Cosplay, at its heart, is all about freedom of expression, escapism, and embracing creativity. Dame Wolfe understands that more than most. The cosplayer, costume designer, artist and actress is an up and coming polymath in the industry, and as a transgender American from a Japanese/Filipino family, she knows what it’s like to be boxed out. Cosplay though has given her a home, and pulled down some of the barriers the world is trying to build.
“The cosplay community was extremely welcoming, which was part of the initial decision to stick around. It provided a grounds to communicate similarities between people rather than focusing on our differences,” she told me. “There are many other LGBTQ+ individuals in the community who are just as loving and proud.”
Like many trans folk, Dame Wolfe is currently grappling with her love of Harry Potter. She cosplays as a Hogwarts OC, but given author JK Rowling’s recent string of transphobic remarks, the shine has gone off the world for some. For Dame Wolfe however, it’s something she “thinks about, but not too hard,” because “Hogwarts now belongs to the people.” It’s a complicated fandom to be involved in at the moment; “The world [Rowling] created in her writing manifested this collective presence that many other people in the LGBT community find comfort in. Being part of a house creates a sense of belonging somewhere with like minded people. In a way, the community has created its own safe haven around that world.”
Another interesting part of Dame Wolfe’s cosplay is that her varied portfolio covers male characters alongside female characters. Starfire, Beauty & The Beast’s Belle, Black Cat, Marilyn Monroe and Kitana are all in there, but so are her male Harry Potter OC, Yuri!!! On Ice’s Viktor and both Eddie Kapsbrack and Beverley Marsh from IT. Gender in cosplay is of relatively little importance to Dame Wolfe though, as she explained; “At the end of the day, it’s just a costume. It really doesn’t make me feel any specific way. I know who I am regardless of what people experience externally on my body.” The character is much more important than the gender, Dame Wolfe says, “Usually they’re characters I resonate with, in personality or heart; as someone I’m like currently, want to be like in the future or have understood at some point in my life. It’s a sense of seeing a bit of yourself on the screen or on the page. A recognition that ‘Yes, that used to be me’. It’s cathartic. It isn’t always that deep for you to want to dress as them, but it can be.”
With that in mind, cosplay definitely offers an outlet for identity. “When I was younger and more defensive, I looked up to some very bold women in media: Jessica Rabbit, Lara Croft, Megara, Wonder Woman… basically any woman with a raspy voice and a knack for fighting her own battles. I wanted to be like them, so I would cosplay them, and in those moments it was like I could picture myself standing strong and not shying away from things that scared me. I thought perhaps I could feel that way without the tiara and red and blue leotard, and in time I began to believe those thoughts could apply to myself.”
It’s tempting to pigeonhole minority performers into their minority and see them as transgender first, cosplayers second, but doing so not only discredits so many performers’ hard work, it also means missing out on valuable insights, like Dame Wolfe’s convention top tips; “One, you need to eat something. I’m guilty of this, I go sixteen hour days on pure excitement, but you should. Two, water. Always stay hydrated. Three, always bring something to carry your possessions in. Four, I like to have a buddy to walk around with in the event of anything, because you never know.”
It’s a difficult time to be trans in America right now, but for Dame Wolfe at least, cosplay offers a reprieve. Her reasons for being drawn to characters are by no means exclusive to the trans experience either, as the idea that “there’s something so freeing about a woman who is written just to be going through it, rather than a perfect princess with no problems in her life,” appeals to so many. “There’s a humanity there that I can relate to,” Dame Wolfe adds; maybe if all recognized each others’ humanity more, the world would be better place.