To live as a transgender person in today’s world is a constant physical and societal battle for survival. Trans people are assaulted, killed and denied some of the most basic human rights around the world while many in power ignore them all together.
So I thought it would be helpful to put a spotlight on some trans cosplayers who were willing to open up and talk to me about themselves. Hopefully by telling their stories and who they are, we can celebrate the transgender community.
Being a person of color in today’s world is difficult, but I think the people who have one of the most unique and difficult times right now are transgender people of color. In a time where the country singles out transgender people or ignores their very existence, a lot can seem hopeless and frustrating.
With many already feeling marginalized by being a person of color, it only exacerbates the feelings of hopelessness and depression.
In 2013, 72 percent of victims of LGBTQ or HIV-motivated hate violence homicides were transgender women, and 67 percent were transgender women of color, according to the 2013 National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) report. In 2018, at least 22 transgender people were killed due to violence, according to a report by the Human Rights Campaign, with 82 percent of them were women of color; 64 percent were under the age of 35; 55 percent lived in the South.
I also wanted to focus on cosplayers of color particularly because cosplay – the activity of “costume and play” – is an interesting vehicle for people of color and members of the LGBT community to use in order to explore their identity. This is because cosplay lends us the ability to both look and act like other characters who may not be the same race or assigned gender. Cosplay is a wonderful activity in which you can be anything you want to be, and it’s something that should also be recognized for what trans cosplayers do with it.
Here are some trans cosplayers of color whom I have had the pleasure of talking to and learning about:
Screen name: swordsafety
Pronouns: he/him and she/her
Bryson first got into cosplay around 2011 when he wanted to be Beast Boy from Teen Titans and a friend mentioned to him about comic and anime conventions. His first cosplay was what he called an “ugly Beast Boy cosplay” with green eye contacts and body suit. From there, Bryson was hooked on cosplay.
Cosplay was also was a way to help him become comfortable with the idea of being another gender than his assigned one by cosplaying characters of other genders.
“I didn’t mind getting all the he/him’s from strangers and was actually very proud of myself when people would go ‘Oh, hey, wow! I had no idea you were a girl!'” he said. “I thrived off of it.”
Currently, he cosplays mostly black or black-coded characters, but not out of his desire to stay in his comfort zone. He cosplays them because he feels the most like himself when he cosplays a character like himself. He’s cosplayed outside his race before, but its not very often.
It’s been about 4 years since he came out and has thankfully been accepted by his parents, even if they don’t fully understand it, he said.
But that still doesn’t mean he hasn’t faced adversity for being himself in a world that has done nothing but challenge his existence. As a black trans man, Bryson said black culture has definitely affected his feeling of being trans.
With today’s narrow beauty standards, Byrson said he feels like he needs to be 10 times better than non-black, cisgender (accepted genders assigned at birth) contestants in cosplay competitions.
“People have a very specific set of expectations for black men, let alone black trans men, most of them are anti black biases,” he said. “Hypermasculinity is for the birds though, I don’t fuck with that. I’ll be in heels and bundles until I die”
More than anything, Bryson chooses to be himself in such difficult times like these for one reason: he couldn’t keep on not being himself.
When did you first discover you were trans?
“In my dorm room sitting on my bed in my very, very isolating little room. I didn’t want to be a girl anymore, I don’t know why. I was just tired of it. It wasn’t like a super split decision; there were other things building up to me making that decision. My friend had recently come out a few years earlier and I was like ‘Oh, wow, you can do that? You can just be a boy…? Cool.’”
Was your cosplay ever a vehicle used for you to explore yourself?
“Cosplay helped me open the doors gender-wise, I felt really good cosplaying as a dude. To the point where I was like… man, wow, would love to do this 24/7. And then I met a lot of other trans people who showed me that it was okay to experiment. I remember my mom was super not okay with me using a binder, because like health issues? I’ve grown to hate them now, as well.”
Why do you like cosplaying? What do you get out of it?
“I really like acting or at least the concept of acting, but I don’t want to be an actor. So, this is a good in between of getting to roleplay and exist as a character, while also not having to do much? Like just walking around and embodying and portraying a character you really like is fun. Plus, I like being able to say ‘I made this’ and like show off all my hard work. I’ve also met a ton of really cool people because of it, people I can now call my friends.”
Pronouns: He/him and fae/faer
Nyred is one of the youngest trans cosplayers who have reached out to me, and his journey into adulthood will be heavily affected by how he chooses to carry himself and his identity. Although he is bi-racial, being both black and white, he identifies with Bajan culture since it’s closest to his genetic roots.
He enjoys theater, music and history, aspiring to one day become a historian and write commentary plays.
Nyred got into cosplay in middle school but started up again a year or two ago. He discovered he was trans around his freshman year of high school. For a time, he identified as a demiboy before coming out. A demiboy, or demiman, is a person who partially identifies as a man.
In 2017 he fully came out as trans, which his mother and siblings have been very supportive of. Still, he’s faced some criticism from others for cosplaying women.
“I am a dysphoric trans man, but I have no issues dressing up as a girl,” he said. “It’s all in good fun and I can separate the cosplay from me.”
Dysphoria is the sensation transgender people usually feel when they are uncomfortable with their assigned gender identity.
He’s also been referred to as a “snowflake,” a term many on the political right call Milennials or liberals who they believe only identify with other genders, sexuality or cultures for the sake of being or feeling unique. It’s a derogatory term used to not only trivialize the gender dysphoria many transgender people experience, but to demoralize their validity.
With a world that makes being trans not only difficult but dangerous, why did you choose now to come out?
I’d rather be comfortable with my identity and fearful for my life than in the closet and not able to express myself. I also have a fear of the police but I don’t let that stop me from being able to leave my house.
Why do you like cosplaying, what do you get out of it?
“Cosplaying is a fun way for me to dress up as a favorite character and getting to express myself through fashion I don’t wear every day.”
Ferris first found out he was transgender when he discovered the label around 2009. Before then, he was going through serious bouts of being uncomfortable in his own skin as well as the way the world saw and treated him.
“Showering was hard. I hated how I dressed, I hated my body, I hated how I was treated in my romantic and sexual relationships, but I didn’t really have a word to apply to all those feelings,” he said. “I discovered terms like ‘non-conforming’ and ‘androgynous’ and embraced those pretty hard once I learned about them, mostly because at the time I was under the impression that to be ‘properly’ transgender, a transgender man had to be attracted to cis women. I think once I learned that there were plenty of trans men who identified as gay or presented in a gender non-conforming way, I felt pretty good and comfortable saying that I was trans!”
Ferris has participated in cosplay since around 2007 when he was into manga like D.Gray-man and Prince of Tennis, and found out about anime conventions where the concept of cosplay was introduced to him.
Through cosplay, Ferris found a lot about himself by being more comfortable with his identity the more he cosplayed characters of various genders. At first, he stuck to male characters so he could be easily identified as male, but eventually he started branching out so as not to miss the opportunities for cosplays he wanted to do.
Ferris came out completely to everyone in his life only two years ago, but started coming out in circles since 2010 with relatively positive acceptance. Again, this was the least of his problems, he said, as Asian men are fetishized and many people also openly mocked him wearing feminine clothing. People would call him a “boy in a skirt” or “Crossdresser Trap” which is a disgusting slur to trans people.
“I’ve been at cosplay photoshoots and gatherings where people yelled ‘IT’S A TRAP’ and other shitty memes and been too scared to stand up for myself,” he said. “Hell, I’ve been harassed by fabric store employees who overheard my friends call me ‘he’ and decided it was their job to convince my friends and I that I wasn’t ‘really a man.'”
Ferris currently cosplays many female or feminine characters that may make him appear to look like a woman, but knows that he is valid as a man. Even though he identifies as a man, his aesthetics can delve into things society associates with women and girls. This has been something he has worked on being comfortable with and has received relentless ridicule for it, even within his own community.
“It’s hard to explain that I feel more confident in myself the more I embrace the cute things and the ‘feminine’ things I love, and I think because a lot of people don’t understand that, they feel like I should be invalidated or told I’m ‘pretend’ trans,” he said. I’ve seen really hurtful art passed around twitter and tumblr where ‘fake trans men’ were drawn basically how I dress in real life, and it sucks!”
But no matter the trouble, Ferris remains steadfast in his fight to be his own person, and won’t let societal norms and ignorance get in the way of that.
What does it feel like being both trans and a person of color?
“Not going to lie, sometimes it feels incredibly alienating, especially as a transgender man. Most of what you see in terms of trans men in media are: white, thin, tall, and stereotypically masculine. It’s hard feeling like you’ll never measure up to that, especially when you’re a short guy who loves pink. But I think the opposite side of the coin is that in that void of representation is this huge opportunity for me to make my voice heard and to show people that there’s no single way to be trans, there’s no single way to be a man or look like a man, and there’s no single way to be Asian in America. So even though it feels incredibly lonely sometimes, I’m really inspired to put my best foot forward and make sure that when I speak up, it’s in a way that is as inclusive and open-minded as possible.”
Has the culture of your race or ethnicity affected your feeling of being trans?
“Definitely — I feel like white trans people don’t understand that for a lot of PoC, our families are important to us and we can’t just cut them off or ignore their feelings about us and our lives. I’m Japanese and Chinese and both sides of my family have been so important to me for my whole life, so I definitely felt like to live my fullest and most complete life, and to fully transition, I had to make them a part of my experience being trans. It was also really hard to think about changing my name legally, because it was very female but also something my parents gave me, and I didn’t want them to feel like I was throwing that away!”
With a world that makes being transgender not only difficult but dangerous, why did you choose now to come out?
“I worked with a therapist who was also trans for a period of time, and he described living with dysphoria and misgendering as a kind of slow torture, and honestly that’s how it felt like to me. I chose to come out because while being trans is dangerous, I didn’t feel any safer or happier being in the closet. I definitely still think that, in my situation, even with the danger, I’m happier knowing I’m not suffocating to death living as someone I’m not.”
This project has been nothing but a labor of love. As an ally to the transgender community, I knew of some of their struggles, but I’ve learned so much from just talking with such diverse and interesting people.
I still have other trans cosplayers of color whom I spoke with to highlight, so I will return again to share their stories as well.
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