At first glance, female masking may seem like a form of cosplay or crossdressing, since the fetish involves donning latex masks of women's faces and assuming female alter egos. But according to photographer Corinna Kern, who shot a photo series on female maskers last year, it's far more complicated than that.
To start, unlike many people who engage in cosplay or crossdressing, female maskers don't tend to show off their fetish in public, Kern told Refinery29 (though she was lucky enough to find a few who were willing for her project). This niche community exists mostly online, and it's molded by male, transgender, and a few female members who seek a way to explore their gender identity on their own terms.
"For a lot of maskers, their alter egos form a deeper part of themselves or bring to life something that their ‘regular’ self does not hold," Kern explained. "It can be a projection of their desires, or something that they lack but long for, even if they only aspire to live out those sides temporarily."
Masking means slightly different things to each individual masker. For some, it's a fetish; for others, a lifestyle. Some consider it a form of performance art.
For her project, Kern spoke with and photographed German men who were female maskers and came from a vast range of backgrounds — some were in their 20s, some in their 60s, some were single, some were married, and some were even engineers, metal musicians, or mountaineers. According to Kern, the one unifying factor among her subjects was an admiration for and fascination with femininity. As she put it, female masking is "rooted in the idea that every person has both male and female parts in them."
"[Female masking] also gives them an opportunity to counter the roles that are imposed on them by society — for example, not having to be the strong and tough man," she said, adding, "Others desire to be as sexy as a woman and want to experience the recognition and attention a woman receives when wearing a beautiful dress."
Kern reiterated that, although all female maskers engage with female performance, they do so in pursuit of their own feminine ideal. Each masker's alter ego reflects a part of themselves that they keep hidden most of the time, that they may not even reveal to their loved ones. Kern's work takes us behind the masks.
Click through to view a selection of Kern's photographs of maskers, along with her behind-the-scenes accounts of each photo.