We all have role models. For some of us, it’s a family member, or maybe a celebrity. But for others, it’s a fictional character.

The first time I deliberately dressed as male, it so happened it was as the main character from a show I loved as a kid. At school, everyone unfortunately knew right away who I was supposed to look like, and so began a long phase of being mocked for ‘not acting like the other girls.’

But as I got older, I found a group of friends where this sort of cross-dressing was acceptable… and they weren’t rainbow-clad drag queens.

They were cosplayers. That is, they dressed as characters they loved, and sometimes even “crossplayed,” meaning they dressed as characters from a different gender.

This wild fad has always existed in some extremity or another, but has hit the mainstream like never before in the past decade. Children and adults alike come from far and wide to attend conventions, where self expressing themselves through characters that they look up to or relate to in some way is entirely the norm.

Basically it’s Halloween year round.

It was among groups like these, under the guise of fandom, that I finally felt safe to begin exploring my male image.

Just this weekend, Supercon hit South Florida, with an estimated attendance of over 50,000 people crowding into the Miami Beach Convention Center. Guests included William Shatner from Star Trek, Ben McKenzie from Gotham, and Nancy Cartwright, who is known for voicing Bart Simpson. A plethora of vendors and artists alike filled two massive show rooms, each eagerly conversing with these loyal fans that had come from all around the United States.

However, upon entering the convention, cosplayers were greeted near the doors by a small group of Christian extremists picketing with signs warning of Hell if they didn’t repent their questionable ways.

Related: Gay Comic Geek “Reverses” Convention

Certainly cross-dressing is not the main goal here, rather unabashedly showing off the fictional faces that touched your life in some way or another. However, there are absolutely no limits as to who dresses in what way. Whether straight or gay, you’re welcome to come in a wig, a set of combat boots, or even walk among the crowd in full drag – no one would blink twice.

Essentially, it’s an unintentional but undeniable safe zone for those who are gender non-conforming.

As someone who was very much in the closet about my bisexuality prior to my transition to male, I didn’t have as many opportunities to explore the vast and diverse LGBT communities that would have welcomed this self-exploration of expression. To put it short, a straight girl isn’t likely to stumble into a lot of drag bars, especially not in the small Midwestern community where I grew up.

 Conventions were my chance to explore my identity.

Even this weekend, walking through the crowd at Supercon, I bumped shoulders with more than a few bearded school girls, four-foot-tall militants with mascara moustaches, and oddly-busty Spidermen.

For the average straight, cisgender and sheltered person, this anti-conformity utopia of self-expression is also a chance to see diversity in person possibly for the first time while still cloaked in a safe veil of geeky normalcy.

It isn’t about who passes, or who looks the most like their character. It’s about having fun, and making memories, free of judgement.

Shouldn’t it be like that everywhere in life?

This was the first time I walked through one of these underrated safe zones since I transitioned, and I couldn’t help but reflect on how much easier it was to pull off my superhero of choice now that I didn’t need to use eyeliner and dry-bristles to emulate the appearance of face stubble.

But it’s good to know that someday when I give Wonder Woman a shot, no one is going to blink twice at the oddly-low sideburns peering out from beneath my wig.

In fact, they’ll probably just ask for a photo.