After Bruce Jenner revealed his new complete look as Caitlyn Jenner and appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair, people are really talking about sexuality. But in the cosplay world this isn’t anything knew, sexuality is an acceptable topic and one that frequently overlaps. In cosplay people sometimes refer to this switching of genders, as gender-bender cosplay. It sounds kind of offensive, but some cosplayers have adopted the term.
In reality gender roles are often confused in cosplay – reflecting the drawings of anime and manga comics that so often show male characters with feminine features. This is, in fact, nothing new. These characters are often referred to as bishonen, which literally translated means “beautiful youth (boy)” and it refers to a young man whose beauty and appeal transcends genders and sexuality. This androgynous look is part of cosplay – take for example characters like Cruella de Vil Generswap – and in my opinion actually breaks down staid traditional gender roles that still exist even in modern society – despite Caitlyn Jenner’s attempts at breaking them down. What’s more, in cosplay these characters are often the strongest, most talented and more often than not the lead character in the story – showing the acceptance and strength of feminine male characters in cosplay.
The idea actually goes back to the medieval Chinese Imperial Court in Japan and the homosocial ideals they employed in their rule. And these ideals can still be seen today where women are often more attracted to bishonen men, as they look more like women and has led to a unique relationship structure in Japan between men and women.
Non-Japanese fans of anime and manga, particularly those in the US, often use the term bishonen to describe a homosexual character – even through this is not strictly the correct description. The term can also be used to describe a character who is drawn as female, but has male parts. This ultimately androgynous look is so popular in Japan that there are even bishonen agencies. Are these bishonen men and women really just ahead of the rest of the world? In some ways their mixed sexuality creates an almost equality in sexuality, and if the rest of the world could accept these inclinations, perhaps cosplay wouldn’t be such a subculture anymore.
In cosplay there is also a niche sub-groub of animaego players, these are usually kigurumis (or mascots) and wear masks over their face. They are usually imitating a human character, and this group is not as widely accepted as the bishonen players. A lot of these cosplayers are women, but there are also a number of men that wear the masks to behave and imitate female characters. This behaviour is actually more frequent in, with men often dressing up as female mascots for an event or a job.
Obviously there is no escaping from the idea that dressing up suggests some sort of sexuality, although this is often a misunderstood message by non-cosplayers. As with any subculture, people look on the behaviour of cosplay as suspicious, raunchy, and underground, and some have even suggested it verges on pornography. There is, of course, a scene for erotic cosplaying, but mostly cosplayers are representing what is free and correct, and in some ways, why shouldn’t they advertise their sexuality – it’s theirs to advertise.
In my opinion what appears to be happening in cosplay is freedom. Cosplay is a world that allows people to break away from the normal ideas of sexuality, and explore the differences and similarities – without judgement. And, in fact, it isn’t so new, these crossover ideals already existed for centuries in Japan, and no doubt in other medieval cultures. People live under very strict rules that dictate both behaviour and sexuality – particularly in Japan – and cosplay defies the rules. Maybe it’s time people started embracing the diverse culture of cosplay, and stopped being scared of their sexuality. A bit like Caitlyn.
Image source: Deviant Art