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  • Tlouey Dudenhoeffer

Gender Exploration and Cosplay

Updated: Nov 3, 2021

The popularity of cosplay has grown exponentially in the past decade, to the point where most people have heard about it in one way or another. For those who don’t understand what the craft is all about, cosplay can seem strange and maybe a bit silly; but for those who engage with it, cosplay is an incredibly creative outlet with a diverse and engaging community attached. Even with most conventions being recently cancelled or postponed due to the pandemic, cosplay is alive and well in Alberta. The cosplay community is ever-growing, evolving, and bright, and contains people from all walks of life; but by its very nature, cosplay especially attracts 2SLGBTQIA+ folks.

Kit, a cosplayer living in Calgary, says that the support they found in the cosplay community was what fueled their desire to explore gender. Kit started making costumes to wear to attend conventions in 2012. While Kit has won multiple cosplay contests and been a guest at various cons, Kit’s cosplays didn’t start off complicated.

In fact, Kit says that the majority of their first cosplay costumes were simple outfits assembled from Value Village finds. Though Kit’s cosplays quickly became much more complex, they believe that having “that freedom to just be someone else without the pressure of making some elaborate costume” was what really kickstarted their “exploration into cosplay and gender”.

Cosplay got more serious for Kit in 2015 when they decided to create Garrus from Mass Effect, for a mask-making course they were taking under Gideon Hay, a sculptor in Vancouver known as The Monster Man. Kit explains that the entire creation process of the Garrus costume was a “huge trial run” as they “had never made armour out of EVA foam, never made a painted costume with so many floating pieces, and the character design is barely humanoid at all.” Kit says that, although they would likely approach the process of making that costume differently now that they have more knowledge, they are still proud of the result. For Kit, it was satisfying to wear the costume they had laboured over, despite seeing more skilful renditions of the same character online.

Kit’s Garrus cosplay spurred them to grow in their skills. They started picking up tips and tricks from fellow cosplayers and online. Every new project had Kit trying out new materials and learning new skills. Kit “rarely used the same material twice, but that is very much how projects are, even in the film and tv industry. Each project is so different from the last.”

While the point of cosplay for Kit really is just having fun, they admit that they “do have a history with going all out with costumes, especially when [their] partner or friends are involved.” Which is a bit of an understatement considering the elaborate Mass Effect Andromeda cosplays Kit created with their team. They won Best in Show at Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo in 2017 wearing those cosplays and even got the attention of BioWare, the video game developer behind Mass Effect. Bioware invited Kit and their cosplay team to meet one of the creators of the video game as well as have a professional photo shoot for the BioWare website.

The work Kit did to create and sculpt their cosplays definitely helped pave the way toward Kit’s career in film. Kit currently works in the IASTE union sculpting large-scale scenic elements and props. And although they can’t mention any of the recent shows they’ve been working on, they’re very excited about the amazing projects being filmed here in Alberta right now. Passionate about the film and entertainment industry in Alberta, Kit believes that Calgary can be an entertainment powerhouse just like Vancouver and Toronto.

(Mass Effect cosplay works in progress in Kit’s home studio | Photo credit: Kit)

Back to cosplay, Kit believes that “apart from making the costume or assembling a costume, how the costume makes you feel is really what cosplay is.” For Kit, that means mostly cosplaying the ‘boyfriend characters.’ Almost all their cosplays are exclusively male characters, beginning with Garrus and moving forward with characters like Marvel’s Starlord from Guardians of the Galaxy, Handsome Jack from the Borderlands video game franchise, and Nathan Drake from Uncharted.

“I think my brain wanted me to explore this side of my identity,” explained Kit about this consistent pattern in their cosplay choices. “I grew up suppressing my masculine side, and after so many failed relationships where I was forcing myself to be ‘the best girlfriend’; there was an opportunity to get into costume. Finally, with cosplay, I was given the opportunity to be something that felt so natural for me.”

The friends Kit made through cosplaying and fandom communities gave them a supportive, safe space to express themself. Dressing up as a male character is empowering for Kit, who says they are closer to transmasculine than females and identify as non-binary.

Ever busy with work, cosplay, and even their hobby of painting, Kit is working toward starting up a personal training business focused on the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. Kit says “the gym can be a super scary place for a lot of people in the pride community, so I want to create a safe comfortable space where it’s not scary to talk and workout without the fear of people judging or harassing.” Kit is specifically interested in designing regimes and routines to help trans folks “reclaim their body and get the look that they want most.”

Kit believes that “the ability to express one's self as femme or masculine and everything in between is so important, but gender roles are fabricated by us” both within and outside of cosplay. The societal expectations of gender are different between cultures and are always changing, so they shouldn’t be treated as constraints. Kit doesn’t want people to be put in gender boxes and says we “can’t expect people to fit in those boxes without sacrificing something about themselves.”