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Trans Cosplay Star Ava Glasscott Wants to Be a Hero to Bullied Youth

Ava Glasscott found refuge in comic books when she was bullied at school. Now she wants to take charge of her own narrative.
September 7, 2016, 1:57pm
All photos by Leah James

"Four, five. Still alive. Six, seven. All good girls go to heaven."

A delirious, sobbing Catwoman spits out the taunt as a Trump-esque tycoon named Shreck shoots her point-blank. She kills him soon after. It's Michelle Pfeiffer's beautifully deranged final scene in Batman Returns, where an abused woman is twisted into a coy punisher, fighting off both intended saviors and cruel aggressors. Pfeiffer's performance captivated a seven-year-old trans girl in Boston who would later rename herself Ava Glasscott.


Growing up, Glasscott was tormented by bullies in what she describes as the "torture chamber" of school, with endless jeers of "freak" echoing in the halls. Two decades later, Glasscott has left the bullies behind to become a prominent trans cosplay star—making regular appearances at Comic-Con, dressing as Disney villainess Maleficent in fashion shows, and visiting RuPaul's DragCon as Wonder Woman.

Glasscott remembers trying on her sister's white Communion dress when she was three years old. Her appalled mom declared that a boy wasn't allowed to wear it. Totally horrified, Glasscott realized, "Oh my god, I don't want to be a boy!" Instead, she found refuge in pop and fantasy, devouring epic comic book sagas of Catwoman, Wonder Woman, and other female heroines.

Glasscott enrolled in a cosmetology program that opened up a vibrant new creative outlet."It gave me a sense that I could do something with my life, make a living," she says. "It was a really creative environment. Then girls would ask me to do their hair for senior prom. I'm happy that I got to make them happy. When they look at their hair in photos from that day, they'll never forget me."

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After her gender reassignment surgery in 2012, she found another place to call home: cosplay and the nightlife scene. A friend from her MySpace community of trans women invited her out to a gay club. "The club scene protected me," she remembers, "I loved the lights and music. I got kind of a rush and wanted to be on stage. I just needed the confidence." Her love of Halloween pushed her toward cosplay, letting her spend a night inhabiting the fantastical personas that captivated her. In 2014, she made a proud debut in the Scream Queen of Salem pageant in lavish looks as Jessica Rabbit and Maleficent, gradually developing other costumes for Comic-Con appearances and Halloween parties as Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, Linda Evangelista, the Bride of Frankenstein, and Wonder Woman, which all made her feel "powerful and in control."

Glasscott walked in a 2015 Michael Charles fashion show in Boston as Maleficent, where she was accompanied by muscular men in leather harnesses and chains crawling in on all fours. "I wanted to go down the runway like a snake," she says, remembering how she cried during the Disney film Maleficent. "I was just thinking about how Angelina Jolie would do it, playing this betrayed and angry woman." This past spring, she flew to Los Angeles and appeared at RuPaul's DragCon as Wonder Woman, meeting RuPaul, Catwoman actress Julie Newmar, Amber Rose, and Blac Chyna, who screamed, "Wonder Woman! You go, girl!" Her next cosplay look, she says, will be Suicide Squad's Harley Quinn—"a tortured, broken soul who fell in love with someone who was so dark."

Ava Glasscott dressed as Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman." All photos by Leah James

Earlier this year, Glasscott became the first trans model signed to the big Boston agency Maggie Inc. and soon earned bookings for the magazine Boston Spirit, a Massachusetts public health campaign, and other commercial assignments. She's now working on building her portfolio so she can book gigs in Los Angeles and try her hand at acting. Her dream role? "I want a role in a Batman or X-Men movie that impacts someone so much that then they'll want to dress up as me."

I met Glasscott through Andrew Barret Cox, a mutual friend and popular singer-songwriter, at the first New York party she ever attended. Dressed as Julia Roberts from Pretty Woman, she immediately made an impression: A bartender asked her out and a promoter offered her a job. The nightlife scene gave Glasscott a place to connect and create, to perform and pose. She remembers thinking, Oh my god! I don't feel like I'm the one who's the outsider and it's OK to be over the top. "When you're at a club," she explains, "you should be fabulous and wear a giant washing machine on your head if [that's what] you want."

Despite the stifling humidity of a New York summer, during a recent visit Glasscott practically twirled through the streets, feeling free and "fishy," she told me. Going to Brian Newman's packed jazz night at the Gramercy Park Hotel, I watched Glasscott turn every head in the venue as she strolled in wearing her vintage Hervé Léger coral dress. "I used to feel like a hideous animal," Glasscott says afterwards, "but there I felt like a cool kid. It was magical." Another Gramercy guest named Lendita Berisha soon joined us and she immediately fell into friendly conversation with Glasscott, later calling her "one of the most ambitious, independent women that I have come across."

Glasscott and Newman met last fall when they were both on my nightlife panel at Columbia University; as they caught up at the Gramercy, I watched her relax and smile widely, gently fidgeting with her hair. We then zipped down to wild hotspot The Box, and before I could take two sips of a vodka cran, Glasscott was already nestled next to trans icon Amanda Lepore, gabbing away with her on the big white couch in the middle of the club. Together they stared agape at performance artist Narcissister pulling several hot dog links out of her vagina and club headliner Rose Wood setting her penis on fire. Glasscott loved the outrageous acts: "I felt like it all really moved me," she says, "and I belonged there."

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I had one last goodbye kiki with Glasscott before she returned to Boston. The coral dress and cosplay boots were carefully packed away in her luggage. Wearing casual workout clothes, she muses on how far she'd come from her old school hallways. "Someone was always picking and picking on me," she remembers. "They would shoot spitballs or gum into my hair." She extends her exquisitely manicured hand in protest: "But I never want to be a tragic figure."

And she isn't. On the contrary, we laughed quite a bit during her Manhattan adventure, and by the end of the visit she was casually referring to me as "bitch" or "Vicky," which I loved. She was practically giddy about going back to Boston and continuing work on her Harley Quinn look. "I'm going to rhinestone my gun as soon as I get back. This year I know everyone's going to try to be Harley, but I'm going to put my own twist on it. You'll see."