• Costuming: Crossplay

    by  • March 17, 2012 • People & Events • 6 Comments

    Once upon a time, there was a historical LARP chronicle in town. One morning, after a rather bizarre series of dreams that I no longer remember, I woke and exclaimed, “If I ever play in that LARP, I’m going to go as a eunuch!”

    Well. I did play, I did go as a eunuch and it turned out that costuming was quite the experience. Let’s talk about that, shall we?

    Why a Eunuch?

    I’d never had any experience with cross-dressing and I knew I was going to make mistakes along the way. I didn’t want to have to break character to constantly explain that my character was male and being a eunuch gave me an easy way out. If my character had been castrated early, it would explain away some feminine physical traits as well as give me an in-character response when others mistook me for male. There was also the additional benefit of the built-in backstory of an Imperial bureaucrat but that’s really another matter.

    Chest Binding

    I’m not especially busty but if I was going to pull off a male character, I’d need to bind my breasts. My first solution was to scrounge around for tensor bandages and wrap myself up. This was not an ideal solution for probably two major reasons.

    1. Wrapping a tensor bandage so that the pressure applied is even throughout is hard and frustrating. I’m sure if I’d had practice I would have become better at it but my first experience was irritating, to say the least.
    2. Tensor bandages can be bulky so the binding isn’t as effective as it could be.

    Thankfully, about the time I was resigning myself to being uncomfortable all night, a transsexual artist happened to be blogging about his new chest binder, which led to a comment thread that talked about different websites and potential binders. This led me to a company that had, among other things, chest binders that could be used by female-to-male transsexuals where I located a very nice nylon chest binder. (Let’s set aside, for the moment, the extremely problematic fact that I can’t find a link to that page from the company’s front page, shall we?)

    Aside from a very silly wriggly dance that’s required to get the thing on, the chest binder is awesome. It evenly compresses without being overly stifling and when I wear it under a tight shirt I look like I have no more than nicely developed pec muscles.


    Given the whole eunuch thing, fake facial hair was out the window. That was probably a good thing since I’m the kind of silly perfectionist who would spend far too much money and time on getting it just right until I realized that I didn’t have the time or patience for it.

    Given the number of makeup tutorials on youtube, I decided to go in that direction. Searching for “makeup for men” led to lots of tips on eyeliner and sparkles (which, by the way, looked delightful), which wasn’t exactly what I was going for. It took awhile before I realized I really ought to be looking up “makeup for drag kings.” Bingo.

    It amused me to no end that I wore more makeup for my eunuch than I do normally. I used foundation to give myself an even complexion, eye makeup to put shadows around my eyes so they looked deeper and makeup in my eyebrows and “sideburns.” It was a subtle difference and sometimes I wondered if it really did anything.

    On the other hand, when I drew myself a little soul patch for fun, I looked like a guy, so maybe there was something to it.


    I’m not going to dwell too much on the costume itself. It was a historical game so my costume was fairly robe-like. While this wasn’t exactly masculine for most modern Canadian standards, I will note that it was at odds with the way that many of the women were dressed so I consider that a win.

    Oh! Funny story. My character was a traitor and therefore created an alter-ego to use when being traitorous: the Lady in Red. There was a brief moment in time when it might have been necessary to come to the game dressed as the Lady in Red, which led to the potential for a woman dressed as a man needing to disguise himself as a woman….


    Typically, when I put together a costume, I keep it simple for budget and time reasons. This time around, I put a lot of thought into it because I wanted my costume to be convincing. Overall, I think I succeeded well enough that the other players weren’t thrown too much, though I admit I wouldn’t have won any prizes at a drag king competition.

    One thing I did notice was that when I was half-way into costume, I felt very gender-queer. At most games, I’d get into the binder first and wander around in my regular clothes just to get comfortable in it. Even though I wasn’t trying to pass as a man at the time, I didn’t feel like I was passing as a woman anymore. It certainly was a luxury to be able to cross dress in a safe environment. Oddly, once I finally got into character, the feeling faded.

    I’ve played male characters in tabletop games, though I tend to go with female characters because it rarely matters one way or the other. Playing a male character at a LARP felt a lot different, though it’s hard to articulate. I think a large part of that was tied to putting on a costume rather than just declaring myself male. It felt more transformative and while I can’t say that I did anything in particular at the game that would have been out of character for a woman, it wasn’t the same as if I’d been playing a woman.

    Overall, it was a really interesting experience. For me, it was more a costuming challenge than a gender experiment, so I’m not sure if I’d ever do it again.

    Still, I do have this spiffy chest binder just lying around….

    Anybody care to share their experiences and thoughts? Comment below!



    I'm a tabletop roleplayer, a larper and a video gamer. I run games, play games, remix games, talk about games, critique games, read games and have opinions about games. Sometimes, I do that online. I also have a passing fondness for making food.

    6 Responses to Costuming: Crossplay

    1. avatar
      March 17, 2012 at 18:38

      I think this is neat (because I think genderfucking often is, even though I don’t ever do it on purpose myself).

      My personal experience with it took place between January and August of 2008, in what was unfortunately a not-very-safe environment (my workplace, a major midwest retailer). At the time I was still presenting as male, but even before that I had been pushing the androgyny big time…my hair was long and colored and styled, and I always wore cute earrings to work, regardless of what other people thought. But it was around January that things got really weird; I had started hormone therapy a few months before, and my breasts were starting to show. I’d have dropped the whole “male” act then, but for the fact that I wasn’t far enough along in my laser hair-removal process yet, and also because my then-employers weren’t ready for me to make the leap (turns out they never were truly ready, and that ended up costing me). Away from work it wasn’t so bad; I could present how I wanted, and had been living as my proper self for the better share of a year. But for 8 months, from 9-5, I lived in this in-between state, and my memories are of it being one of the worst times of my life. Partly, I think, because I was so close to fulfilling a lifelong dream, and partly because there was no place where I seemed to fit. At least when I was easily read as male I didn’t have to fear being attacked in the men’s restrooms. The one thing that sort of made it okay was that occasionally, despite the baggy men’s clothes and the decidedly not cute shoes*, I’d still get gendered correctly from time to time, which always made my day.

      So anyway, I’m curious to hear more about the feelings you experienced. You say you felt very gender-queer; I think that’s prolly a bit of misnomer, since genderqueer is an identity (and a pretty diverse one at that), but clearly you felt something. Did you feel like you had stepped out of your gender for a period of time, and what was that like? Did it make you feel vulnerable or was it empowering? Amusing or disconcerting? How do you think you would feel had you been in a less safe environment? You had an in-game response prepared for when people misgendered your character, but outside of the game, what pronouns did people use (and if pronouns confusion was a thing, how did you handle it, and how did it make you feel)? You specifically mention not “passing” as either male nor female and connect it to the feelings you had…that bestows a lot of power on the perceptions of others…what do you think about that idea in general (this could be a whole topic of its own)?

      * I don’t actually believe my cludgy boy’s sneakers have ever contributed negatively to anyone’s perception of my gender, but god I hate them.

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      • avatar
        Kim Lam
        March 17, 2012 at 19:45

        First, I’m sorry your experience sucked. I guess it’s not especially surprisinging given the amount of transphobia that’s around but that doesn’t make it suck any less.

        I’m not attached to the term gender-queer to describe my feelings and you’re right in that what I felt wasn’t an identity. Just… a thing. Let’s see if I can break it down. And thanks for all the questions, by the way. They’re helping me organize my thoughts.

        At the time I was doing it, I joked with my partner that I felt like a gay man, which isn’t quite accurate. I mean, I didn’t feel like I was a gay man, I felt like I embodied a stereotypical version of a gay man. My usual style of dress is a pair of jeans, fitted T-shirt, overshirt of some kind and sneakers. To be honest, it’s kind of hipsterish, without the skinny jeans. Anyway, when I wore the binder, it didn’t change my figure that much. Much of the loss of my breasts was covered by the overshirt. However, motions that I made no longer seemed feminine even though they were pretty much the same as always. They felt… effeminate? I mean, that’s the wrong term given the negative connotations that come with “effeminate” but it didn’t feel like I was a woman making feminine gestures anymore. Or, maybe it would be better to say that gestures that I had never felt were gendered suddenly suddenly felt feminine. Yeah, I think that’s a more accurate statement.

        While I was putting together my final costume (the first game I wore a black robe and made do), I wore the binder out because I needed to see how the clothes would hang. It was an odd experience because I kept wondering if anyone would notice. Still, I wasn’t in an unsafe situation since I was doing my shopping (and lunching) in the area of town that’s known for its more liberal attitude. Same goes for game. I think if I was in a less safe environment, I would have felt very vulnerable.

        Overall, I felt… different. It was definitely amusing. I don’t know about empowering. I mean, I was midway into a costume change for a game with all of my friends into a gender that wasn’t my own, so it didn’t feel like I was claiming anything. Not feeling male or female was odd.

        I think you’re right in that changing my gender presentation had effects on others. There was a certain amount of “Oh, Kim, that just look so weird!” and rubbing of my flat chest (which was by invitation upon asking – the folks I game with are polite about that sort of thing and the ones who did ask already knew I was physically comfortable enough with them to not be offended or put off by the question) with a look of curiosity. I think there were some attempts to reconcile the usual me (a cheerfully queer woman) with my midway-to-eunuch transformation.

        • avatar
          March 17, 2012 at 21:29

          Oh you totally don’t have to apologize, although I very much appreciate the sympathy. With the exception of the asshats in the corporate offices*, and the occasional friend who would assume that because I presented as male at work I could just turn my gender on and off at other times as if there was a toggle switch attached, most people were respectful towards me. It was more the personal sense of always sticking out and not having a “home”…I still had that same old feeling of not fitting in where I knew I belonged, but I didn’t even have a place I could retreat to and just fly under the radar if I needed to. I guess we can blame society as a whole for that, and it does cause me to worry about my non-binary sibs quite a lot.

          It’s no surprise to me how much even minor adjustments to your body can affect your sense of self. It’s interesting, although I guess also not that surprising, that both our experiences focus a lot on breasts. I even had one co-worker who wanted to touch mine (although he didn’t ask…I’m still pissed that that incident was treated as harassment rather than assault by his supervisor. I guess that’s one example of someone who wasn’t very respectful.).

          I definitely believe gender has an impact on others. It’s kind of weird, actually, how much someone else’s identity can depend on your own. And how much yours depends on the affirmation and validation you get from others. It’s a strange reflecting pool that you only start to see the edges of once you’ve thrown a stone into it.

          * One of the more interesting, and by “interesting” I mean “horrifying”, tidbits to come out of my early meetings with HR prior to actually setting my workplace transition date was that it would be considered a terminate-able offense for me to present as anything but obviously female after the date had been reached. That wasn’t a concern for me personally, but it still resulted in an argument, which probably didn’t ease any of the head honchoes’ trepidation. They were terrified of me but willing to give me a chance as long as I fit some nicely coded binary definition of gender, but any of kind of ambiguity or fluidity was completely off-limits. And what does it even mean to present as “obviously female”?

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    2. avatar
      March 18, 2012 at 18:09

      I wondered about costume dressing as a woman. I already did that in theatre (I played an old lady). I think it could be fun, but I have absolutely no skill in makeup (I sometimes use the eyeliner) and I have no patience to gather the costume xD.

      I could do it if someone made the work for me xD

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    3. avatar
      March 20, 2012 at 02:44

      Gender-bending is a very common thing in cosplay circles. I haven’t done it myself, but lots of girls do! Especially when it comes to popular anime male characters. There was actually a very interesting cosplay group recently that did the whole Justice League in reverse gender! They were really amazing and the costumes were very well done. It was interesting to see how the costumes changed depending on the sex. http://blogs.laweekly.com/arts/2011/07/gender_bent_justice_league.php

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    4. avatar
      March 20, 2012 at 21:50

      I’ve only genderbent once, live, during my brief stint in the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism). My features are somewhat androgynous, although less so as I get older. At the time I had very short hair (if it reached my collar, it was time to get it cut) and although bottom heavy, I had a slender build.

      I was wearing the shire gear (clothes the local group had for beginners and poor broke college students to use). It was a heavy, wool tunic with a (aahh! I’ve forgotten the word for it!) circle/cape thingy that covered my shoulders and chest, concealing my breasts. The tunic came to mid-thigh and smoothed out the rest of my curves while the leggings were closer to pants and did little to reveal my legs. My suede ankle boots were the most feminine things I was wearing and since this was the SCA, they weren’t much of a clue.

      I spent two hours with a guy who seemed to spend the entire time trying to figure whether I was male or female. I was a tomboy and spent the entire time amused by the situation.

      It’s something I’d like to try again but as I’ve gotten older my features and figure have gotten more definitively female.

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