Gender & Cosplay: A Q&A with Melinda Gross & Hanahmiya

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In our last summer cosplay article, Emily interviewed cosplayer Briana Lawrence. In this piece, Kat talks crossplay and gender fluidity in cosplay.

Cosplay is a great way to explore other identities, whether it be that of a ninja or a princess, but it’s also an interesting way to explore gender, be it your own or your characters’. For some cosplayers, there’s the appeal of re-designing a signature outfit to fit a different gender, the alternate universe possibilities, or even just getting to wear an outfit originally conceived for a man while being someone at a different place along the gender spectrum. For others, the fun comes from mastering the ability to transform themselves into a character as accurately as they can, including their gender, though it may not line up with their own gender identification.
I’ve been cosplaying for about four years now and find myself going the first route, changing a character’s gender to fit my own (also known as doing a Rule 63 version of a character or a genderswap, though both of those terms tend to be unfortunately binary). I like interpreting male characters as women in part for more aesthetic and comfort reasons: I don’t feel like I have the body type to pull off a traditionally masculine” or androgynous look and because my hair is currently long enough that short wigs are a hassle.
But there’s another aspect that appeals to me. I like cosplaying characters that are “like me” in some way, including focusing on Latinx charactersI’m currently working my way through Miss America Chavez’s plethora of Jamie McKelvie fashions. But by making a character a cis woman, I get to stake out a little more of my own self into a world I want to play around in. I get to own characters in a slightly different way by transforming them to fit me a little better. I love Teen Wolf‘s Scott McCall, for example, but maybe I want a character like Scott McCall who is also a woman. Thus, my go-to Teen Wolf cosplay is Scout McCall, who wears lacrosse skirts (and has long hair).
It can also be a fun way to interpret a characterlast year, I got to participate in a photo shoot for Rule 63 comics characters, and it was amazing to see how everyone designed their costumes. The whole shoot felt like fresh takes on some staid designs. A big bonus for me, personally, of cosplaying an originally male character was the fact that he was designed to be in a far less form-fitting SHIELD suit than, say, Maria Hill is normally drawn in. Changing up the gender of your chosen character can be a creative way to dial up or dial down the sexy factor of a costume and can often be a way to poke fun at the disparity of coverage men and women get in genre media (try doing a quick search for Powerboy cosplayers on Instagram or Tumblr).
Melinda Gross as Lex Luthor, photo by  John Austin

Melinda Gross as Lex Luthor, photo by John Austin

I thought it would be fun to see what draws others to this form of character crossplay, I did a short Q&A with cosplayer, writer, and Batgirl Melinda Gross, who I have been fortunate enough to hang out with while she’s in full-cowl mode. She has a truly formidable portfolio of gender changed characters, from Ash from Evil Dead to Lex Luthor.

What inspired you to change up a character’s gender for cosplay?

I’m a huge DC superhero fan, but I’m not always the biggest fan of the revealing female costumes. Not because I don’t feel comfortable in them, but honestly because I don’t like walking around at conventions in them. They’re rarely comfortable for a long period of time, and you often get a lot of lewd remarks from gross people to parents asking you to cover up your comic book accurate costume in front of their children. Not to mention, there are way more male characters running around the comic book universe than female, so why not show how the same traits that go into a male character could also work as a female?
Melinda Gross as Star Lord, by WeNeals Photography

Star Lord by WeNeals Photography

What’s the most appealing part of changing a character’s gender, both personally and design-wise?

The most appealing part for me is actually selfish. I’m a DD cup, and I hate the idea of strapping down my chest. It gets sweaty, and I hate it. However the second most appealing part is that I get a lot of creative license in putting together a costume. I prefer to show off my curves, so I get to play with a lot of fun base construction and a lot of neat makeup! I don’t go too crazy; I still want the outfit to be true to the character, but sometimes working within that box actually leads more to working out of the box!
Red Lantern Hal Jordan, by Inoli Images

Red Lantern Guy Gardner, by Inoli Images

What’s the biggest difficulty in doing so?

The biggest difficulty is trying to keep things comic book-y without going too masculine, but still keeping the feminine balanced. I don’t feel that I need to pretend to be a guy to represent a thing I love, so I don’t. Some people totally do, and their stuff is amazing. I’m always impressed with people who can do fake stubble, its insane. It’s just not a step in cosplay that’s really for me. I have two costumes that I didn’t really change anything on from their initial male incarnation. In my Red Lantern Guy Gardner, I often get mistaken for a man until I turn around (because boobs) due to the boxy nature of the men’s leather jacket I use for the costume. On the other hand, in my Fraction run Immortal Iron Fist, I often get accused of trying to be a slutty ninja even though that costume is exactly what the male character wears (deep V down to the navel, but with the mark of the Iron Fist across the character’s chest). And that is also just because I have boobs.

For more insights and costumes, check her out on Twitter!

The second option, dressing as a character of a different gender and embodying that gender, is known in some circles as crossplay, a portmanteau of “crossdressing” and “cosplay.” To dig a little more into that experience, I managed to catch one of my favorite cosplayers, Hanahmiya, on some downtime right after Anime Expo. I first met them dressed as a fashionable Kate Bishop a few years ago and have been in awe of their ability to transform themselves totally into characters, from Marvel’s Loki to Black Widow to the whole cast of Psycho-Pass (not all at once).
Hanahmiya as Shinya from Psycho pass!, photo by Robbins Studios Photography and Fine Art

Hanahmiya as Shinya from Psycho pass!, photo by Robbins Studios Photography and Fine Art

What first got you interested in crossplay?

Crossplay was sort of what I gravitated towards naturally. Before I knew there was a name for it, I knew that I wanted to be my favorite characters, most of whom happened to be male. L from Death Note was one of the first cosplays I ever did, and I never thought anything of it aside from the fact that thirteen year old me thought he was just the coolest.

What’s your favorite part of that fluidity?

It’s twofold. From a personal perspective, I never feel as much myself as when I can entirely transform into someone else. As an agender person, there’s something that feels very right about being able to imitate both sides of the binary. From a performance aspect, I love the reactions I get going from female to male and back again. People who only see me crossplay occasionally forget that I’m also very comfortable presenting as very sultry and very femme.

Hanahmiya as Rei from Evangelion

As Rei from Evangelion.

How would you describe your cosplay aesthetic?

My aesthetic is … bishounen extraterrestrial? Ha, I have a hard time describing my own cosplay aesthetic, because I have a wide variety of characters that I portray. As an agender person, my idea is neutral perfection, and as a cosplayer I manipulate that to be male, female, or something else depending on the role I’m playing.

To check out more costumes from this “cosplayer, alien, [and]tiny eldritch horror,” you can check out their Facebook cosplay page!

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About Author

Copyeditor Kat Overland is a displaced Texan now living in Washington, DC, where she is perpetually behind on reading her pull list. A mid-twenties Latina, she can be seen casually cosplaying America Chavez and interrogating texts via queer & disability theory.

4 Comments

  1. I’ve never cosplayed before, but i’ll be doing a cosplay in a couple months for a renaissance faire. I’m a trans girl pre op [still present as male, only two friends know], but I’m going as a woman for this event. It’s exciting, as ive never once cross dressed before.
    I’ve got an outfit picked out to conceal my masculinity, unfortunately i won’t be able to speak due to my male voice, so I’ll be playing a mute character, and my friend will aid in communication.
    Im really hopeful for this event, but I’m also very nervous since it’s my first time for many of these things, and I’m afraid of being caught because i have no idea how well my area handles trans people. But im trying anyway!

    • Kat Overland on

      I don’t know where you are, but I hope that your renaissance fair is as tolerant as the ones I’ve been to. Good luck & I hope you have a lot of fun!

    • Ginnis Tonik on

      How exciting, Lily! Best of luck! Ren faire people in my experience have been pretty open – I mean it’s a lot of geeks and theatre nerds. 🙂