Cosplay is all the rage these days, with grown men and women going to great lengths to accurately turn themselves into their favorite pop culture icons. Less known to the general public is cosplay’s weirder younger sibling, crossplay. A portmanteau of “crossdressing” and “cosplay,” crossplay is the art of turning yourself into a pop culture figure of the opposite sex. Sometimes it’s done for laughs, like a bulky hairy man wearing a Slave Leia bikini. Sometimes it’s done as a genderflip, with women making themselves into female versions of male characters, or vice-versa. But the tricky one is true crossdressing, where a cosplayer legitimately tries to make themselves look as much like the opposite sex as possible.
I’ve been attending Free Comic Book Day at Third Eye Comics in Annapolis for the last few years now, where they put on an annual cosplay contest. Last year I went as the Scarlet Spider, although my effort was pretty half-assed. I looked ok, but my suit was incomplete and nowhere up to snuff compared to the other contestants. I knew that I’d really have to up my game if I was going to compete with the quality of cosplay out there.
Enter crossplay. When I looked into it, I realized that making a serious effort at crossplaying might be so outlandish that it’d be my best shot. Could I, an aging and overweight male, sufficiently turn myself into a woman that the judges would crown me a winner? Here’s how it went.
You’re Your Own Worst Body Shamer. I’m aware that segments of the cosplay community have become incredibly supportive of all races, sexes, and body types being able to cosplay as whoever they want. If you’re a well-muscled blond man and who wants to cosplay as Steve Rogers because you look just like him, that’s cool. But if you’re a plus-size black woman in a wheelchair who wants to cosplay as Steve Rogers, that’s also cool and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
That said, I know how I look in a mirror. I’ve got a male face and a tummy that should drop 30 pounds. I prefer accuracy in cosplay, especially when I’m doing it, so I worried about how I’d actually look doing this. I just don’t have supermodel proportions and that’s not changing anytime soon. Even then, significant exercise would only give me a more male shape, and nothing shy of hormones is doing to widen my hips and bust. I want to “pass” and know that’s a bridge too far right now.
Really, if you’re going to crossplay, just suck it up and do it regardless of how you look. If you need to, work your body type into the equation. I’m tall and in my late 30s, so I’m not going to make a convincing Squirrel Girl. But I could play some of comics’ bigger girls, like She-Hulk or some others of that size. In the end, I opted to be Power Girl, because like me, she’s pretty tall and known for her muscles. I figured that P.G. was my best shot to use my body to my advantage.
Body Hair is the Enemy. If you’re a dude who’s been blessed with a relatively hairless body, crossplay should come easy. For someone like me, I’d be better off cosplaying nude and just telling people that I’m Chewbacca. But no, I committed to being Power Girl, which meant that my hair had to go. All of it.
You’re not really conscious of just how much hair you have until you try to get it off. I’ve got pretty tough facial hair and a healthy fur coat over the rest of me. Conversely, Power Girl wears bare legs and, naturally, no beard. You’d think the chest hair could stay, but it actually showed through the leotard I’d be wearing. So no, almost all of my hair had to go.
There’s three ways to get rid of body hair en masse: shaving, waxing, and chemically. Shaving, of course, only takes things down to the skin and quickly turns into uncomfortable stubble, so that was mostly out. That left me with waxing and chemicals. Waxing is great because it lifts hair out by the roots in large clusters, leaving you smooth as an infant. The downside is that it hurts like hell. Go on, pluck out a single hair on your arm right now. If that hurt at all, try to imagine that multiplied by a thousand. It looked great, but it’s also some of the worst self-inflicted pain I’ve ever done to myself. Oh, and waxing my chest was the worst—that hair was rooted like Scientology to Tom Cruise.
Where I ran out of waxing strips, I fell back on depilatory cream. This product basically melts the hair off of you, but you have to time it just right. Leave it on for too short a time, it doesn’t melt anything. Leave it on for too long, and you give yourself minor chemical burns. Unfortunately, I did the latter.
Oh, and then there’s getting rid of facial hair. I got my eyebrows threaded into a more feminine shape, which involves going to the mall and getting a total stranger to rip your eyebrows out, one at a time, with a series of strings. For my face—well, we’ll talk about that in a bit, but I tweezed out my own moustache in order to get a clean look on at least part of my face. Anyway, that hurt, especially where I’m used to just shaving.
What I’m saying is: ladies, I’ll never understand all of your pain, but I at least get part of it.
I Have No Idea What I’m Doing. Listen, when you’ve worn nothing but men’s clothing your whole life, you really don’t know how to shop as a woman. What the hell are cup sizes? What’s the difference between eyeshadow and eyeliner? How do I put this stuff on? What an adventure this was.
Consider bras. If you’ve never worn one, how are you supposed to understand how they work, much less shop for one? At least I figured out that I have a size 42 chest (determined by running a tape measure around my chest at the nipples). I made a guess that I’m a C-cup based on the fake boobs I bought from some eBay seller in China. But actually shopping for a bra was an adventure.
First, I had to work up the courage to walk through the women’s department at Wal-Mart and find something that looked good. I found a white thing which I thought would work well with my fake boobs. Then I brought it home, only to have my wife tell me that 1) it was showing up too easily against my leotard (apparently, contrary to instinct, white doesn’t go on white) and 2) my nipples were poking through and needed padding so that I wouldn’t look like a perky whore. Sigh. Back to Wal-Mart to return the bra and do the whole thing over again.
Makeup was also an adventure. I knew that there’s foundation, powder, blush, mascara, lipstick, and more, but it’s amazing to see how it actually all comes together. My wife’s makeup drawer is a morass of supplies and I never knew why she needed all that stuff. Now I get it. Hell, I needed two or three coats of foundation to get rid of the stubble on my face. Eyeliner brings out the eyes and gives them a more feminine shape. Blush gives your cheeks some highlights, although when they say to paint the “apples of your face,” they don’t actually mean that you draw apples.
I’m fortunate that I have a patient wife who helped work on my face that morning and that I ran into a friend who really helped highlight things with some feminine contouring. Without them, odds are I’d have made myself look like a cheap prostitute.
Reshaping Your Body is Painful. Like I said, there wasn’t much I could legitimately do here—it’s not like I could temporarily inflate my hips for the day. But I did wear fake breasts for a few hours because, of course, Power Girl is notorious for her chest. Listen, they’re not comfortable. It made crossing my chest hard and put weight on my back that isn’t normally there. I also had to shove my feet into go-go boots that were just this side of uncomfortable. I don’t have a feminine waist, so I had to pull my belt extra tight to create the illusion that I was just a little thinner. And let’s not get started on having to hide my maleness, and how that pretty much restricted me from going to the bathroom once I suited up.
Once again, ladies: I now appreciate that some of the pain I went through for a few hours is what you go through every day. You have my respect.
People Are Surprisingly Supportive. After all the effort, people were actually impressed at how far I went to turn myself into a woman. The folks at the comic shop loved it and even asked me to pose for pictures. I got lots of compliments and one woman even told me that she couldn’t tell I was a man until she got up close. If anyone thought I was ugly, they didn’t let me know to my face. There’s probably still large segments of America where me dressing up like this would get me made fun of at best, but among other nerds, I was pretty popular for a few hours.
Oh, and you want to know how it all turned out. So, here’s me:
You just know that guy was checking me out.
I didn’t win the cosplay contest (and that’s OK—the winning contestants were amazing), but the judges did tell me that they felt bad I didn’t get a prize and they were legitimately impressed with my work. I think that’s what made my efforts worthwhile—prizes aside, it was nice to see people actually be supportive and tell me that I did a good job.
I’m not sure I’ll be crossplaying again anytime soon. My wife thought it was good fun, but I think she’d like to have her husband back for now. But it was definitely an impressive experience that gave me a good look at what ladies put themselves through every day. If you cosplayers ever want to try crossplaying, be prepared for an experience which will challenge not only your costume-making skills, but your very perceptions of the opposite sex.