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Welcome back to the second part of my series where I focus on a particular group of cosplayers.
In my first part of this new series, I introduced the first three trans cosplayers of color, who had amazing stories to share with me about their lives and journeys. Now I will continue with the next cosplayers I spoke with.
Screen Name: Keiraide
State: North Carolina
Bennett’s love of cosplay could be traced back to dressing up in costumes in his childhood. He later learned about masquerade skits where people would just come together in costumes and do a theatrical performance, which taught him that you could dress up any time you want.
He’s been dressing up in video game and comic costumes since 2009, but didn’t completely consider being called a cosplayer until 2015 when Bennett began taking the activity more seriously.
Bennett first discovered his trans identity around 8th grade, when he spent time on the internet reading articles about gender. It was around the same time he started getting more involved in using costuming as a more creative outlet.
“The only thing I knew was that I connected more with male characters than female characters and that I did not like the idea of being tethered to femininity for the rest of my life. It just felt wrong,” he said.
He bought his first binder around that time, an article of clothing used in both costuming and everyday wear that flattens the bust of people with large or noticeable breasts. The binder is also a common item for trans men to flatten their breasts to help conform to their own perspective of how they feel to themselves. He first told his mother it was for cosplay, which was partly true, but as soon as he put it on, it began opening a new world for him.
“When I put it on for the first time, it elicited a feeling of euphoria that I had never experienced before, so I knew there had to be something more concrete to what I was feeling,” he said.
Bennett said cosplay has been a great way of exploring gender, and considered it a catalyst for helping realize his trans identity. However, he said that feeling has somewhat reversed recently after taking some bigger steps in his transition. Due to the dysphoria he experiences—the feeling many trans and non-binary people feel when they are uncomfortable with their assigned gender—he usually only cosplays female characters if he can “genderbend” them.
“Genderbend” is a term which refers to the reversal of a character’s gender, usually from cis male to cis female—or in other words the gender assigned to the character at birth is the opposite to what they are usually portrayed as. He’d do this by changing outfits, hair, accessories. etc. that would be recognized as more masculine. That in itself plays to an even more creative challenge, usually having to make an original design while keeping elements from the original character’s aesthetics.
There were times where Bennett experienced microaggressions, passive remarks that offend or antagonize marginalized people. One instance was at a convention in 2015, where someone in an elevator recognized him from a panel he sat on about crossplaying—cosplaying as another gender— and asked if he was on that “trap” panel from last year, then asking if he was “one of them?” As I mentioned in my previous article, “trap” is a slur to trans and non-binary people. He was too scared to say anything and just walked away. Another time was a form of cyberbullying on the blog website Tumblr where he posted a photo of a cosplay he was working on to be the Pokemon Professor Sycamore, and received an anonymous message said that that character isn’t black. Since then he stopped accepting anonymous messages on Tumblr.
Being both black and trans, Bennett said the feeling is difficult sometimes, dealing with social bias and self-image issues he’s experienced due to how black people are viewed in the culture of comics and video games. It tends to be one of great distance from the main character, and rarely can be accepted if a main character that is white to be cosplayed as a different race, but much less resistance if they were just genderbent.
“Sometimes I don’t think I’ll suit certain characters very well while someone who isn’t a person of color could pull it off,” he said.
It’s been about four years since he came out to his friends and family, and has been living a better life now that he can be honest with who he is. His parents mostly approve of Bennett’s lifestyle, and the friends he has are supportive. For some of his other friends, he has just stopped working towards letting them know, since they would either not care or approve.
But Bennett said he’s happy to be himself and even in such a turbulent time, he doesn’t care who knows he is trans because it’s more important to be yourself than being safe.
“My identity has nothing to do with anybody but myself, I’m not causing harm to anyone by being me, and the only thing I ask out of it is respect,” he said. “I want people to see and know that being trans is not controversial, taboo, perverted, or scandalous. I’m a pretty mundane person most of the time.”
What does it feel like being both trans and a person of color?
“It’s bittersweet. I wouldn’t want to be any other way since these aspects of me have shaped who I am and how I see the world, but it’s obviously not without its struggle. I have a hard time wrapping my head around cisgender people of color who can be oppressors of trans folk. I struggle with trying not to compare myself with white trans people and how they look, and how they’re allowed to look the way they do from a purely cultural standpoint. I already tread cautiously in life because of my skin color, but adding my trans status into that mix makes how I operate even more delicate. But at the end of the day, it’s something that means a lot to me, so the work that I do to affirm myself is always worth the effort.”
Why do you like cosplaying, what do you get out of it?
I like cosplaying because I can practice a variety of skills that I couldn’t apply elsewhere since I don’t have an artistic career. It also lets me forget the harshness of the world and be someone else for a bit. There’s just something therapeutic about being able to emulate characters that I admire for one reason or another.
Have you ever felt like you don’t “deserve” to identify as trans? If so why not?
No, I don’t believe it’s something that can be defined by a sense of ownership. I didn’t feel a connection to the gender I was assigned at birth, so by consequence I am trans and identify as such. Whether I “deserve” to identify as trans would have to do more with what other people’s narratives of being trans is like, but this is assuming I even try to fit into other people’s images of how I’m supposed to express my gender, which I try not to.
Screen Name: Kiyoteacups
Kiyomi does not exactly identify as trans but as non-binary, a subcategory of the trans identity. Being non-binary means one doesn’t conform to either masculine or feminine genders, and instead chooses neither as well as both, breaking the myth of the existence of only two genders.
Kiyomi first started cosplaying at the age of 12 as Edward Elric from Full Metal Alchemist. Cosplay helped Kiyomi realize about their own journey with gender identity. Kiyomi loves cosplay and just dressing up, most times in fancy dresses, but never realized that there was a connection until later in life.
“I’ve always been a fan of dressing up in feminine clothes, but I didn’t realize I was trans until I was around 20 years old,” they said.
Kiyomi loves sewing and actually makes many of the components of their cosplays.
They came out a little more than three years ago and has received mostly affirmation from their peers and family. Their Japanese side of the family have had a harder time understanding their life choice, but still support them regardless.
Being non-binary, Kiyomi said they have had issues before of whether they felt like they even fit in with the trans community. But that feeling they felt was more internalized.
“I used to feel that being non-binary was ‘less’ trans than was acceptable, but thanks to my friends online and in person, I’ve been very supported regardless of my gender.” Kiyomi said.
Tell me your favorite thing about yourself.
I like being mixed. Being Japanese and white, I get to enjoy two very different cultures a lot more intimately than most people do as tourists.
Was there any form of discrimination or hate you experienced as a trans person, as a cosplayer or as a person of color (or all three)?
Mostly I get people reacting to me in ways like “oh you’re a guy” to my chagrin. Another thing that’s not directly towards me but annoying is how some people (usually white) will wear “kimono” as a cosplay.
Why do you like cosplaying, what do you get out of it?
I like dressing up in fancy costumes, and being someone else for a little while. And it’s fun to be recognized by strangers.
The more I continue into this series, the more I have learned and loved. Much like this series’ goal of teaching and exposing people to different people, I implore you to reach out and talk to trans people or other people of color about their stories and lives, if they are willing.
We all have a story and the more we know of those stories and why they are and how they’ve come to be who they are, the better we can understand and become greater allies for marginalized people.