Genderbend vs. Crossplay: Using these Terms Correctly

Every hobby has its jargon, and cosplay is no exception. There are a handful of terms that you’re unlikely to find elsewhere, and since there’s no required reading to explain all the basics of the big world of conventions,  some of the meanings of these words may elude people, especially if you’re not a cosplayer yourself.

Today I’m outlining the terms “genderbend” and “crossplay“, as these two seem to get confused constantly and it’s very relevant to my interests. I’ve seen more than a few published articles misusing these terms, and it gets under my skin. These are two different terms to denote two different things, and using them interchangeably is like randomly switching “cheerleader” for “ballerina” as if those words mean the same thing.

If you interact with nerdy society in any capacity, you really need to know the difference in these terms, as you’re going to be encountering them at some point and probably with some frequency.

What is Genderbending?

Genderbending (also known as genderswapping or Rule 63) is when a cosplayer changes the gender of the CHARACTER. Usually this is changed to match their own gender. For instance, female Rick Grimes, Fem!Joker, female Edward Elric, etc. This would be represented by changing the character’s hair, clothing, etc to represent their changed gender. If you see someone cosplaying Gambit in a skirt, long hair, and boobs, that’s a genderbent version.

These are genderbend cosplays:

Genderbent Ganondorf - the character's appearance has been altered to reflect a feminine look. Cosplayer: Ely Renae Photographer: Emily Smith Photography

Genderbent Ganondorf
Cosplayer: Ely Renae
Photographer: Emily Smith Photography

Elias (male Elsa) Cosplayer: Hakudoushi Cosplay

Elias (male Elsa)
Cosplayer: Hakudoushi Cosplay

Note how the gender of the character has been changed and this is reflected in the cosplayer’s appearance.

What is Crossplaying?

Crossplaying is when a cosplayer is representing themselves as a gender other than their own to match the canon gender of the character. In other words, they are not changing the character. The term is a combination of “crossdress” and “cosplay”, so that makes it easy to understand. Even if someone is doing a less than convincing job of representing themselves as another gender, if they are attempting to portray a character of another gender unaltered, they are crossplaying. For instance, I am a female, and if I am cosplaying a male character without changing his gender, I am crossplaying. If a male cosplayer were to dress as Princess Serenity (as she is) that would be crossplaying.

These are crossplays:

Roman Torchwick from RWBY Cosplayer: Sunlit Cosplay (yours truly) Photographer: Sang Le Cosplay Photography

Roman Torchwick from RWBY
Cosplayer: Sunlit Cosplay (yours truly)
Photographer: Sang Le Cosplay Photography

Yuuko Ichihara from xxxHolic Cosplayer: J.Hart Designs

Yuuko Ichihara from xxxHolic
Cosplayer: J.Hart Designs

Notice how nothing in the appearance of these characters reflects the gender of the cosplayer. The characters are represented in their original gender.

I’m over-explaining to be more clear, but it’s actually very simple:

Change the character’s gender: Genderbending
Change the cosplayer’s gender: Crossplaying

I saw these outfits the other day, and there was a lot of mislabeling and confusion, so I’ll use these as a learning opportunity.

costume_swap_5_by_godohelp-d6lqb7t costume_swap_12_by_godohelp-d6mo9jc

This is some super cool art from deviant user godohelp of leading Disney ladies wearing the clothes of their respective partners (see the full gallery here) that made the rounds across the internet recently. Assuming that they are being cosplayed by women they are not genderbends or crossplays – because neither the gender of the character nor the cosplayer is being changed. They’re simply wearing different outfits.

With canon variations on characters (such as Fionna, etc from Adventure Time), various degrees of success at concealing a cosplayer’s gender and such, I know that the waters can be a little muddy, especially if someone’s cosplaying a character that you’re unfamiliar with. If you’re not sure if someone is genderbending or crossplaying or not, the best thing to do is either avoid using a term or to politely ask.

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