I never really thought about being a girl, and that being uncomfortable for me, until I started getting older and people started forcing things upon me, like not wearing masculine clothing in public so I didn’t make them ashamed. It wasn’t until I was 13, though, that I understood gender expression. That’s when I started cosplaying, dressing up as characters from my favorite anime and manga series.

It was the first time I ever was in a place where I was being called “he,” and I found myself more drawn to the masculine characters and being seen as a guy. At one point at a convention, a woman came up to me and said, “Holy s---, you’re a man? You’re the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen.” I had never been called that in my life before. I've always been called beautiful, but being called a beautiful man was different. That was the compliment I was looking for, and I never knew it. That’s when I realized I wasn't actually comfortable with having to live as a girl.

I started cosplaying boys more, which was actually never a problem for even my mom—it’s only when it was past the character, when I was dressing as a guy as a part of my actual identity, that it wasn’t okay for people. Still, my everyday style got way more out there the more I cosplayed, because you wear your character’s items—or at least I wear them—in public all the time.

I’ve basically dressed as an emo kid my entire life, which means skinny jeans, beanies, band shirts, black nail polish, and those plastic wristbands—enough to go up to my elbows on each arm. I’d do really thick eyeliner, almost up to my eyebrows—pure black; I used to wear fake snake bites. I’d buy those clothes ****with my mom at Hot Topic, but when I started getting cosplay items, I'd buy those myself, like this pink, plaid tuxedo for Trip from _DRAMAtical Murde_r, an anime visual novel set in the near future in Japan. It’s pretty dorky, but I always wear the vest from it in public—I love it so much. I have a kimono I wear all the time that’s really comfortable. And I don’t know if my shoulders still fit ever since I started testosterone, but I have this really badass jacket with hanging tassels that’s my favorite thing ever from my favorite character to cosplay, Mink, who is also from _DRAMAtical Murde_r.

Basically, though, they’re things that you wouldn’t see on the street, which is why I’m like, well, I’m just going to f---ing wear them. At that point, I’ll just wear literally any wig, too—I have at least 38. I buy them on Amazon and eBay from China and Japan, but Arda, which is in the U.S. and a bit more expensive, is the best for buying cosplay wigs—they’re perfect.

My favorite is this wig called Bucky; it looks like a silver version of Bucky’s hair from The Avengers. It’s the type of thing my friends and I would wear just every day down the street in my small mountain town of Estes Park, which is a little less than two hours away from Denver in Colorado. Not only would we wear cosplays—we would just wear ridiculous things walking downtown, like giant, bedazzled sombreros. We would just do it because we thought we were the coolest kids ever—we didn’t care what people thought. In fact, no one ever bothered us about it; mostly people just wanted to take pictures of us, and thought we were pretty cute. I guess people would stare, but I never really minded, because I like when people stare at me. Like, yeah, I know I’m cool.

Of course, I wear all that to cosplay conventions, too, which usually last about four days. I used to go to several—Denver Comic Con, Nan Desu Kan, Starfest, WasabiCon, and COAF, which is Colorado Anime Fest—but this year I've only able to make it to one day of COAF, and I don’t think I’ll be making any other anime conventions this year. When I had a lot of free time, everything I ever did went into cosplay, but now that I literally have none because I’m busy with modeling, I just have to put it on the back burner until I can get to a place where I’m a bit more settled. Of course, it’s not bad that I’m working a lot—I just can’t play around as much as I want to. But that only makes sense, because that’s a part of growing up.

Plus, there are similarities. For me, modeling has always been in a way exactly like cosplaying: I dress up, I put on makeup, I take photos. That’s why it never affected me too much when I was younger and modeling as a girl—it was always just like a character to me. Anyway, I’ve never really thought of clothing being boys’ clothing or girls’ clothing. Now that I’m a man, I have a few different styles, which range from punk grunge all the way to princess. Some days I like being really pretty and I'm made up and wearing pink and flowy shirts, dresses, and floral shawls, and others I’ll just wear ripped jeans, combat boots, and a T-shirt. It just depends on the day.

I have been buying way more women’s clothing now, though, ever since my top surgery. Now that I have no boobs, I can wear anything, which is awesome. The world is so free to me.

As told to Stephanie Eckardt.

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