What a Drag

Crossplay seems to be more popular than ever, my admittedly limited understanding is that it’s especially common in anime circles due at least in part to the large amount of pretty bishonen characters. Although, of course there’s seems to be a whole lot of cross-dressing within the stories themselves, so there are levels within levels to be explored there which I shan’t get into right now. I am on a deadline after all.

But for the purposes of this issue I am interested in the costuming community I am more familiar with, and the place where I see it most often myself; Gallifrey One, the Lost Angeles based Doctor Who convention. The Torchwood fans in particular seem to have, ahem, embraced it enthusiastically as both a simple costuming exercise and a way to explore the show’s, and sometimes their own, gender and sexuality. But in addition there are also a lot women crossplaying the Doctor. The David Tennant and Peter Davison regenerations seem to be the most popular, with their slim, youthful looks that are often a surprisingly good match for a lot of women, but they are far from the only ones represented.

The ‘femme’ Doctors are a popular trend of fairly recent coinage as well, not simply crossplay but adaptations of the iconic outfits in female designs. Not counting the pink version of Tom Baker’s costume that Llala Ward wore on the actual show, Johanna Mead’s pinstripe Tennant outfit from 2006 seems to be the first of the Femme!Doctor costuming lineage and it has caught on like wildfire. Last year there were a host of variations of practically all the regenerations including a very memorable version of Colin Baker’s Technicolor monstrosity done as a pretty fantastic 18th Century gown, as well as an absolutely adorable Peter Davison outfit which greatly impressed my roommate, a longtime Davison fan and first-time Gally attendee who had probably never quite thought of the Doctor that way before.

The reverse, however is not true at all. At least at the conventions I attend, male to female crossplay is practically non-existent. Girls can butch it up and retain their femininity and even enhance their sex appeal to both men and women alike, whereas the reverse seems to be a far more complex undertaking. Certainly the commonly held assumption when seeing a male crossdresser, drag queen or transvestite is that he is gay, although that is most often not the case. But beyond that a large part of the issue appears to be about camp; even if the crossplayer is actually gay and therefore not worried about being misidentified as such, or is straight but comfortable enough with his sexuality not to be particularly bothered by the assumption, the act of dressing as a woman is almost exclusively done for laughs or absurdity. Such is the society we live in.

I am hardly expert enough to explore all the doubtless fascinating and almost certainly depressing reasons for this double-standard, but I will say it’s a shame. And I’ll tell you why; for starters there are many guys who look simply amazing a femme’d up a bit, a little makeup and some more imaginative colors can do wonders. Don’t believe me? Well, historically men of all cultures have worn makeup, wigs and bright fashions without their bits falling off, and when we see paintings or period movies it doesn’t seem particularly odd, does it? And then there’s the rock and roll lovelies, from the gender-bending glam crowd to the butch-as-youlike heavy metal bands, peacocks the lot of them. I know I wasn’t the only one who thought James Purefoy looked his best in HBO’s Rome when they decked him out in Egyptian garb and kohl eyeliner.

Now, I certainly understand that the way a great many female characters are portrayed in anime and comics, crossplaying them
is difficult at best unless the sexuality is the whole point. To be honest simply cosplaying them at all can be problematic. A lot of female characters in these and other subgenres are overly sexualized to a degree that I will surely have a chance to complain about in some other column.

But that brings me back to Doctor Who, for the most part the companions outfits over the years have been simply street clothes of one type or another and not what you would call over the top, certainly no more so than several of the Doctor’s ensembles. Rose, Martha, Amy, Donna, Ace and several others have all worn easy to recognize outfits that are simply jeans and a t-shirt with optional jacket, so why have I never seen a hot blonde guy in a Union Jack tee?

For that matter many of them would be easy enough to … uh, well ‘butch’ up would be the opposite of ‘femme’ up I guess, unless there is a specific costuming term I am unaware of. How fun would it be to see a guy in leather pants and some version of the awesomely 80’s abstract print shirt Tegan wore in ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’.

Surely that couldn’t possibly be more embarrassing than what poor Colin Baker had to sport during his run on the show, could it?

~España Sheriff

Yipe! Volume 2, Issue 10, October 2010