long winded research paper or dissertation sometimes contradicting itself; but some of that research gleaned is important and noteworthy for the comic book heroine. Issues discussed were the introduction of female characters solely to balance a male dominant title and purposely to find subtle ways at exploring sexual attraction between characters (Remember this was Comic Code Authority days).

Batwoman was invented to make Batman seems less of a pedophile but today’s Batwoman is a kick ass lesbian that carries her own title. I’ve had arguments to defend Power Girl, not only her most popular “boob window” costume but also her power set. I often had to fight the notion that all female characters are weaker versions of male characters. Susan Storm of the FANTASTIC FOUR may have started out as the token female often in distress just as Wonder Woman was relegated in early JUSTICE SOCIETY but in today’s comics Sue Storm is the most powerful member of the original FOUR. Now her son Franklin seems to be overpowering her and his gifted sister Valeria’s positions, once again pushing the matriarchy aside.

The history of comics can’t be changed no matter how many retcons or reboots they do. It doesn’t eliminate where our beloved characters got their start. There’s no doubt that our favorite female characters went through struggles reflective of culture’s actual battles. The Rule 63 of some characters is easy to identify. Captain America = American Dream. Batman = Batwoman. Spider-man = Spider-girl. Superman = Supergirl. Wolverine = X-23.

As a woman and a fan, I can see the appeal of wanting to dress as a male character to an extent, especially for little girls. If a little girl likes Batman or Spider-man, I don’t see the big deal letting her dress up like them; we’ve all seen how the double standard applies to boys though; your family ends up on every news channel saying you’re making your son gay (such was the 2010 instance of a Missouri mom named Sarah who let her five-year-old dress as Daphne from Scooby Doo).

The last few years have seen this swell in American comic cosplay. It’s always been done in anime/manga cosplay from the looks of it. A woman dressed as batMAN who doesn’t even try to hide her curvy figure seems just as bad as a man in a slave Leia out who is just looking to be silly. If silly is your goal then great.

As an adult, I’ve come to find that there is a need for women to start empowering the fictional females of literature/media by giving ourselves permission to cosplay as them without excuse for being the weaker, less intelligent, sex pot counterparts of popular male characters. I’m by no stretch of the imagination a die hard feminist. I fully acknowledge that in real world situations, MOST women are weaker physically than men which is why I’m supportive of making sure female soldiers or law enforcement can do the same job at a unified standard not a “men’s” or “women’s” standard. If you can do it, great, welcome to the battalion. Most women can’t. We still have Olympics segregated so let’s just be real about it. But in our superpowered fantasies of comics, movies, literature and gaming, the female characters should be given the opportunities to be equal.

Is it just the fantasy of roleplay that drives one person to Rule 63 cosplay? 

Model and costume designer Han Pan chimed in on my Facebook warning where I said I would be addressing this not to piss anyone off.

I have been planning a femme Wolverine, but 1, I don’t like X-23 and 2, I am not a six foot buff n gruff dude, nor do I think I could pull one off in cross xD ; whereas, I LOVE Wolverine and I grew up on him pretty hardcore. So, for me, it was do nothing or go female Wolvie. That’s just for me though. I’m sure others have different reasons. Like jumping bandwagon or smething, idk. ~HanPan

In April 2011, I asked one of the very best costumers in the US about her group’s costuming:

Roxanna Meta explained: “What we’re doing is actually neither crossplay (trying to pass as a character of the opposite sex) or even gender bending (playing with gender identity within a character) – we were sex-swapping.

RAY AS MERA

Maybe there’s a nuance I can’t grasp, but I don’t understand the difference between “gender bending” and “sex swapping.”

Then there’s drag. I’ve seen phenomenal results (by Ray DeForest) of this so highly praised they even landed in the WIZARD MAGAZINE for best costumes. Drag seems exclusively to mean men dressed as female characters trying to actually look like women which was always my experience at drag show performances; cosplay drag seems to hold true to that. In fact, it’s more irksome when a man looks better as Wonder Woman or Mera than I ever could. But that’s still holding on to Wonder Woman as a female.

Seeing a man dressed as a male version of a character that has had to fight her way to the mainstream degrades that character’s struggles no matter how gorgeous the costume. These are not alternate meta world versions like the SUPERMAN/BATMAN: VENGEANCE series set on Earth-11 (gender reversed world). These are original creations that come off as erasing the female completely. Sure, this is my opinion only and I don’t mean to state it as a hot button topic only to express how I see this as a woman, as a female comic fan, and as a costumer. I look at the outstanding craftsmanship that goes into those costumes and I still wonder, why are you dressed like this? Aren’t there male characters already that embody that powerset and that moral makeup of the character? Creative license or as a designer exercise is the only reason I can think of to create these.

As for the women, I’m bored with seeing any character that needs to be clarified in its name like female Captain America, female Ash, female Spider Jerusalem, female Doctor Who…. Are there no female equivalents that reflect that personality, fashion, morals that interest you? What’s lacking in the roster of female characters you could choose? I have no idea why but Booster Gold seems extremely prevalent for women to dress as.

If a woman finds the appeal of a historically more powerful male character more interesting to cosplay than the female character, there seems to be some sort of purpose: an upgrade. Why do men do it?

 

 

15 comments on “My unpopular opinion: Am I the only one that doesn’t get gender swapped costuming?”

  1. The way I see it, as a person who has never cosplayed, is that the gender swap cosplay is a way for someone to express their creativity in costume design. Just as Jim Lee was allowed to recreate all the outfits in the DC universe, crossplay lets anyone redesign any costume. Some of them are quite creative and well-done.

  2. I’m with you Amber…I don’t get it either and frankly I’m not interested in getting it. I understand it’s entertainment and I guess for some it’s fun, but has no appeal at all to me.

  3. As a woman, a comic fan and a costumer and as a crossplayer, I don’t understand what’s so hard to understand about crossplay/Gender bending/sex swapping cosplay.

    My favorite character is Guy Gardner. In order to express that, through my love of costuming, I decided to crossplay as Guy Gardner and some day I will express it further by gender bending/sex swapping as my own design Gal Gardner. It’s about expressing myself and my fandom(s), nothing more, nothing less.

    Not understanding something doesn’t automatically mean that it’s someone “bad” or “wrong”. The idea that a man who loves a female character enough to create and costume as a version of that character, be it through crossplay or gender bending or gender swapping or what have you, somehow “degrades” that character is, quite honestly both a little ridiculous and kind of insulting to those of us (male and female) who love this kind of costuming.

    In fact, your own words “If a little girl likes Batman or Spider-man, I don’t see the big deal letting her dress up like them; we’ve all seen how the double standard applies to boys though…” offer more reason why we should APPLAUD men who decide to take a chance and express their fandom in this way.

    “I look at the outstanding craftsmanship that goes into those costumes and I still wonder, why are you dressed like this? Aren’t there male characters already that embody that powerset and that moral makeup of the character?” Why do ‘you’ get to decide what characters people are fans of? Why should my sex or gender have to match the characters that I am a fan of and want to costume as? The answers are, ‘you’ don’t and it shouldn’t. Perhaps Superman and Wonder Woman share very similar powers, morals and other characteristics, that in no way says that being a woman means I need to like Diana more. Nor does it mean that a man must like Kal more and neither of us should be ‘required’ to costume the character we like less just because they happen to share the same gender or sex as us.

    The idea that you’re putting forth here, whether intentional or not, that as a woman I should feel obligated to costume only female characters, even if I like some male characters better, or I’m depowering and devaluing own my sex/gender is absurd at best and disingenuous, internally misogynistic and harmful at worst.

    My, and anyone else’s, expression of self should not be dependent on what happens to be between out legs and is, actually, the root ideal behind gender equality and *I* am bored with people feeling that I should have to justify my fandom, personal expression and/or costume choices to them because they don’t agree with it. “If a woman finds the appeal of a historically more powerful male character more interesting to cosplay than the female character, there seems to be some sort of purpose: an upgrade.” You opinion here is based on false reasoning and is, in fact, incredibly assumptive and insulting.

    The bottom line is that this hobby is about having fun and expressing yourself and those thing should never be limited by someone’s gender or sex.

    ——————————-

    I am also commenting on this little gem separately – “…MOST women are weaker physically than men which is why I’m supportive of making sure female soldiers or law enforcement can do the same job at a unified standard not a “men’s” or “women’s” standard. If you can do it, great, welcome to the battalion. Most women can’t. We still have Olympics segregated so let’s just be real about it.” Do you have ANY idea how much internal misogyny you are expressing in this small set of sentences or better yet, how patently FALSE a make you are making in them? The Olympics are segregated because woman aren’t equal to the “tasks of men”. They are segregated because it’s tradition, because it’s easier that way, and because the MEN in charge of these things aren’t interested in changing it anytime soon.

    You spoke earlier in this article saying that Mike Madrid’s book was long winded and contradictory, yet just a few paragraphs later you contradicted your own stated intents by including unnecessary statement about the abilities of real life women, which severs only to perpetuate the patriarchy you’re earlier words seem to imply your against.

    Bottom line here, people don’t fit neatly into little boxes and a person’s value and abilites should never be judged, by anyone, based on their sex or gender.

    • You not only prove my point that people will latch on this as some sort of attack but you elevate my comments section to a new level of hate mail.

      The intent of my sentiments is illustrate that women aren’t doing themselves any favor in the realm of American Comic Books when they are so uninterested in the roster of existing female characters that they need to dress as the men.

      As for the men, yes, I feel like they have enough to choose from. They have more heroes, more villains, more everything when it comes to comics. Why do they have to take the female characters away from us too?

      How is THAT sentiment misogynistic?

      • How in the WORLD are you going to call this “hate mail”. You absolutely can not be serious!

        Intent is not magical. You can say it’s not an attack, but that doesn’t keep the content from being offensive. Something also doesn’t have to be an attack to be offensive.

        Again you’re making the assumption that because a woman crossplays that she’s not interested in female characters. That is a severe jump in logic from one to the other that is just not factual! Most crossplayers also do regular “gender matching” cosplays too.

        Likewise, you can’t tell a man that he’s “out of bounds” for liking and wanting to costume a female character over a male one. It’s just ridiculous.

        You’re trying to delegate what is and isn’t okay for people to do in a hobby they enjoy and that’s just not okay.

        If you really don’t understand how a lot of the things you said are misogynistic (which by the way is not what you just said I claimed it was) I suggest you do some research on the matter.

  4. Maybe I’m not educated enough or I didn’t read into enough to see you actually degrading the choice to Gender Bend a character for cosplaying. Regardless I would like to throw in my two cents on the issue. As a cosplayer who has only started within the last few years, I am always looking for new projects to work on, or new characters to help me learn and inspire my creativity. I have worn drag, and although it doesn’t appeal to me enough to make me want to do it more often, I do find it fun to throw that monkey wrench in the spokes of the bike from time to time and make people do a double take. I try to stay in my comfort zone when it comes to cosplay, I don’t really go to far out of my looks as boundaries for what I can cosplay. Only recently have I started to become comfortable enough to wear wigs, or make up to make me match whatever I am cosplaying. So I want to be more comfortable to do everything and anything. I don’t think there should be limitations to what someone can cosplay. That being said I do have other opinions on this as well. If you are a perfectionist, and going for comic accuracy I do then believe you should weigh in on how much of what a character’s age, stature, gender, and race you match up against. I am not going to do my character justice if I’m going for accuracy by starting out on a handicap. If you aren’t going for accuracy than to hell with those things, have fun with it, add your own little touches. Keep it fun for you.
    Moving on. I will be creating a gender bend outfit for an upcoming convention. I will be taking a woman character and adapting it a more male design, I will be hoping to keep the characteristics of that character. I will not be making it slutty, or sexy just because it is a female character as the archetype. Neither will I be making it more masculine just because it I am a male doing a male version of said character. I am simply looking at the character and saying to myself, “How do I think this person would dress is he/she was the opposite gender?” I believe in creative license and freedom of expression. You have the right to speak your mind, and make whatever outfit you desire, as well as I. I take no offense in your post, and I certainly do not condemn your choices. I see your points actually. When this idea was first presented to me I was actually hesitant to join along, I didn’t wanna just be copying the group of costumers who did the Gender Bend Justice League, which originally I did think we were just ripping off. As the group of people interested in this project grew, I just wanted to do a project with my friends and have fun, so I threw in my hat, knowing full well if I didn’t want to go ahead with it I could pull out. (Also I wanted to grab my character before she was gone.) I don’t support just doing the gender bend or crossplay just because everyone else is doing it. I am absolutely against going with the pack, or trend, or cliche, or jumping on a bandwagon. Yea, I am probably being hypocritical since I might technically be doing that by going along with my group of friends to do such a thing. I’m not about to go make a steam punk version of a character just because it is popular at the moment, actually I am usually pushed away from the idea more so by how popular it is. That being said I make sure I really want to do something and am excited by the idea before I commit to it.
    To each their own, it is all about fun in the end. Do what ya have to do to keep yourself having fun, don’t shut the door to an idea just because it is a little out there or unorthodox.

    There is my two cents. (Hugs Amber and hides)

    • I don’t think you have to hide, Gregg. I welcome not only the hug but a thought provoking rebuttal that doesn’t just call me insulting names.

      You bring up a very good point about group dynamic. It does make one feel safer no matter what the cosplay; this is something I brought up a couple months about how I was around Gotham Sirens but as a non-Siren Bat villain, I was out of place and felt unwelcome. I doubt half the people in your group would do the GB character if they were all alone, not even a duo.

      • You are right. I probably wouldn’t be doing this outfit by myself since I don’t think people would get it without the group. But I might be wearing it early to test run it just to see how it fairs. I read that article and about the Sirens and I did feel bad, but I don’t think Ace ever was a Siren she was only in the Justice League Unlimited cartoon, to not be recognized as part of the group though does kinda hurt. I kinda feel that way when I put on Killer Moth since he kinda is a tad more obscure and everyone wants pics of the popular characters but the b-listers aren’t as recognizable. I hate the feeling of being “the other guy” which I often confuse for my name when I am dressed as Will Turner. But I kinda embrace it when I’m in the outfit and in the moment, it is just one of those things you either need to laugh it off or it will nag at you until it makes you wanna punch the next person. I’m pretty sure that is frowned upon at cons so I’m just gonna try and roll with the punches, nothing works more than making people feel more out of place then turning the tables back on them. I enjoy being unknown as well as known.

  5. To be blunt, given that I see this all the time.

    Your article seems to boil down to “I don’t like this. Your wrong for doing it”. I KNOW that’s not the tone you meant it as. But if you ask me the whole tone of the article is condescending.

    Some people are not comfortable crossplaying but LIKE a certain character what’s wrong with gender swapping (either for male OR female) to show some level of creativity with it?

    There’s a whole group of female Doctors from Doctor Who, which included friends of mine and at least one mutual friend of ours. Costuming is about love of a character and wanting to show that love through taking on that persona.

    While very derivative is Batgirl a female version of Batman? No. The character itself is very different even if the power set is the same. Except for maybe Cassandria Kain all of the Batgirls have been cheery and not the dark brooding “I AM THE NIGHT” that Bruce is.

    Regardless I think cosplay is more about the individual character and not about gender issues.

  6. Parsing crossplay is something that I personally have a huge ambivalence about.
    The basic problems I have, tend to revolve around appropriation and misogyny.
    I think that anyone cosplaying out of love for a character, regardless of color, gender, size, etc., is entitled to do so. It’s the point of cosplay, isn’t it? I have incredible respect for the talent and courage involved in cosplay, because there’s so much attention and judgment involved in it. A well-executed cosplay brings a character to life, in the real world. A cosplay executed with love and verve, is something that is delightful to see.
    Some people crossplay because they just love the character, some are highlighting that the character or type of character is rarely one seen as the opposite gender. I know a lot of people who crossplay as the Doctor (Doctor Who) but I haven’t seen men trying on many of the female companions. Are they afraid to embrace their feminine side? Maybe, maybe not. Are they afraid of questions that will be raised about sexuality? Maybe.
    The spectrum of gender expression, much like expression of sexuality, is more fluid than not. I can appreciate that crossplay, where there are exact analogues of characters, can seem superfluous. Except characters are rarely completely analogous. Batwoman is not Batman. IMO, she’s a more complete character, internally. If a man is choosing to represent that he identifies with that, I don’t have a problem with it. Crossplay seems to be a way for a lot of people to defy gender expectation somewhat without taking on the risks that would be present IRL. Appropriation, which seems to be the root of your discomfort, is definitely an issue. I have to remind myself that I can’t condemn a man for cosplaying a character he loves just because he’s playing a character that’s female if I can’t condemn a woman or someone who identifies as genderqueer, for doing the same thing even when the point is to be gender-transgressive. Misogyny, internal and external, is another sticking point and much harder to parse. With the exception of parody, it’s harder to identify. Are women crossplaying because they feel female characters are weak? Is that internal misogyny or is it commentary on how women are portrayed? Are men cosplaying female characters in order to mock them? That tends to be a little more visible, but the question of whether the parody is meant to highlight how women are portrayed still muddies things. The only conclusion I’ve come to, is to look at ANY individual cosplay and judge it on its merits or flaws. My concern is that if we say that crossplay is an absolute no-no, do we also say that a person of color can’t cosplay Batman? Do we say that Gina Torres couldn’t be an awesome Wonder Woman? Do we say that someone in a wheelchair can only cosplay Oracle and not Wonder Woman? I think that asking questions about what cosplay means and represents is an important one, because it can be a profound expression of what we love and displays who and what we choose to be seen as. (Yes, cosplay can be a kind of Rorschach test for both the player and the viewer.)

    As a thought exercise, consider that crossplay can smash the perception of characters only appealing to men/women/ which is really no bad thing.
    I’d recommend talking to people who crossplay, though. They are far better equipped to discuss why they do it and what it means to them than someone who is writing from a remove or as an observer. 🙂

  7. Oops! Sorry for not clarifying.

    Gender-bending is ACTUALLY messing with gender identity within a character. Like if we had a sexually male Batman acting in traditionally “feminine” ways, or wearing feminine clothes.

    Sex-swapping is technically what we did (although we call ourselves the Gender Bent Justice League) – we took the preexisting characters and changed their biological sex!

    It’s all very confusing and there’s a lot of grey areas, and I personally enjoy playing with those gray areas, which is one of the reasons I joined the group. 🙂

    • That’s kind of what I thought you meant but I didn’t want to infer something way off base. Gender roles and gender identity are confusing enough with real people. Introducing that into a comic situation might be even more so. I can’t imagine a situation where anyone other than DESIRE from Neil Gaiman’s SANDMAN went through anything like that. It took me a couple volumes through the changing artists to understand it was intentional gender ambiguity.

  8. Hi Beth. 🙂 This is just me, but I think you might be overthinking the subject. I can only speak for myself, but when my bf and I did crossplay Storm and Mystique at Mega Con and Mardi Gras, it was all about having fun, and stepping away from what we usually do. Something I said recently to another person who said he does not understand crossplay/gender bending, is simply this: “All costuming is drag.” Anyone can take that however they like. 😉 But for myself, I have been in costuming for 30 years, I have been around the gay community and drag culture for almost as long, so to me, the lines separating gender and “normal” male and female roles has always been blurred. I personally don’t think drag performers are degrading to the gender they are imitating, and I certainly don’t think having fun with cosplay or a character in an unusual or unexpected way is demeaning or disrespectful, unless the intention is clearly there. It certainly was not there when we did our crossplay. I think all the great female characters throughout comic history are still as strong and impactful regardless of how their fans choose to cosplay them. Clearly, crossplay is not for everyone, and I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. But that does not diminish the fun that I have doing it. 🙂

Comments are closed.