Monday, May 13, 2013

Cosplay Respect and Responsibility

I don’t like to get myself involved in unnecessary drama but I do think a lot of issues going on inside the costuming community need to be addressed.

I have been trying to write something like this for a while and I lacked the words to do so without making it about me.  I have seen a lot of focus on these impending issues and many of those speaking of them made the topic completely about themselves.  No matter which side of an issue you are on making it completely about yourself rarely makes an impact.  That said I do use myself as an example.

A lot of words have been flowing around about Cosplay =/= Consent, ConSense, and disrespectful (or fake) media outlets.  All these topics are one in the same.

The one main problem with Cosplay =/= Consent is that some people have distorted the message.  The message is quite simple “Cosplay is not consent.”  The mission statement is right there in the title but it lacks the definition that some may need. 

The basic idea is don’t touch or grab a cosplayer without asking and getting permission.  It is also about using common sense, don’t ask inappropriate questions (or make inappropriate statements) and if you do and a cosplayer chooses to not answer then move along to your next question don’t try to push a response.  Simple.

However, it is not saying that it’s wrong to say something like “you’re hot.”  (Here’s where I use myself as an example)… I don’t like when people call me hot.  I really don’t like when people call me sexy.  This is more pertinent with people in my everyday life, not with fans.  This is because while with coworkers, friends and such I think it’s highly inappropriate, but with fans it’s intended as a harmless compliment and some fans may not know any other way to express that.  I hold those in my personal life to a different standard.  I mean when your best friends boyfriend tells you that you’re sexy it’s a whole different ball game and inappropriate on many levels.  So while I still don’t like it online, I accept it as a good thing from fans and followers.  I don’t get offended on my page and I won’t get offended at a convention.  I might wince a little, but I won’t be upset.  There is a difference between daily life and fans.  Cosplayers need to separate the two.

It happens.  Sometimes it’s okay.  Sometimes it’s not.  My best advice is to always ask first.  You want to have a picture taken with a cosplayer?  Ask.  You want to put your arm around the cosplayer?  Ask.  Best spot to place that hand is on the top of their shoulder.  The second best place is on the waist but make sure you look were you are going.  I had an over jealous fan miss my waist once.  It was awkward, but it was also very obvious it was a mistake and he didn’t intend to grab me.  In fact, I am pretty sure he didn’t even know he missed my waist.

This is never okay.  It’s not okay in any sense.  It’s not okay to grab.  Those that do grab should really keep an eye out for heels in areas they don’t want kicked.  Lest we forget our male friends are normally wearing lots of prop artillery.  I focus this one on women because the grabbing seems to be a bigger issue for female costumers, though I am sure it happens to men as well.

This is where costumers need to come in and take some responsibility.  We all have some costumes that attract inappropriate behaviors.  This doesn’t mean you should avoid those costumes and it doesn’t mean that those behaviors become acceptable.  It does mean that you should take measures to protect yourself.

The golden rule.  If you will be wearing a costume that attracts this kind of attention DO NOT COSPLAY ALONE.  No.  Don’t do it.  Don’t walk around a convention as Starfire and expect people to behave because in a crowd there will always be people that will not behave (or do not know how to).  Reality is some fans do not know how to speak to (or behave around) members of the opposite sex (male or female).  Remember that and find yourself a group of people to be with.  If you choose to wear a costume such as Starfire’s and cosplay alone inappropriate behavior is still not acceptable, but you have to be mentally prepared for it.  I will not condone any statement that says wearing certain costumes makes inappropriate behavior acceptable.  It’s absolutely not acceptable, but be prepared.

I have found that in this community “most” costumers are very supportive of each other.  I am sure if you really want to dress as Starfire (I am so sorry, she is an easy target) even if you don’t have a floor buddy or a group that you can find a friendly cosplayer to pal around with for the day.

So what if something does happen?  Take mental note of as many details on the person as you can and get security or a staff member that can contact security for you.  I have also found our community sticks up for each other as well.  You can always go old school Blanche DuBois style and start screaming fire, but you might freak out a lot of people in the process.  It’s a great way to both get attention and clear out a room.

I think the real issue here is having costumers accept responsibility and understand that they can have control over what happens on and off the convention floor.  You have all the power in the world to be treated respectfully; you just need to use it.  There is nothing wrong with walking out of an interview because of inappropriate questions.  You’re giving them your time and your time is valuable.  Sure some costumers don’t mind inappropriate questions and that’s all well and good but don’t ever do anything that makes you uncomfortable.  You have every right to walk away.

It seems so simple but I know that often we think that being subjected to this behavior is part of the gig.  It is only going to become a standard if we allow it to be.  We can change that but the only way to do it is by sticking up for ourselves, taking precautions and sharing our stories with each other.  The more we know the more we can protect our community.

Which leads me to STOP THE SECRECY!  Information is a good thing.  It’s a very good thing.  Often we learn about contacts to keep away from through a very hush-hush grape vine.  There are people out there that have no respect for costumers and they want to exploit us.  They want to prey on the naïve.  I keep hearing horror stories of Skype interviews beginning as a simple interview and then having a bonus round which is some form of a strip game.  I have also heard about relatively friendly “contacts” pushing costumers into amateur adult films.  Hey, if you’re a cosplayer and this is what you’re looking for then by all means go for it, but if you’re not you have no obligation to these people.  It’s okay to say no.

Why are we so quiet when these things happen?  Sure it may make us feel victimized but only if we let it.  In fact, if we speak up, scream and shout about it we are no longer the victim and instead become a hero because we are preventing it from happening to those around us.  We can’t protect our community if we don’t speak up and talk to each other.

My purpose in writing this is to say that it’s okay to define your own standards.  You’re the only person that can control how people interact with you.  It’s okay to say no.  I truly think some costumers need to hear that particularly those just starting to enjoy this hobby because these are things you will have to deal with at some point.

Here is where I make it about me for a tiny bit:
Once upon a time, I became close with someone in the community.  We talked often.  The conversations changed from typical friendly chat to more intimate details.  Details I wasn’t comfortable sharing with this person for many reasons.  Sometimes I answered by changing the subject or by responding objectively and sometimes I just didn’t want to answer.  When the friend didn’t get the answers they were seeking they would attempt to guilt trip (manipulate) me into a response.  For awhile I allowed this to happen because it was seemingly okay by those around me.  Since then I have realized that it doesn’t matter if it’s okay by other people.  What matters is whether or not I think its okay.  I set my own standards and if I let other people set standards for me I am setting myself up for disaster.  My point in sharing this story is to show that we all start somewhere.  There is some point in time where we begin to understand exactly how we do not want to be treated and this was mine.

I have been trying to write versions of this post for about three months now.  Each time, I deleted it because it wasn’t coming out the way I wanted it to.  I am very happy to finally have this put down in words that are exactly how I want them to be.  I know I am a little late to the party on these topics but with all the vlogs, facebook posts and blog posts that were rapidly popping up I got a bit washed out with information and opinions.  Almost all of what I have seen posted on these issues were written completely about the person writing it.  I hope I was able to accomplish writing this without making it about myself outside of sharing a story or two.   I am hoping you see why I shared the stories I did.

Cosplay =/= Consent and ConSense is about empowering oneself but being educated and prepared.  So get crafting and rock that amazing costume with confidence and a fun group of friends.  Have fun and stay safe!