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.
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.
- 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.
- 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!