Is gender just a costume? An exploratory study of crossplay

  • Jessica Ethel Tompkins Indiana University
Keywords: Cosplay, Costume play, Gender performativity


Cosplay, a portmanteau of costume and play, is a costume inspired by a fictional character originating from a variety of media texts and is typically worn to pop culture conventions. When cosplayers dress up as a fictional character of a different gender than the cosplayer's self-identified gender, this is known as crossplay. It has been argued that this fannish activity challenges status quo notions of gender through bodily performance, but some scholars have been skeptical about the emancipatory politics surrounding crossplay culture. Thus, an online survey probed on the motivations to do crossplay as well as on the lived experiences of crossplayers. Responses to questions about crossplay motivations as well as social interactions that occurred while wearing crossplay were analyzed using the grounded theory approach. Results suggest that respondents are motivated to perform crossplay by an attachment to a favorite fictional character rather than to express alternative gender identities. However, some respondents indicated that crossplay was a socially acceptable way to present oneself as another gender. A close look at participants' responses about positive and negative feedback from other convention attendees while the participants were engaging in crossplay indicates that gender inequality persists for self-identified men and nonbinary individuals who choose to dress as female characters. This suggests that masculine performativity remains hegemonic even within the play space of fan conventions.