Cosplay is a combination of the words costume and play (it was coined in Japan in 1984, if you didn’t know, babe). It’s a rapidly growing hobby in which all kinds of people create and wear costumes to represent a character.
As with many other “alternative” hobbies, cosplay attracts many of those seeking a community they can be different in. Many cosplayers find the experimentation and freedom in expressing different looks a way to explore different gender expressions. Many cosplayers also feel emboldened to come out as queer through the support of the cosplay community. Cosplay is now one of the most diverse and prolific communities on the internet and beyond — so of course there are many amazing queer cosplayers slaying the scene.
GO asked six queer, non-binary, and transgender cosplayers about their experiences cosplaying and the cosplay community. Here’s what they had to say.
With a massive 80k+ following on Instagram, Riss is one of the most prolific queer cosplayers out there despite only getting serious about cosplay two years ago. Her openness about being gay and gender-fluid has only added to her appreciation in the cosplay community.
“I feel that there is a lot of overlap between the LGBTQ community and the cosplay community… I guess it boils down to two communities that both revolve around acceptance, doing what you love with who you love without shame, and expressing yourself,” Riss tells GO. “It kinda makes sense that two spaces like that would overlap. I would say over half of the cosplayers I know identify as part of the LGBTQ community.”
When asked what it was she loved about cosplaying, Riss said, “my two favorite things on Earth are creating art and dressing up… I can dress up and be proud to show off the art I worked hard on.”
Al Gardner @KnightArcana
Al sometimes calls cosplay a “gender playground.” An apt description, especially for them as cosplay was a place they could comfortably experience with gender presentation that they’d never considered or even been exposed to before. “It’s been incredibly formative for me in learning more about myself and carving out my own identity.”
“I think many LGBTQ folk are drawn to what cosplay has to offer because not only does it offer a diverse toolset to play with your identity, but it’s also great form of escapism… I think [that] is especially attractive for young people who feel confined by their daily life in some way.”
Shivania started cosplaying eight years ago. While they’ve seen harassment of queer cosplayers, especially people of color, overall they find it a welcoming and important space, especially as it continues to grow.
“I started cosplaying before I knew I was queer, and the biggest thing I’ve noticed is that since I don’t use traditional pronouns, it’s very easy for me to get misgendered by strangers/people I encounter while in costume. This is also something I encounter out of costume. But over all, the experience of cosplaying as a queer person is extremely liberating.”
Sasha Katz @sashaforthewin
When her cosplays went viral for their extreme transformations, Sasha’s cosplaying life took a turn. “When I first started, we all called it costuming and called ourselves costumers, and there were not as many people that cosplayed. It wasn’t rare or unheard of, just not as common and not as accepted.” But now, things are quite different.
“I constantly meet wonderful queer and trans people and generally feel safe to be openly myself around most people I meet at cons.” Her favorite part of cosplaying is the process of getting to know the character through figuring out how to make them.
Jes Martindale @QueersPlay
Jes helps run QueersPlay, which is a group that is dedicated to creating safer spaces in fandom for queer and trans people, and provide resources to the most vulnerable members of the trans community. “Cosplay has definitely allowed me to explore my gender identity more but can still be hard to explore different types of characters as a fat, disabled, femme queer person,” Jes tells GO.
While she believes cosplay is making great strides to be a safe space for queer people, it’s not quite there yet. “It’s generally really great except for the cases of toxic masculinity, homophobia, misogyny, transphobia, and transmisogyny which can run rampant in convention spaces.”
Selina Groh Heart of the Mountain Cosplay
For Selina, cosplay changed everything. It helped them realize they were transgender. “It was because I kept experimenting with gender — from the beginning I enjoyed cosplaying male characters at least as much as female ones, if not more. Once I got into the dwarven corner of the Tolkien cosplay community I began to experiment more with things like beards etc, cosplaying nb dwarves, female dwarves with giant beards, male dwarves etc. And I realized that it felt much better and more like me when people referred to me as ‘they’ or ‘he’ and one thing led to the other.”
Selina finds the coplay community safe “most of the time.” While “not everyone is as open and accepting of transgender people,” they say, “you have to surround yourself with the right kind of people and not take anyone’s shit.”