Toronto Comicon was in full swing this year. As with any con, at Comicon, you can expect to see a parade of photo-worthy cosplayers with intricately designed get-ups, complete with makeup and prop-making skills that rival those of million dollar movie productions. However, among the crowd of foam armour and unrealistically coloured wigs stands an interesting type of cosplayer, like me: the crossplayer.

What is cosplaying and crossplaying?

Cosplaying aims to bring specific characters from your favourite franchises to life, with detail in mind. You can either buy a ready-made cosplay or make one from scratch, but the key factor that sets it apart from a Halloween costume is that cosplaying is a year-round hobby that isn’t locked to a specific celebration or holiday. The term ‘cosplay’ is a simple portmanteau of “costume play,” and has a history in geek and nerd conventions. Before the advent of online retailers, when these conventions were solely for ‘geeks,’ you’d have to have extensive prop making and crafts skills to make these outfits and potentially extend that knowledge into creating prop weapons. 

And what about ‘crossplay’? It combines the previous idea of cosplay, but adds ‘crossdress’ into the mix. It goes both ways — you’ll often find men dressing as women and women dressing as men.

Crossplay isn’t as easy as it sounds — though anyone can throw on a dress or wear a wig, it takes considerable effort to mask certain features typical of each end of the biological spectrum in order to fully immerse yourself as a character that may identify as another gender. 

As a cisgender man, I had to learn how to effectively use a contour palette to narrow my nose, and raise my cheekbones and chin to better exaggerate a feminine face shape — or so I was told by the drag queen makeup tutorial I watched on YouTube. Another hurdle was my body — I’ve taken the liberty to learn how to properly tuck so the dreaded bulge doesn’t show up when I’m in those uncomfortably tight-fitting anime girl outfits. Others may also opt to look into breast forms.

So crossplaying adds an extra few layers of process to the already demanding and time-consuming hobby of cosplaying, emphasizing better makeup skills and some temporary alterations to your body that may be uncomfortable for prolonged periods. 

Why is crossplaying special?

I had no idea crossplaying was an actual thing for a long time. Most of the examples I saw on the internet were bearded men in Sailor Moon seifukus — not exactly an appealing look to me. However, deep inside, I’ve always wanted to cosplay women characters because I could always see myself as them; their personalities and aspirations always resonated with my own. I’ve also always found lolita fashion, a sub-genre of fashion from Japan that takes heavy inspiration from Victorian-era dresses, to be way more endearing than a gentleman’s formal attire of a suit and tie. 

Eventually, the omnipotent YouTube algorithm exposed me to people like YouTuber Natt or the professional League of Legends player Zach Scuderi, who did crossplay regularly, and that got me thinking. If only I could be a girl and just wear what they were wearing! But wait — Zach and Natt were wearing them, and they’re cisgender men, as far as I’m aware. So why couldn’t I?

So one day, after weeks of debating and saving money, I went to my local drugstore and filled my basket with eyeliner, lipstick, contour, and some cheap brushes, and I ordered a wig from AliExpress. I asked my friend if she had any unused makeup and I swooped them out of her hands. After an hour of cursing and foundation-crusted fingers, I finally put on my wig. And what do you know — I actually liked how I looked! Although my eyeliner was completely wonky, my friend was there to support me and her kindness and positivity motivated me. For the first few months, I crossdressed in my room, before I eventually went outside and let others see me in a wig and makeup. 

My first cosplay outside closed doors was Killjoy from Valorant, a cosplay built completely from thrift store finds. My friends were super supportive and complimented my skills, and I kept pushing myself to try new things. The first cosplay I brought to a con, Anime North, was Sucrose from Genshin Impact. Despite the appalled looks of con-goers when I replied to their photo requests with my husky, masculine, “Sure thing, man,” many of them were still overjoyed to get a photo with me. 

Crossplaying let me discover a passion that I never knew I had. I mean, I knew I enjoyed lolita fashion thanks to Pandora Hearts, but I was never really able to justify channeling or expressing that aesthetic appreciation anywhere. This art form has allowed me to break free from the gender norms hammered into my head — that only women should wear dresses or makeup — and turn that into something that lets me meet wonderful new people at cons and school clubs. I’ve found myself to be more confident and happier once I had the chance to dress like my favourite characters or in what people often see as girls’ clothing, whether it be a miniskirt, stockings, a lolita dress, or skinny jeans. 

Initially, I thought makeup would suffice, but it turns out learning to shave with a straight razor or foamsmithing — a fancy word for cutting and shaping EVA foam, a type of foam used in interlocking gym mats, into costume parts — is a nice skill to have, too. 

It’s a never-ending journey of learning new skills and improving my craft, and that’s one of the many things I love about crossplaying. The road to self-discovery and burning myself with hot glue has been arduous, but it’s made me into a happier, better, and more confident person with lots of supportive friends and strangers and a cool new cosplay Instagram to boot.