A couple of weeks ago I attended an anime convention in Dallas. It was my fourteenth convention and at every one, I have cosplayed.
Cosplay is an interesting topic on its own. It's a word borrowed by American anime fans from Japan and is originally short for "costume play." The idea itself was originally borrowed from America when a Japanese sci-fi fan attended a sci-fi convention in the US in the 80s and was impressed with the Star Trek fans walking around in their costumes but felt that Japanese fans could do just as well or better. So the concept was imported to Japan from American then exported back to American as cosplay.
Cosplay in Japan includes dressing in the costume of any pop culture character but in America, the term is still primarily used for anime characters and related Japanese pop culture characters, such as videogame characters, though you will occasionally see a Darth Vader, Batman or Harry Potter walking around an anime con. As an example, here is a picture of me cosplaying the character Tamao from the series Strawberry Panic at the con a couple of weeks ago:
Cosplay remains to this day a very important outlet for my transgender expression. Cosplaying at conventions was one of the first opportunities I had to crossdress in public. Conventions, for the most part, feel like safe spaces to me because crossdressing is accepted, to a certain extent (though I have had to deal with negative comments and reactions, these have been few and far between). The word "crossplay" is used to refer to people who cosplay characters of the opposite sex; an interesting side note is that the most common form of crossplay is women and girls cosplaying male characters, though my personal experience makes me feel that the response to female-to-male cosplay is different than the response to male-to-female cosplay.
Trying to explain my love of cosplay to others has often been difficult. People seem to want to reduce things to easily understandable levels, so they want to say "Oh, you do this just as a way to crossdress" or "It's not about crossdressing, it's about dressing up as a character you like, just like Halloween." The truth is a little bit grayer than that. While I do enjoy getting to spend a weekend dressed as a woman/female character, I truly love anime and appreciate the characters. I can't separate these two feelings. For me, it's the intersection of these to parts of who I am that led to me be a cosplayer. I wouldn't just walk around a con dressed as a woman, or at least I wouldn't call that cosplaying, and I don't really have any interest in dressing up as a male character. So if I hadn't been an anime fan, I don't know if I would be as comfortable as I am today dressing as a woman in public because I wouldn't have had this outlet for those feelings. Likewise, if I wasn't a crossdresser, I don't know if I would have ever cosplayed because I don't know how much dressing up in a costume would have interested me.
So I wouldn't really be who I am today if I had never cosplayed at a convention and I wouldn't have cosplayed at a convention if I wasn't who I am :)
I'm really excited about cosplay again, though. Because of money issues, I haven't been able to purchase any new costumes in over a year :( But now that I have a little more saved up, I'm looking forward to debuting some brand new costumes next year!