Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 32, July 2013

Girls Who are Boys Who like Girls to be Boys:
BL and the Australian Cosplay Community

Emerald King

Figure 1. Australian Cosplayers and current WCS representatitves K and Aly as Kuraogane and Fai from CLAMP's Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles (2003–2009) in 2012. Image used with cosplayers' permission. Costumes by the respective cosplayers, photograph by blurscrib. Source: 'Tsubasa: I am your game,' DeviantArt, ca. 2012, online:, accessed 2 July 2013.


    Amaranth Cosplay Ball 2008

      There is a crush to get to the mirror in the ladies' room and I'm having difficulty finding enough room to untangle the knee length strands of my bright orange wig. A beautiful young man comes to my rescue and restores my hair to its former glory with a few practiced swipes of the comb I'd had in my hand. Later in the evening I see him again in the company of another equally exquisite young man as they take turns to pose for photos and kiss each other under the oddly shaped lights at the river's edge.

  1. This was my first time at the Amaranth Cosplay Ball, a dinner and costume event which is held annually on the Thursday before Manifest (the Melbourne Anime Festival, reportedly one of Australia's largest and longest running anime and popular culture conventions). The two young men were in actuality two young women dressed as characters from the popular computer game franchise Final Fantasy.
  2. Since the late 1990s, interest in anime and cosplay in Australia has grown to the point that in 2010 there were fifteen anime and Japanese popular culture conventions held throughout the country, with more than twenty planned for 2013.[1] This article will investigate the attitudes towards Boys Love or BL narratives within the Australian cosplay community, both in terms of the consumption the production of BL narratives. Also known as shōnen ai or yaoi, BL narratives, such as those found in manga and anime, depict same-sex love affairs between (usually) beautiful boys or young men. As part of this research, an online survey has been conducted using Survey Monkey.Com. This survey was live between November 2010 and January 2011 and was open to Australian cosplayers over the age of eighteen years. Additional data has been collected from various networking sites frequented by cosplay practitioners in different cities around Australia.
  3. These internet sites are used not only for the purposes of communication, but for displaying costumes, posed photographs, reports on recent anime-related events and reviews of anime and manga. The main internet sites that have been chosen for in inclusion in this study are: Deviant Art, an online art community; the Cosplay.Com forums; video hosting site YouTube; and social networking site Facebook. It should be noted that the popularity of social networking sites fluctuates as new sites emerge and future research should reflect these changes.[2] In this article, I am also drawing on my own observations at various cosplay events including Manifest 2008, Melbourne Mini-Animania 2009, Av Con 2012, Brisbane Supanova 2012 and Ai Con 2007–2012.[3] Throughout this article words such as 'manga,' 'anime,' and 'cosplay' have not been italicised as they are commonly used, and understood, within the Australian cosplay community.
  4. Before looking at BL cosplay in Australia, I will first give a brief outline of the history of the Australian cosplay community and the various popular culture conventions and anime events which the community support. Given the subject matter of this article, the issue of 'cross-play' (that is, cross dressing in order to cosplay a character of the opposite sex) is unavoidable and will be discussed in relation to the (re)production and performance of BL narratives. As most Australian cosplay practitioners are women, as is the case in many cosplay communities worldwide, cross-dressing, both attitudes towards cross-dressing and the act of cross-dressing itself, cannot be ignored when discussing BL and cosplay. Finally I will look at attitudes towards BL in the cosplay community, both in terms of constructing and acting out BL narratives and the consumption of BL narratives presented in the form of anime, manga, computer games, dōjinshi (fan-produced magazines and comics), fan-fiction and fan-art.
  5. This article is concerned with the cosplay activity within a set community and as such does not engage with the legality of the possession of BL (or yaoi) materials within Australia.[4] All of the cosplayers whose names or pseudonyms ('cosplay names') are given in this article are over the age of eighteen. Likewise, all of the Australian cosplayers who took part in the online survey were aged eighteen or older. An Australian cosplayer is defined as either an Australian citizen who cosplays, or a cosplayer of a different nationality who cosplays regularly, or who only cosplays, whilst in Australia.

    Positioning cosplay in Australia
  6. Cosplay (kosupure) is a Japanese portmanteaux of the words 'costume' and 'play' and refers to the act of dressing and acting as a character from an anime, manga or game and increasingly, from film or books. Craig Norris and Jason Bainbridge note that 'in its purest form cosplay is akin to performance art, taking on the habitus of a particular character through costume, accessories, gesture and attitude.'[5] Attention is paid not only to the costume—including detail makeup, an appropriate wig or hair style and accurate clothing copied from source material such as manga and anime—but to a particular character's signature pose or way of speaking.[6] In the Japanese language, the term cosplay is often used to refer to any act of dressing in costume. This includes any sort of 'Halloween-type' fancy dress, live action role play and costumes of an adult or fetishist nature,[7] but is principally used to describe the fan activity of dressing as manga and anime characters. There is perceived to be a difference between cosplay and other types of costume or fancy dress because of the level of accuracy, cost and skilled 'DIY' construction.[8] Increasingly in the English language, the term is used to refer to costumes that are not only anime or game related, and has come to replace terms such as 'fancy dress.' The term 'cosplay' can be used as a noun to refer to the costumes worn whilst cosplaying (for example a Sailor Moon cosplay) or as a verb ('I cosplayed as Sirius Black from Harry Potter').
  7. There is some dispute regarding the origins of cosplay—whether it was in Japan or America[9]—but there is little dispute that in its current form, it is a part of Japanese fandom culture that has been exported and adopted by fans around the world. Cosplay's main attraction lies in its 'Japanese-ness.' As Larissa Hjorth suggests, 'Cosplaying provides new avenues for fans to express their interest in Japanese popular culture creatively.'[10] It most likely that the term 'cosplay' was coined by Nobuyuki 'Nov' Takahashi in 1984 to describe the costumes he saw at WorldCon in Los Angeles. Takahashi wanted a short, catchy word that would describe the magnificence of what he had seen the American fans doing. 'Masquerade,' 'costume play' and 'costume acting' were passed over as being too much of a mouthful when written as katakana loan words. [11]
  8. Cosplay and cosplay conventions within Australia have developed alongside many anime clubs, and have often received local media coverage. [12] However, as internet speeds improve, many anime clubs are finding that they can no longer survive. It is no longer necessary for fans to gather in one place to enjoy the latest anime: gone are the days when video (VHS) tapes were shared between fans or ordered through mail order from America or Japan. With downloading Original Video Anime (OVAs) or entire anime series taking hours instead of several days, fans are increasingly staying away from anime clubs and watching anime in the privacy of their own homes.[13] As faster internet connections are spelling an end to many anime clubs, cosplayers have started to adopt the sites that these clubs previously occupied. This shift has also occurred in the readership of manga. While many manga fans still order their manga from America or Japan, many more choose to read it online in scanlated (scanned and translated) form.[14]
  9. Regular anime and popular culture conventions seem to be rapidly replacing the function served by local anime clubs. Instead of meeting weekly or monthly to watch anime together, many fans now only meet at conventions. These conventions generally offer: screening rooms which are often sponsored by distributors such as Madman which showcase the latest release anime; trading halls selling DVDs, manga and other anime related goods; computer gaming arenas in which gamers can compete against one another and a stage for cosplayers to perform and model their costumes. Each convention will generally have one signature event which is peculiar to it. For example, a Tasmanian convention known as Ai Con is well known for its theatre sports while Animania hosts the heats for the World Cosplay Summit.[15] Manifest is said to be Australia's first cosplay convention, starting as an anime screening and barbecue between several Melbourne anime clubs in 1998/99. In 2000 Manifest Inc was formed and the Manifest convention was born.[16] Currently there are over twenty anime and popular culture conventions held within Australia including: Manifest in Melbourne, AV Con in Adelaide (since 2002), Animania in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne (since 2002), Supernova Pop Culture Expo held in Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Sydney (since 2002), Wai-Con in Perth (Since 2003), Ai Con in Tasmania (ca. 2005) and Armageddon in Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney and Hobart (first held in Australia in 2007).[17] Australia's newest anime and popular cultural festival is conSENSUAL, an 18+ event aimed primarily at fans of yaoi and BL that took place in Melbourne in November 2011.
  10. With so many different cosplay conventions spread throughout the country, cosplayers keep in touch with each other through posting pictures of their cosplays on community/social networking sites such as Deviant Art and Facebook. Both of these sites allow users to post their pictures and to receive feedback and hints on everything from clothing construction to posing and photography advice from other users of these sites. Both Deviant Art and Facebook also provide space to post journals (sometime known as 'blogs' or 'notes') which tend to be used to post convention reports or cosplay progress reports. More than any other aspect of cosplay, it is this personal connection that seems to keep people active in the community. In an interview reported on ABC news, Bryan Marriage, an active cosplayer, cosplay photographer since 2003 and owner of the internet site Cosplay Aus agrees with this, saying: 'Probably what's kept me in it is friends and the people I get to meet and also a love for different shows and different series.'[18] In the same article, another cosplayer, Sabina Myers, confesses that she and her friends try to be realistic about cosplay: 'My friends and I try to keep real about how strange this hobby is. It is a strange hobby and people will think it's odd, but I'm okay with that and I enjoy it.'[19]

    BL and cosplay: context
  11. BL has fast become an integral part of this 'strange hobby.' Within the Australian Cosplay community attitudes vary, sometimes in ways that are contradictory, towards BL and, as it is more commonly referred to in Australian fan circles, yaoi. In her analysis of shōjo manga studies, Kayo Takeuchi outlines BL and yaoi in the following manner:

    [BL is an anime and manga] subgenre that depicts passionate love between male companions, usually of a sexual nature. BL is a term that came into usage during the latter half of the 1990s, indicating, for the most part, original stories written/drawn by professional writers and found in both shōjo manga and shōjo shōsetsu [girls' novels] issued by established publishing houses. Yaoi, in contrast, is a term that became widespread in the first half of the 1980s; it once included BL, but now refers largely to self-published dōjinshi [fan-comics], personal internet sites and the like that are circulated privately between groups of women and that parody pre-existing anime, manga, novels and games, placing characters derived from these contexts into situations of male homosexual love.[20]

    Figure 2. Australian cosplayers Dalfe and Misun as Nezumi and Shion from Asano Atsuko's No. 6 (2011). Images used with cosplayers' permission. Costumes by the respective cosplayers, photograph by Tessu. Source: 'Hiatus over C,' Aegiknight, n.d., online:, accessed 2 July 2013.

    In contrast, the terms seem to be used interchangeably within the American and Australian fan communities.
  12. If a distinction is made between BL and yaoi, often mispronounced 'yowie' by Australian cosplayers,[21] it is based not on originality but on plot content as in this response from an Australian cosplayer:

      Boys Love is the general term for anime/manga/games depicting men in homosexual relationships. Shōnen ai is a term applied to Boys Love anime/manga/games which have less explicit content, focusing more on the story and not progressing much further sexually than a kiss. Yaoi comes from the phrase 'Yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi' [no climax, no point, no meaning] and is often used to describe Boys Love anime/manga/yaoi which have higher ratings. So it is attached to a more explicit definition of Boys Love where the relationship has a sexual aspect to it.[22]

    As Mark McLelland has pointed out this usage of yaoi is very similar to the sexually explicit PWP (Plot? What Plot?) rating given to certain scenarios written by western slash fan-fiction writers who 'put their male characters into bed together on the slenderest of pretexts.'[23]
  13. Before investigating further into attitudes towards BL and yaoi in the Australian cosplay community, the issue of cross-play must be addressed. As mentioned, above, many Australian cosplayers, and indeed cosplayers around the world, are women. The only way that these cosplayers can dress as their favourite BL heroes and engage in BL practices via the medium of cosplay is by cross-dressing. As Hjorth points out, women cosplayers are 'not limited to female personas.'[24] As cosplayers, 'young people from various ethic backgrounds' can perform 'a different ethnicity and gender.'[25] Cross-play is the means by which Australian cosplayers who are women are able to produce new BL narratives. These narratives might be as simple as posing for photos with a cosplayer dressed as a character from the same series or as complicated as a short performance piece with lighting, music and vocal track.
  14. In late 2009, Deviant Art 'group' Cosplayaus asked its members to post answers to a series of questions as part of a project to compile an online database of Australian cosplayers. These questions included general information such as age, gender, place of residence, length of cosplay experience and preferred cosplay 'name.' One question asked 'Do you prefer cosplaying male or female characters?'[26] Respondent's answers ranged from one word ('male,' 'female,' 'both') to more in depth answers.[27] Many of the female cosplayers who stated that they preferred to cross-play as male characters gave responses such as:

      Males, I tend to prefer male designs and male characters in general, but I do have a few more female cosplays planned in the upcoming year.

      I prefer male, they're prettier D=.

      Male. Because I'm a bit too tall for female ones and I don't like the skimpy-ness of some of them [the outfits of female characters].

      Male characters are often more interesting characters with more depth but binding my chest can be a pain Dx.[28]

  15. From this we can see that male characters are often chosen due to their costume design, character design and story. Interestingly, female cosplayers who stated that they preferred to cosplay mostly female characters seem strangely apologetic for the fact they do not dress as males:

      Female, primarily because I have a very feminine shape that's hard to conceal. I am going to attempt it next year!

      I really don't mind. Female, probably. Just because it's easier.

      emale for sure. My chubby little face and squishy hips don't work so well for cross-play.

      Female, because I don't have to flatten my chest >_>.

      I do both, but lately I've had more female than male costumes. Also, because of my body shape, I look better as a girl than a boy.

      Females mainly, but going to try some males next year.

      Female, but so many of my favourite characters are male....

      Female mostly but just starting to do some male cosplays recently.[29]

    From these responses it seems that female-to-male cross-play is something that most women cosplayers aspire to; in some ways managing to produce a convincing cross-play is seen as gaining another skill set similar to wig styling, dressmaking and weapons or prop construction. Decisions about which character to portray seem to be based more on a cosplayer's attraction to the character than on the sex of the character in question.
  16. Of twenty respondents, only three male cosplayers gave more than one word answers to the question. One respondent states that '[he] will not cosplay female characters,' as he's 'too hairy.' Another places male-to-female cross-play firmly in the realm of humour: 'ahahahaha...Male and tomboys. Occasional female for the epic lols [laugh out loud] and trap [in order to 'trap' members of their own sex by flirting with them whilst in costume/cross-play].' However, the last response by a male cosplayer states that, 'To me, cosplay and cross-play both have their good and bad points. However when it comes down to it I think I prefer guys, because when I chose who to cosplay I usually chose who I fall in love with.'[30]
  17. This answer is the sort of reason that is usually given to explain why women choose to cosplay as male characters, and so it is interesting that it is given by a male. For the purpose of this article, I am not interested in the sexual orientation of cosplayers; however this is clearly an area that needs further research.

    BL and cosplay: theory
  18. In their 2009 article 'Selling Otaku?' Norris and Bainbridge discuss cosplay in terms of drag:

      Unlike other fannish dressing-up, cosplay is closer to drag. We would argue that it is not merely an act of becoming a particular character, or marking out a particular alignment, but of disruption. This is the 'play' in 'cosplay,' a play with identity and, more often, a play with gender identity. Of course this occurs when male fans dress up as female characters and female fans dress as male characters. Indeed, the gender ambiguity of some anime and manga characters often enables this appropriation to take place a lot more easily than amongst their western counterparts; this is especially apparent with bishōnen (beautiful boy) characters.[31]

    This relationship between drag and cosplay is unquestionable.[32] However, I would go further and look at cosplay, especially female-to-male cross-play as performed by cosplayers acting out BL scenarios, in terms of pantomime theatre. Shirley Ardener provides two descriptions of British pantomime from the 1970s and the 1990s:

      A romantically farcical fairy tale set to music, peopled with men dressed as women, women dressed as men, humans dress as animals and packed with spectacle and slap stick, topical jokes and old chestnuts, community singing and audience participation

      A bewildering mix of comedy, 'drag,' audience participation and topical jokes. In the panto, the man dressed as a woman is, of course, known as a Dame, while the young woman who dresses like a young man is The Principal Boy.'[33]

  19. Both of these descriptions by notable British pantomime actors, as quoted in Shirley Ardener's 2005 'Male Dames and Female Boys,' could easily be applied to cosplay, and in particular, cosplay competition skits. A cosplay competition skit is usually a three minute skit performed by one or more cosplayer, which may or may not be accompanied by a music or vocal track or a video background. These skits often reference popular culture such as fandom 'in-jokes' and internet memes or humour and even political and media events.[34] Skits can include anything from sword fights, dance numbers and onstage transformations, to characters making their entrance through mirrors, windows and walls, magic tricks and miraculous flight.[35] Skits may also include (simulated) kissing or other forms of affection between characters, with the proviso that any simulated sexual activity will not harm or offend audience members—what might be appropriate at a convention like the adult's only conSENSUAL might not be welcomed at a convention such as Manifest or Animania, as will be explored later in this article.
  20. Furthermore, there is a strong link between the pantomime Principal Boy and the (western) female cross-player. In pantomime, as in BL skits acted out by two cosplayers/cross-players, the Principal Boy and the Principal Girl are most likely to be played by two young women. This is also the case in the Japanese all female Takarazuka Review in which both the otoko-yaku and the musume-yaku (the man and the young lady) are played by women. There is an expectation that there is a suppressed lesbian desire present when women cross-dress—whether that desire is from the cross-dressers themselves or from the fans who are watching.[36] However, it is not enough to examine any of these roles purely in terms of sexuality.[37] In a year 2000 interview, Takarazuka playwright Ogita Kōichi stated that:

      Takarazuka is ultimately a fantasy, a fictional creation. That is why the Theatre has been able to continue for over 80 years without experiencing any limitations in regards to the otoko-yaku as the main role. That is because the otoko-yaku are otoko-yaku and are not men. The same goes for the onna-yaku (female-roles) both the otoko-yaku and the onna-yaku are constructs that exist within a particular fantasy [or fictional space].[38]

    However, whereas there is never any possibility that the otoko-yaku will ever played by a man, this is not the case in cosplay or in pantomime.[39]
  21. In keeping with the theory that otoko-yaku are otoko-yaku and not real men, Peter Holland suggests that pantomime is an asexual realm occupied by two women: the Principal Boy and the Principal Girl with 'no trace of submerged or suppressed lesbian desire.'[40] Like the otoko-yaku and the BL cross-player, the Principal Boy is never a portrayal of a real man. Holland goes on to say that in pantomimes, love is 'feminised' and men are 'excluded from its concerns' before explaining why a man cannot play a Principal Boy: 'He will have to persuade us that he is not merely a person of rare and miraculous power but also a lover in earnest. With a Principal Boy who is obviously a masquerading girl we don't trouble about these things.'[41] That is to say 'the male performer, possessing the miraculous power of the phallus, cannot convincingly be in love, an emotion antithetical to desire.'[42]
  22. If we apply this to BL and yaoi narratives that are acted out by cosplayers in skits or by posing for photographers, BL cannot be convincingly performed by male cosplayers. In the case of BL or yaoi narratives that are created around characters that are not originally in homosexual relationships, such as Uchiha Sasuke and Uzumaki Naruto from Naruto, these characters must be feminised before they can interact with each other. This is a process that has occurred almost unconsciously within the Australian cosplay community as can be seen in the attitudes towards cross-play given above. It could be argued that in the case of the beautiful boys, the bishōnen, that are often portrayed in anime and manga narratives, are already so feminised that any further feminisation renders them almost sexless.

    Fans responding to BL cosplay

    Figure 3. Haraju2girls member Tessu as Abel from Hameltmachine's online BL comic Star Fighter with fellow Australian cosplayer Talisen as Cain from the same series in 2012. Images used with cosplayers' permission. Costumes by the respective cosplayers, photograph by Dalfe. Source. 'Cain and Abel,' Tessucosplay, n.d., online:, accessed 2 July 2013.

  23. In an interview with a Tasmanian cosplay duo, the Haraju2girls,[43] Norris and Bainbridge note that 'the exaggerated femininity of these bishōnen was an early influence on [the duos'] enjoyment of anime and would later develop into the appeal of cross-playing as these male characters.'[44] In the interview, one of the Haraju2girls states:

      [Bishōnen] are quite feminised and I think, in a way, it's a lot more approachable. I know particularly when I first started to get into it, when I was about 16, boys were still a very scary concept, and because [bishōnen] were quite feminised and quite approachable it was a lot more attractive to respond to them than to really aggressive male characters.[45]

    This is a sentiment that is often repeated amongst Australian fans of BL and yaoi who may or may not also be active cosplayers. For example, Cattypatra is an active cosplayer who has been cosplaying since 2005 and has cosplayed a number of both male and female characters.[46] In 2009 she was one half of the first cosplay duo to represent Australia at the World Cosplay Summit—the 'Love and Peace Movement,' with fellow cosplayer Tsubaki Chan. 'In addition to performing and judging cosplay, in 2010 Cattypatra posted a series of videos, or "epically bad cosplay rants" as she termed them on YouTube that critique the cosplay culture in Australia. These 'rants' have since been removed or made 'friends only.'"[47] These videos are quite satirical in nature and discuss unpleasant aspects of Australian cosplay culture in a humorous (if eccentric) way. While Cattypatra claims that these videos are just for fun and should not be taken seriously they, along with the comments left by YouTube viewers, are a good tool with which to view aspects of cosplay culture that might not otherwise be discussed.
  24. In her 'Rant on Cosplay Yaoi,' Cattypatra defines yaoi as, 'Japanese animated porn of really effeminate men having sex with their penises censored out [which is a] very safe way of exploring one's sexuality, especially if you're a girl because there's no vagina involved in any way, shape or form.'[48] Perhaps this is where the main appeals of BL and yaoi lie. Like pantomime, BL and yaoi allow sex to be rediscovered in 'a culture uneasy about admitting to the reality of sex or of believing in sex as a mature activity.'[49] By taking on the persona of a BL character, cosplayers are able to indulge their curiosity about sex without having to engage with the realities of it.
  25. Cattypatra continues in her rant to state that 'because of scary fan-girls, [yaoi] is huge at conventions at the moment.'[50] Though the 'scary fan-girl' shares some similarities to the otaku,[51] where fan-boys seem to be largely passive—that is, watchers and consumers—girls are active: producing fan-fiction and fan-art, creating cosplay and actively dressing as their favourite characters. Fujimoto Yukari summarises the path of Japanese female manga fans as first inventing BL in the 1970s to get around gender restrictions and sexuality taboos, but from the 1980s on using BL as a mechanism to 'play sexuality,' change viewpoints and move from 'passive to active.'[52] Many BL fans around the world, including BL cosplayers in Australia, have taken a similar path.
  26. The agency of fan-girls within the Australian Cosplay community is not always met with approval. Cattypattra's rant is about 'cosplay yaoi,' that is, cosplayers who act out BL scenarios either onstage at cosplay events, at conventions, or in photographic shoots that are later posted on sites such as Deviant Art. Cattypattra describes practitioners of cosplay yaoi as 'girls dressed up as men making out against walls' and 'fourteen-year-old fan-girls making out and sticking [their] tongues down each other's throats.'[53] It should be noted that fan-girls are not just vilified in the realm of cosplay; producers of fan-art and fan-fiction are also reviled. There are a number of 'anti-yaoi rants' posted on different networking sites around the internet. One of the most famous on Deviant Art is American fan-fiction author Snappedchopstick's 'Dear Yaoi Fan-girls: I Hate You.'[54] This open letter was posted in February 2005 and the response is ongoing, even though the Deviant Art account was declared abandoned in 2009. As of February 2013, the post has been viewed 283,819 times and has been commented on 6,976 times.
  27. In the Australian cosplay scene, disapproval of the 'scary fan-girl' is most often visible around the controversial 'yaoi panels' that are hosted at several conventions including Manifest and Avcon. Two cosplayers made the following comments regarding the 2010 Avcon yaoi panel, 'At 1:30 I went to the Yaoi panel and OH MY GOD the info was just a copy and paste from the yaoi Wikipedia page and then the crazy fan-girl running the panel used pins as prizes to get guys [to] kiss each other I was extremely unimpressed and felt insulted by how they ran it ARRGGHH so whatever to that, never again.'[55] And the 2005 Animania panel:

      Seriously speaking though, I'm all for a yaoi/yuri panel if ignorant people walk away having learnt something. But if there's fan-girls and boys cheering at a pic[ture] of SasukexKakashi [from non-BL anime series Naruto] or whatever being displayed on the projector then it's purely fanservice and the point of the panel would be lost. That is something I do not want to see. I believe that people have more dignity than that.[56]

    These two responses to yaoi panels at popular culture events seem to present an expectation within the Australian cosplay community that, while a yaoi panel has the potential to deliver new ideas and material, most often than not, they divulge in 'scary fan-girl' activity.
  28. The most (in)famous yaoi panel hosted in the Australian cosplay community is the 2007 Manifest panel which resulted in the banning of the panellists from future Manifest conventions for a period of five years. The ban was placed after the body responsible for organising Manifest received complaints that inappropriate adult themed material had been screened during the panel. Many convention participants applauded the ban of the two panellists. However there was also a backlash from cosplayers who stated that Manifest needed to show more responsibility:

      Manifest is the organiser, and therefore by law they are responsible for everything happening during Manifest. If they organise an event which contains adult theme (as all Yaoi panels obviously do), Manifest has to check the content of the panel before saying that the material is MA15+. If they don't check the material, they need at least to make the [panellists] sign a disclaimer, to confirm that the material is MA15+. Did they even check IDs of everyone attending the panel? It's too easy to applaud Manifest when they are clearly at fault and are pointing the blame to others when they are the ones liable.[57]

    The panellists, who were both experienced cosplayers, responded to the ban by stating that they would never return to the convention, making the ban redundant. Interestingly, conSENSUAL, an adult-only event, was conceived by members of the Manifest organising committee and may be an indirect response to the aftermath of the 2007 yaoi panel.[58]

  29. In this article I have briefly examined attitudes towards BL and yaoi in the Australian cosplay community. I has investigated the ways in which these terms have come to be adopted and used within the fandom and the ways in which BL narratives are consumed and produced by cosplayers. The issue of cross-play in relation to BL was presented in comparison to the British pantomime tradition and the Takarazuka Revue in Japan. Lastly, I examined the attitudes to BL as presented by cosplayers themselves through entries made on social networking sites such as YouTube, Deviant Art and Through the consumption and production of BL (and yaoi) narratives, cosplayers influence cosplay practices throughout Australia. This might be in the form of encouraging all cosplayers to try their hand at cross-play, or in the creation of new conventions and anime events. Future research should be conducted into the gender identification and sexuality of cosplayers and the production of BL and yaoi, and how this may relate to reactions to them. It is clear that BL cosplay in Australia has raised various issues about gender in a global context.


    [1] '2012/2013 Australian Convention Dates,' Cosplayaus Blog, 1/3/2012, online:, site accessed 20 March 2012. This blog has since been removed. The 2013 list of Australian Convention dates can be accessed at DeviantArt, online:, accessed 27 June 2013. The author of this site has requested not to be identified here.

    [2] Another site popular with Australian cosplayers that has not been examined in this article is Cure, a Japanese cosplay site with an English language interface. Likewise World Cosplay is a recent site that has risen to popularity. As of September 2011, many Australian cosplayers seem to favour Facebook and Tumblr, a picture sharing site, over Deviant Art. It should be noted that these new image-sharing sites do not seem to facilitate the same kind of community building that was present on Deviant Art. Instead of commenting on photos or sending private messages, many Tumblr users simply 'like' or 're-share' images instead of starting a conversation about the images in question.

    [3] My experience with cosplay in the Australian community dates from 2007 and ranges from entering national competitions such as the Madman National Cosplay Champsionship (third place 2012) as well as organising local events and regularly judging cosplay competitions.

    [4] As Mark McLelland points out, it is illegal to possess most sexually explicit BL and yaoi material in Australia. Under the child pornography laws of 2004, any representation of children under the age of 18 (or who appear to be under the age of 18), even fictional characters, in sexual, violent or otherwise offensive situations is illegal. See, Mark McLelland, 'The world of yaoi: the internet, censorship and the global 'boys' love' fandom,' Faculty of Arts - Papers, Wollongong: University of Wollongong, 2005, online:, accessed 20 March 2012.

    [5] Craig Norris and Jason Bainbridge, 'Selling Otaku?: mapping the relationship between industry and fandom in the Australian cosplay scene,' Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific, issue 20 (April 2009), paragraph 1, online:, accessed 20 March 2012.

    [6] Theresa Winge, 'Costuming the imagination: origins of anime and manga cosplay,' Mechademia, vol. 1 (2006): 65–76; p. 65.

    [7] Winge, 'Costuming the imagination,' p. 65.

    [8] Roland Kelts, Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture has Invaded the US, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, p. 147.

    [9] In Japanamerica Roland Kelts recounts an interview with forty-one-year-old Hideki Ono:

      There seem to be many otaku (hard core fans or geeks) in America these days, but we actually learned it from you. America is where otaku started. When I was in junior high, Star Trek fans were the original otaku. They had activities and costumes. Back then, America was already doing it. I never thought it would spread to Japan.… About ten years ago, a woman researcher from America interviewed me. She asked: 'Why do Japanese people act like otaku? Isn't it weird?' And I said, 'We learnt it from you' (pp. 155–56).

    Likewise, science fiction critic and first generation cosplayer Kotani Mari also states that the first cosplayers were inspired by fans of Star Trek. Private conversation with Kotani Mari, Tokyo, 18 January 2010. See also Winge, 'Costuming the imagination,' pp. 66–67.

    [10] Larissa Hjorth, 'Game Girl: re-imagining Japanese gender and gaming via melbourne female cosplayers,' Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific, Issue 20 (April 2009): paragraph 1, online:, accessed 11 November 2011.

    [11] Michael Bruno, 'Cosplay: the illegitimate child of SF masquerades,' Glitz and Glitter: October Newsletter Selected Articles, 2002, online:, accessed 24 November 2010; Jee Yein, 'Nobyuki (Nov) Takahashi: origin of the word cosplay,' Yein Jee's Asian Blog: Asian Culture, Lifestyle, Offbeat and Entertainment, 3 July 2008, online:, accessed 24 November 2010.

    [12] Norris and Bainbridge, 'Selling Otaku?' paragraph 2.

    [13] This shift is one that has occurred at anime clubs throughout Australia. One example is the TUU Anime Society at the University of Tasmania and its sister society, Digi Visi Pop which was originally formed to host a popular culture convention. Instead of holding weekly anime screenings, the society now holds regular computer lans (local area network parties) where fans play games and discuss anime, as well as regular cosplay picnics. See As of March 2011, the TUU Anime society is now defunct.

    [14] Scanlations are often illegally scanned and translated manga that are posted online for free, or low fee browsing and reading by fans. For more on scanlations see Hye-Kyung Lee, 'Between fan culture and copyright infringement: manga scanlation,' Media Culture Society, vol. 31, no. 6, (2009): 1011–22, DOI: 10.1177/0163443709344251.

    [15] Hjorth, 'Game Girl,' paragraph 21; The World Cosplay Summit is an annual cosplay event the finals of which are held in August in Nagoya Japan. In 2012 the competition attracted cosplay duos from sixteen countries including Japan, Australia, America, South Korea, Italy and France.

    [16] Amy Simmons, 'Aussie cosplayers get their geek on,' ABC News, 9 April 2010, online:, accessed 26 November 2010; 'Manifest 2001 Information,' Anime Cons, online:, accessed 26 November 2010; 'About,' Manifest Official site, online:, accessed 26 November 2010. Manifest has since moved their about section. See, accessed 27 July 2013.

    [17] Armageddon is a New Zealand-based convention.

    [18] Simmons, 'Aussie cosplayers get their geek on.'

    [19] Simmons, 'Aussie cosplayers get their geek on.'

    [20] Takeuchi, Kayo 'The genealogy of Japanese Shōjo Manga (Girls' Comics) studies,' U.S.-Japan Women's Journal: A Journal for the International Exchange of Gender Studies, no. 38 (2010): 81–112, p. 91.

    [21] This mispronunciation unconsciously adds several layers to the use of yaoi in Australian fandom. 'Yowie' is sometimes used as a variant of 'ouch' to express pain—a serendipitous link to the 'other' acronym that yaoi is said to stand for: Yamete! Oshiri ga itai! (Stop that! My bottom hurts!). In a purely Australian context, a yowie is a mythological, manlike creature said to live in the bush, similar to the yeti, bigfoot or sasquatch. This association can be seen as adding a mysterious and menacing quality to yaoi. Furthermore between 1997 and 2005, chocolate company Cadbury released a series of chocolates with Australian animal toys inside of them called 'yowies.' The slogan that was used for these chocolates, which seems to be begging for fans to adopt it, was 'share the magic of yowie power.' See 'Cadbury,' online:, accessed 20 November 2010.

    [22] Online survey response by 24-year-old female cosplayer. This response reflects what is visible in the wider fandom community.

    [23] 'Slash fiction' is most often explicit homo-erotic fiction written by fans. The name comes from the 'slash' that separates the names of the two (or more) popular characters that the story is about, for example: 'Harry Potter/Draco Malfoy' or 'Vincent/Cloud.' Mark McLelland, 'Why Are Japanese girls' comics full of boys bonking?' Refractory: A Journal of Entertainment Media, vol 10 (December 2006), online:, accessed 20 November 2010. See also Sharalyn Orbaugh, 'Girls reading Harry Potter, girls writing desire: amateur manga and shōjo reading practices,' in Girl Reading Girl in Japan, ed. Tomoko Aoyama and Barbara Hartley, London; New York: Routledge, 2010, pp. 174–86.

    [24] Hjorth, 'Game girl,' paragraph 22.

    [25] Hjorth, 'Game girl,' paragraph 22.

    [26] 'Cosplayaus Gallery-READ this before submitting!' Cosplayaus Blog, online:, accessed 20 November 2010. This information has been reposted and can be accessed at the following site:, accessed June 27 2013. The author of this site has requested not to be identified here.

    [27] Although this information is freely available over the internet, for the purpose of this article, all identifying material has been removed.

    [28] Responses to the Cosplayaus cosplay questionnaire were posted in the Cosplayaus gallery, online ca. 2009:, however, this gallery has since been removed. The responses to the Cosplayaus online questionnaire consisted of a collection of cosplayers' introductory images and questionnaire responses listed by the Australian state in which they resided/cosplayed most frequently. The question responses can still be found (admittedly with difficulty) by searching the Deviant Art website using terms such as 'cosplay aus' and 'australian cosplayer.'

    [29] Responses to Cosplayaus online cosplay questionnaire by female Australian cosplayers 2009–2010.

    [30] Responses to Cosplayaus online cosplay questionnaire by three male Australian cosplayers 2009–2010. As noted above (see note 28) the image gallery associated with these questionnaires has since been removed.>

    [31] Norris and Bainbridge, 'Selling Otaku?' paragraph 9.

    [32] This is visible both in the theoretical framework that Norris and Bainbridge suggest and on a more concrete level—some of the best cosplay makeup, in particular false eyelashes, available in Australia are sourced from stores that primarily cater to drag queens.

    [33] Shirley Ardener, 'Male dames and female boys: cross-dressing in the English pantomime,' in Changing Sex and Bending Gender, ed. Alison Shaw and Shirley Ardener, London: Berghahn Books, 2005, p. 120.

    [34] Taken from the guidelines for the Manifest cosplay competition, the Madman cosplay competition and the World Cosplay Summit Preliminary competition hosted by Animania. 'Cosplay,' Manifest Inc., online:, accessed 15 March 2012 'Madman National Cosplay Competition Terms and Conditions 2010,' Madman, online:, accessed 15 March 2012; 'Animania Festival 2010 World Cosplay Summit Preselection Rules and Procedure,' Animania, online:, accessed 15 March 2012.

    [35] This list is drawn in part from the skits that were performed as part of the World Cosplay Summit in Nagoya, Japan in August 2010.

    [36] In contrast, male Kabuki actors (or Shakespearean actors for that matter) who perform solely as women—the onnagata, are lauded for their skill at performing femininity, to the extent where it has been said that they are more graceful and beautiful than any woman could ever be. For more on onnagata see Maki Isaka, 'Images of onnagata: complicating the binarisims, unravellng the labyrinth,' in PostGender: Gender, Sexuality and Performativity in Japanese Culture, ed. Ayelot Zohar, Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2009, pp. 22–38.

    [37] Karen Nakamura and Hisako Matsuo, 'Female masculinity and fantasy spaces: transcending genders in the Takarazuka theatre and Japanese popular culture' in Men and Masculinities in Modern Japan: Dislocating the Salaryman Doxa, ed. James Roberson and Nobue Suzuki, New York: Routledge, 2003, pp. 59-76, online:, accessed 2 July 2013, p. 63 (online pdf p.136).

    [38] Nakamura and Matsuo, 'Female masculinity and fantasy spaces,' p. 63 (online pdf p.136).

    [39] The Principal Boy is usually played by a young woman, however there are some notable exceptions such as Cliff Richard in the 1950s. The role was restored to women in 1971 when singer Cilla Black took to the stage. See Peter Holland, 'The Play of Eros: paradoxes of gender in English pantomime,' New Theatre Quarterly, vol. 13 (1997): 195–204, pp. 196–97.

    [40] Holland, 'The Play of Eros,' pp. 199–200.

    [41] Holland, 'The Play of Eros,' pp. 199–200.

    [42] Holland, 'The Play of Eros,' pp. 199–200.

    [43] Formed in 2006, the duo represented Australia at the World Cosplay Summit in 2011 where they came fourth (out of sixteen) and won the award for best constructed costume.

    [44] Interview with the Haraju2girls by Norris and Banbridge in Norris and Bainbridge, 'Selling Otaku?' paragraph 9.

    [45] Interview with the Haraju2girls by Norris and Banbridge in Norris and Bainbridge. 'Selling Otaku?' paragraph 9.

    [46] Cattypatra, 'Cattypatra by Cattypatra,' see Cosplayaus Questionnaire answers below image, online:, accessed 21 November 2010. Image has since been removed or moved.

    [47] Cattypatra, 'Cattypatra by Cattypatra.'

    [48] Cattypattra, 'Rant on cosplay yaoi,' online:, see (0.09 - 0.38) accessed 20 November 2010. This youtube clip has since been made 'friends only.'

    [49] Holland, 'The Play of Eros,' p. 204.

    [50] Cattypattra, 'Rant on cosplay yaoi,' (0.39).

    [51] Norris and Bainbridge, 'Selling Otaku?' paragraph 42

    [52] Fujimoto Yukari, Watashi no ibasho wa doko ni aru no?: Shōjo manga ga utsusu kokoro no katachi, Tokyo: Gakuyō Shobō, 1998; Tomoko Aoyama, 'Eureka discovers Culture Girls, Fujoshi, and BL: essay review of three issues of the Japanese literary magazine, Yuriika (Eureka),' Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific, issue 20 (April 2009): paragraph 15, online:, accessed 15 March 2012.

    [53] Cattypattra, 'Rant on cosplay yaoi,' (0.39-1.16).

    [54] Snappedchopstick, 'Dear Yaoi Fan-girls: I hate you,' 25 February 2005, online:, accessed 10 February 2013.

    [55] While this blog entry by a cosplayer on Deviant Art is freely available on the internet, I have chosen to remove all markers to protect the poster. The original post can be easily found via internet search.

    [56] From a post on the Animania forums. As per note 55 I have chosen to remove all markers to protect the original poster.

    [57] While this debacle was once well known throughout the Australian cosplay community, I have chosen to remove markers pointing to the identities of the panellists and the poster. Taken from the Cosplay.Com forums.

    [58] This has been neither confirmed nor denied by the organising committee. When asked about the legal issues regarding possession and screening of BL and yaoi-related material in Australia I was told that as the event was an 18+ event with a no tolerance policy for the attendance of minors and a ban on cameras and photography the organising committee did not believe that there would be any legal ramifications. Private email communication, August 2011.


Published with the support of Gender and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.
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Last modified: 21 August 2013 1218