This will be the final part in the particular focus of my series on trans cosplayers of color. I have learned an invaluable amount of understanding through the lives of some of the bravest, strongest and most unique people.
Amelia Michelle McIntosh
Screen Name: Strawberry Smirk
Race: African American
Amelia is fairly new to the cosplaying scene, with her only cosplay in October 2018 as a femme – or feminine version – of Jughead from the popular show Riverdale, a gritty adaptation of the Archie Comics series.
Although she didn’t receive much discrimination in the cosplay community, she said she received some moderate negativity after submitting a picture of herself online.
Amelia first discovered she was trans in April 2018 in a pivotal moment while spending time with a friend.
“A friend of mine convinced me to let her make me look like a girl,” she said. “After(wards), I looked in the mirror and felt so much like myself that I just started crying.”
Amelia still sees herself more as male-bodied and tends to stick to ideas of cosplaying genderbent versions of male characters. Genderbending, as I explained in my previous article, is the act of switching the assigned gender of a fictional character.
To her, Amelia feels her gender and race don’t exactly affect each other. However, from the discrimination of being black, this was already so much that she felt no fear of coming out.
Since she is so new to the scene, she didn’t have much to share in cosplay experiences, but plans to grow in the cosplaying space with various ideas lined up.
Moving forward in the future, Amelia said she feels like her life is in a sort of standstill until she starts transitioning. In trans culture, transitioning refers to taking steps such as hormone therapy, surgery, or other methods to begin altering one’s body to fit their true gender instead of the one they are assigned.
“I’m different, I’m not good at makeup, my mannerisms have always been the same, and I’m lazy, so even though I’m out, nobody outside of my friends really notices,” she said.
Amelia is still on her way in a journey many trans people must go through to find peace and become a reflection of their true selves. In a world where simply being trans can end someone’s life or relationships with others, she takes pride in being rebellious for just being herself.
“I love all things badass, and in today’s world, people like me are badass simply for living decent lives,” she said.
Why do you like cosplaying? What do you get out of it?
“Cool clothes, a temporary escape, and a chance to feel like someone I admire. It’s fun.”
Tell me your favorite thing about yourself
“I have this weird habit of being able to bounce out of a bad mood fairly quickly.”
Screen Name: Thirteenthesia
Location: United Kingdom
Race/Ethnicity: South Asian (Indian) and British.
Rae is my last trans cosplayer of color I wanted to cover, and the first who is not from the United States. Unlike Amelia, Rae has been cosplaying for the past 12 years. Back in 2007, Rae discovered conventions and as an anime fan couldn’t pass up the opportunity to dress up with their friends. They chose Zekozawa from the anime Ouran High School Host Club. They fashioned together a costume of a black wig a cloak and an evil can hand-puppet. The character, fittingly, was president of the Black Magic Club in the school. The entire experience changed them and everything clicked, the role-playing, the costuming and the connection they made to the character all felt so authentic.
“It just felt incredibly refreshing and right to be Nekozawa – he did what he wanted to, was exceptionally creepy, but also happy with his weirdness. Running around with a hand-dyed curtain and a hand-puppet, seeing how happy our group made people – it was magical,” they said. “I was hooked. Being someone else was the therapy I didn’t know I needed.”
Aside from being trans, Rae said they usually always felt out of place while being a Person of Color raised in an privileged, predominantly white, all-girls school. They first identified as a lesbian, coming out at the age of 15 since they weren’t attracted to boys, but found that there was more to their identity than that. Rae felt like they weren’t a girl, but at the same time couldn’t say they felt like a boy.
“It took me a while to realize I didn’t really see myself as a girl or a boy, just some kind of amorphous shape which was both and neither and ultimately, very confusing,” they said.
Growing up in their mother’s fundamentalist Christian household, things were strict and life was difficult to explore anything labeled as “other.” Rae was as young as six years old when they had ideas of non-gender-conforming ideas and as young as 11 when they discovered their sexual and gender-related views. They’d often explore themselves on the internet, if their mother didn’t make any random searches on their computer.
Coming into college is where they spent more time on their identity. While there studying, they met and later married another non-binary person, and they discovered they felt more comfortable as non-binary.
Rae still has a hard time being open about being trans, but their friends know, and that all that matters to them.
Cosplay has and still plays an important role in Rae’s gender identity. In the past they’d do more male characters in cosplay but also because they were more well-rounded characters. But other cosplay groups tried to pressure them into cosplaying a token minority in the group to complete a cast of characters. Rae resented the fact they they felt they couldn’t even cosplay to be true to themselves, throwing away one of the greatest benefits of doing cosplay in the first place. After a while they were known as “the brown girl version of a character.” It didn’t bother them enough that they couldn’t enjoy their time cosplaying, but they said it obviously annoyed them.
This is something I’ve faced in my own experiences and it’s a hard to get out from under that label. As a token person in a predominantly white group, you are usually saddled with your identity as the minority more than any other character trait. It sometimes even eclipses some of your greatest qualities.
Whats worse is the attention one receives from being a token. In Rae’s experience, it led to being oversexualized, and people calling them “exotic.” Cosplay is something they don’t do very much anymore and have semi-retired because of the issues they’ve faced. For now, they only cosplay with close friends and their wife.
Sadly, Rae can only rely on their friends for this kind of support. Their parents have disowned them. Rae’s brother still talks to them, but that is the only familial support they can get.
For much of Rae’s life, they have felt like an outsider, a stranger in a strange land where they don’t seem to belong. Not their family, conventions, their own country or even in the trans community. No matter what support there my be there, Rae still wonders if they are “trans enough.” Rae said there’s been a lot of hostility and debate within the LGBT community as well as just the trans community about people who are nonbinary/genderfluid/genderqueer.
“I do feel, often, that I don’t deserve to be called trans, as I feel like I’m co-opting someone else’s struggles, and I should focus on being a better ally,” they said. “I worry that being gender non-conforming might upset a lot of people within the community, or that I don’t fit the standard trans narrative enough, and that people will think I’m over exaggerating or trying to mold myself into something I’m not.”
I may only be an ally in this community, but I’d feel people like Rae should still be just as valid, which is why they are in my article series to begin with.
But through all these problems, through all these issues they have endured, Rae still keeps pushing through. At times, its all some can only do when waiting for the darkness to pass.
“I’m still here. The world hasn’t broken me yet. I’m still learning and evolving and discovering cool new things about myself, and I’m learning to be happy,” they said.
What does it feel like being both a trans and a person of color?
“Being both trans and a person of color is like ticking off a full bingo, but the only reward is diminished privilege and fewer opportunities! It also feels like my very existence is rebellious and like me existing is a form of political protest against the normal and typical. I like that it scares people, if I’m honest.”
Has the culture of your race or ethnicity affected your feeling of being trans?
“My heritage definitely affects my feelings about being trans or gender non-conforming. I was never fully immersed into my parents’ heritage and history, or country’s history even, and everything I knew was second-hand and told to me by them. I was born in the UK so I don’t always see myself as Indian or Asian. Naturally, I grew up believing I’d be stoned to death for being gay or trans, and then once I spent some time researching things I realized that whilst yes, it was a taboo, there were entire subcultures and communities where non-binary genders were recognized. It was a revelation, and whilst I could never speak about this to my blood family, it was heartwarming to see people just like me who have existed for centuries. “
With a world that makes being trans not only difficult but dangerous, why did you choose now to come out?
“I would never view ‘coming out’ as a singular event – rather it’s a continual process that happens throughout one’s own life. Now more than ever I see it as being able to show those who are perhaps unable to come out, or scared to, that it is a perfectly normal thing and that they are not alone. Normalizing an action is the first way to show others that they are welcome and belong. With all the negative media surrounding the “trans debate” it’s worth helping others to realize that they are not ‘wrong’ or ‘broken’ or ‘weird’ or ‘abnormal’. It’s just part of being human.”
This is the end of the focus on my cosplay spotlight series. I made this series earlier this year as a way to counter the disgusting hatred and actions against the trans community. I’ve learned many things about some extraordinary people their their unique journey in this world still evolving and changing into something I hope one day will fully accept them.
I hope this has also helped educate my readers or feel that they’ve been inspired to do something to help others. I also hope this has pushed my readers to change how they act towards others or take bigger steps to being true to themselves.
At the end of this article I’ve left a series of links to organizations and websites that the people I’ve interviewed showed me which ohelps ther trans people seeking advice, support or acceptance. If you know someone who is trans or just questioning their gender identity, let them know about some of these links.
- www.thetrevorproject.org – Trevor Project is a leading national organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning young people under 25. Hotline number: 1-866-488-7386
- www.translifeline.org – Trans Lifeline is a grassroots hotline and microgrants non-profit organization for and by the trans community to offer direct emotional/financial support for trans people in crisis. Hotline number: 877-565-8860
- www.glsen.org – Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is a national organization that works to help students in every school find the support they need regardless of their sexual orientation.
- www.transstudent.org – Trans Student Education Resources is a youth-led organization dedicated to educate the public and make a better education environment for trans and gender nonconforming students.
- www.switchboard.lgbt – Switchboard is a helpline organization that gives information, support and service for people in the LGBT community, including people considering issues around their sexuality an/or gender identity. Helpline number: 0300-330-0630
- www.transgenderni.org.uk – TransgenderNI (Northern Ireland) is an organization dedicated to improving the lives of trans people across Northern Ireland.
- www.openingdoorslondon.org.uk – Opening Doors London (ODL) is a membership organization that provides social opportunities for specifically for LGBTQ+ people older than 50 in the UK.