Cosplay and consent is always a hot topic during con season. Most people say they totally get it but the sad reality is that they don’t. Cosplay and consent is more than just not grabbing a woman or man in costume inappropriately; it’s about discrimination and simply treating your fellow human beings with respect. The truth is, wearing a costume makes you a target for all sorts of unwelcome attention but in no way is wearing a costume an authorization for such treatment. It may be easy to forget, but behind those amazing costumes you see every year there are real people, just like you and their wearing of a costume does not necessarily mean that they want you to pay all of your attention to them. The likelihood of someone in costume wanting to just go about their day without being bothered is higher than you may realize. There are a lot of situations when Cosplay and consent comes in to play, many of which you may not be aware of. In hopes of having a smarter and more comfortable con season let’s break those down now.
NO Touching: For the love of god, DON’T FREAKING TOUCH COSPLAYERS. This should not need to be said, but year after year there are stories of Cosplayers being assaulted at cons. Think about it this way, if you were walking around the mall and saw a girl in jeans and a t-shirt would you just walk up to her and grab her by the waist? What about at the grocery store? If you see a guy in the produce section are you just going to walk up and start rubbing his stomach? You may be thinking to yourself, “What? No. That would be super weird.” Yeah it would be, and guess what? It still is totally weird even when someone is in costume. Now what if you’re thinking to yourself, “But that’s different. Girls at cons are always showing off their stomachs and cleavage. It’s all part of the fun.” First of all, don’t be a misogynistic dick. Second, many people might argue that part of the fun of going to the pool or the beach is wearing a swimsuit. I hear these days there are even such things as bikinis, which are two pieces and typically show a female’s stomach and tend to reveal more of their breasts than a sweatshirt. If you were at the pool would you just go fondle a girl in a bikini? Probably not, what with the whole societal standards things. So to simplify the whole thing I’ll put it this way: Conventions are a part of our society, therefore the implications of society still apply on the con floor. If you can’t do it to another human at the grocery store you can’t do it to another human at a convention. Do you want to just be grabbed and felt up by a stranger? No? Then knock that shit off and DON’T TOUCH THE COSPLAYERS.
ASK to take a picture: This one is pretty important to me. Most cosplayers are very gracious and will pose for a picture with or for you happily. However, if you just start snapping pictures of them while they are walking around you are bound to make them uncomfortable. I don’t enjoy having my picture taken, but you know what I hate even more? Someone trying to take my photo without my consent. What’s even worse is when people just come up and pose next you so they can get their picture taken with you, without your permission. Don’t be a paparazzo, be a freaking person and ASK for a photo. Even more, don’t be an asshole if the cosplayer whose photo you seek declines your invitation. They have the right to say no, and you have to respect that. Don’t then start begging or call them a bitch, just move on.
Don’t hit on me: Oh you had a huge crush on Hermione growing up and you just LOVE my costume? Cool story bro, move along. Cosplay is NOTHING like fetish play in the bedroom, and regardless of how someone is dressed, it is 100% unacceptable for you to treat it that way. Girls dressed as Wonder Woman and guys dressed as Thor are not doing it for your sexual fantasies, so please do not confuse the people in those costumes for the versions of the characters you dream about. If you see a costume you like because it’s one of your favorite characters too and you want to introduce yourself, get to know the person throughout the day and then maybe see if they’re up for a drink or dinner after the con that is totally fine. But do not simply approach someone in costume, tell them how sexy they look and ask them out. You may be asking yourself why, and it’s as simple as this: Why do you want to go on a date with someone in a costume you think is way hot? Is it because you can tell how compatible you two are and because you always laugh at each other’s jokes? Probably not, since you don’t know each other. Chances are the attraction is 100% physical and the invitation will come with some sexual expectations that a cosplayer does not deserve to be subjected to. Even if your intentions are pure, it is likely to not come off that way without the whole getting to know a person first thing.
A costume is not an excuse to stare or follow: I don’t think one really needs an explanation. It’s plain and simple; you cannot follow someone around a convention because you like their costume. You can actually get kicked out and even banned for that because it’s a little thing called harassment. Also, you can look and you can respectfully complement someone, but don’t stare. You may just be fascinated and admiring a costume but no matter what, being stared at is super uncomfortable. If you want to look, at least make eye contact and smile, that’s polite. Staring is creepy.
A costume is not an invitation for you to come and debate my accuracy or debate who I should have dressed as instead: True story – last year at DCC, I Cosplayed as Rogue from the X-Men cartoon in the 90’s. Towards the end of the day some guy (most likely drunk) started yelling “Hey Jean Grey!” at me. He walked over and told me how much he loved Jean Grey, and my costume. I thanked him, but let him know I was actually dressed as Rogue. I even dyed my hair and had stark white chunks in the front. He disagreed, and told me again that I was Jean Grey. I became slightly less polite when I corrected him again and told him I was pretty sure I knew who my costume was modeled after since I made it myself. He accepted, but then told me how much better Jean was and that I should have been her. THAT whole thing right there… yeah, don’t do that. If you see a costume you think could be more accurate or if you see a character you think was SO much better before the reboot, be a big kid and keep that shit to yourself. Cosplayers don’t want to hear your criticisms of their character choice; most people dress as someone because they love that character and criticizing them is just plain hurtful. When you see a costume that you don’t think is authentic enough just remind yourself that you have no idea what that person has gone through to get to that convention in costume. They might be new to cosplay and scared to make something all on their own, or they may have suffered something catastrophic with their well-planned out costume and they had to improvise at the last minute (i.e. when my handmade Star Trek costumes ripped two days before Starfest 2012 and I had to go mostly store bought – I was devastated and being called a “poser” was super hurtful and really unwelcome).
Shit talking – don’t be a hater: When I see the “Cosplay Fail” slideshows on BuzzFeed and similar sites, I just get sad. Laughing at someone’s efforts is cruel. There are not a whole lot of people who want to be made fun of when they are Cosplaying and the ones who are in it for the jokes are pretty obvious to spot. It is important to remember that we are all people in one place because we share a common love of awesome things; don’t be cold-hearted and put down your fellow conventioneers (like Musketeers, it’s a new phrase I’m trying). The same goes for body image shaming. Regardless of your body type and weight, if you feel good in a costume then I guarantee you are rocking it. Don’t be one of the bitches or douchebags that tries to make a plus-sized girl feel ashamed of herself for daring to Cosplay as someone in a revealing or form-fitting costume. And the very same goes for men because they don’t deserve to feel that shame either, you may think you’re super clever with your “Fat Thor” jokes but in reality you are a bully and an asshole. Finally, do not slut shame girls who are in revealing costumes. Guess what? Pop culture hasn’t really given women a whole lot of characters to look up to who aren’t sexualized in one way or another. Do you think Princess Leia is a slut? No? Then chances are the girl dressed in a Slave Leia costume isn’t either. She’s just a human female Cosplayer who doesn’t owe you shit.
And finally, I’m going to turn the tables for a minute and focus on manners for Cosplayers themselves.
Just because you are in costume is not an excuse for you to be a psychopath: Cosplaying is fun, and so is embodying some of the character you are dressed as, but there is a limit. If you are dressed as The Joker and therefore you think it would be fun to run around scaring kids and yelling weird things at people as you walk past them then I hate to break it to you, but you are being kind of a psychopath. If you are dressing up for an excuse to fuck with people anonymously then you are in the wrong place. You also still have to employ normal social graces. For example, last year at DCC a guy dressed as Quark came up to my husband and asked him if I was for sale. He then saw that I was pushing a stroller with my one year old in it and he asked my husband if he could buy both of us. Long story short, we ended up basically having to shove this guy out from in front of us because he refused to break character and accept that I was not going to play along. I kind of doubt whoever the hell that was would have dared ask my husband those questions if he wasn’t disguised by his costume. He may have thought he was being funny, but I did not and I made it very clear. When he refused to drop it and let us move past him he went from being annoying weirdo to psychopath. So just a friendly reminder, if you want to be treated like a normal person when you are in costume then you should still act like a normal person when you are in your costume.
Well that about wraps it up. Please keep all of these things in mind as you go to conventions throughout the season and the rest of the year. The most important thing is to remember that we are all human beings who deserve and need to treat others with respect. Let’s set an example at Denver Comic Con this weekend. I want to get through the entire convention with no reports of assault or harassment showing up on the news, and I don’t think that’s too much to ask for.
All images were carefully thought out and drawn by Keriann McNamara-McCauliffe and Adrian Puryear. And they are copyrighted, suckers.