Femme Doctors and crossplayers: Not that different

Cross-posted at Geek Feminism.

Post-Gallifrey, I was interviewed at i09 about the phenomenon of femme Doctor cosplay. If you’re not familiar with it, femme cosplay is when female cosplayers alter the costumes of male characters to make them feminine. Femme cosplayers add ruffles, lace, heels, alter the silhouette of a costume (often with a corset), etc.

A femme Jackson Lake A femme Jackson Lake sports a corset and long coat. Photo by Alex Halcyon.

This trend is often contrasted with crossplaying. Crossplayers are usually female cosplayers who alter their bodies to costume as male characters. (Male crossplayers dress as female characters.) Unlike their femme counterparts, they will bind their breasts, wear men’s wigs, and wear makeup designed to mask feminine features. Generally, people think these trends are at odds; they believe that femme Doctors and crossplay Doctors are doing very different things.

A femme Eighth DoctorsquirrelyTONKS is a bit of a femme Doctor superstar at the Gallifrey convention. Photo by Alex Halcyon.

A snippet from the interview:

Both crossplay and femme cosplay draw attention to gender. Women passing as men are destabilizing gender by illustrating how easy it is to perform the opposite gender, by showing that all gender performance is performance, since cosplay is fundamentally performative. Femme cosplay does the same thing: it draws attention to the performance of gender, but this time femininity. […]

So really, crossplay and femme cosplay are not that different. Both alter their bodies, showing that no matter what gender they are playing, their bodies often don’t match any ideal. While crossplayers wear binders, femme cosplayers wear corsets and heels. But their motivations are the same: they emphasize the performative nature of gender, and thus destabilize it. Women do this more because they have more to gain by destabilizing gender, being at the bottom rung of the gender hierarchy.

I have quite a bit more to say about how I think femme Doctor cosplay (and crossplay) is a feminist critique of Doctor Who and its fan community, so go read it!

two femme fivesTwo femme Fifth Doctors with cropped jackets…and celery! Photo by Alex Halcyon.


  1. daisybones says:

    Fabulous commentary. I’ve never been to a convention, but my big love of Halloween and costuming have always made me long to attend. The interview gives a great peek behind the costumes.

  2. Jennie says:

    Great costumes:)

  3. Sue says:

    Thought you might be interested in the Femme!Doctors blog on Tumblr: femmedoctors.tumblr.com

    • Nick Cox says:

      I think the femme Doctor phenomenon is an excellent idea and long may it reign. I have yet to attend to a convention, but I went to a charity Doctor Who day at a nearby town before Christmas with my wife, grandmother and children. There were no acual celebs, but mostly male cosplayers there as every Doctor except 1 One and Eight, while the few women there were dressed as Donna, Rose, Idris and two were in Dalek dresses. I was so starstruck by the bravery and ingenuity of the cosplayers that I was as shy about talking to them or even showing I was as much a fan as my son. My wife, on the other hand, chatted with a Tom Baker about how to make the scarf. My nan voiced her opinion that the Dalek dress was daft, which made me compliment the woman wearing it to try and counter her rudeness. But really, I was starstruck and impressed.

  4. Siobhan says:

    Wow… ok, as someone who is Intersex (and IDs as female, legally, internally, and partly presentation-wise) – I generally hate when people argue that “gender” as an idea by its nature is a performance – ala Butler – I get the idea of “gender presentation” being performative, but gender is part of multiple ideas. There is the physical (hereafter, I refer to as “sex”, and is a wide continuum, and comes in many forms, but the majority of people are on the binary extremes). The identity – the person we see and identify ourselves to be (also comes in many, but most fall on the binary extremes). And then there is presentation.

    I feel that discussing gender as only performance essentially discounts the experience of both intersex people who ID as a gender not their “assigned birth gender” (which unfortunately seems it cannot be “any” or “TBA”, which would have made sense with me, instead they surgically altered me to appear more male, since I had some external resemblance to the male organ) and transsexual men and women who clearly feel that their identities are much more than performance. Its all good and well to be subversive and challenge the ideas of what it means to be these things in both a behavioural and societal context, but its much more than JUST performance. Some of us would not have insisted from a young age that we weren’t who people were telling us we were, if it were just performance. At the ages of 3 or 4, we are just understanding gender from a physical point of view (sex), we can’t see or interpret performance, we just are who we are – we do to an extent, especially when our minds insist we are opposite to what people tell us we are, understand gender identity. We don’t understand “feminine” and “masculine” until a year or 2 later.

    That being said – the idea of female incarnations of well-loved and celebrated Doctors is both hot and a fun idea. Gender presentation is definitely performative, and is important in this case, because it lends a new dimension to our favorite characters by changing the nature of the gender presentation, which evokes different qualities that are ascribed to specific gender identities. While my personal approach to life is more like 9 (especially given I am a trauma survivor) – I would love to pull off a femme 3 or 8 :) (my favorites)

    • I think the Butler would argue that identity is basically a performance, one we do for ourselves and others. That doesn’t make it less real or less important, but understanding it that way does suggest that identity is not essential (this includes gender identity, but I think can also be useful when talking about other aspects of our identities) but instead performative. I know that some narratives of trans* identities are essentialist in nature, but most genderqueer narratives are not. (I think this is partially because those essentialist narratives mostly were generated by the cissexualist medical community, whereas genderqueer people are not pathologized as much, and so haven’t had any narratives created by others to explain their “condition.”) Essentialism generally works to support the kyriarchical status quo, and is an important part of second wave feminism. I’m a third-waver (insofar as my feminism can be labelled), and so I find essentialism rather harmful to the feminist project.

      We can certainly disagree on these theories, but I did want to refute the idea that a performative identity is somehow less than an essentialist identity. Both are experienced as real, concrete, and important. Saying identity is performative does not mean it is “just” a performance (something fake and “put on” by the performer), but that it is created through actions done by the person with that identity.

  5. Xhael says:

    I decided to cosplay for the first time at Megacon 2013. It was so much fun pulling a costume together. Did it win any awards? No but it was SO much fun. I’m already thinking about my costume for next year. :D

    Here’s me (in the skirt).


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