Content Warning(s): Rape, sexual harassment, stalking, mild Tales of Berseria spoilers.
Please note that this post will contain sensitive material; please exercise caution if you see a topic that could be upsetting to you.
When I attended Ohayocon a couple weeks ago, I was harassed twice. But I wasn't wearing cosplay. I was wearing my favorite pink dress for hosting the Fantasy Ball, and it was the first time I hosted an anime convention's formal dance without cosplaying. I went from the bathroom on the second floor of the Hyatt to the Artist Alley because we had some spare time, only taking about 20-30 minutes. In that span of time, I experienced 1. A man walking past me in the aisle, shooting a picture with flash that was aimed at my chest, twice and 2. A man approaching me and giving me unwanted attention via attempted catcalling when I was busy browsing AA with my friend.
And you know what? "Cosplay Is Not Consent" didn't help me.
In fact, "Cosplay Is Not Consent," by itself, doesn't help anyone, cosplayer or attendee, and the amount of publicity these buzzwords have gotten enrages me, as people neglect to recognize solutions to the problem or help for people who've experienced harassment, stalking, abuse, assault, or otherwise.
I was recently interviewed for an article in the Columbus Dispatch, approached to talk about the subject of "Cosplay Is Not Consent." I jumped to call back the interviewer as soon as I could, prepared as ever to discuss the how the movement is failing to create change in our community, as well as offer my perspective on what we should be doing. I wasn't aware that the article would contain 101-level explanation that yes, harassment happens to us, but not much more.
During the phone interview, I mentioned that I was a survivor of rape (unrelated to the community, but that guides my every decision) and was encouraged to answer several uncomfortable questions regarding how old I was and other circumstances related to what happen. This was after the Aziz Ansari news story broke, and I had been forced to watch people in my various social circles comment on what they thought was and wasn't rape. At my own peril, knowing my rapist could very well come across the article, I still gave some answers, when I realize I should have brought up the indiscretion. I realize also that those questions that bothered me were uncomfortable, but only scratched the surface of what police or medical officials might have asked had I chosen to report when I was raped. Survivors don't get any enjoyment out of recounting what happened to them. I know that in that moment, I wanted to be as open as possible in case the interviewer wanted to share that detail, in case someone in Columbus would read about what happened to me and think, hey, maybe I'm not alone. If telling my story helps just one person, I tell myself, it's worth it.
I shared many details of the community with the interviewer, who to my knowledge has no experience being a cosplayer or a survivor of sexual assault, or even what anime conventions such as Ohayocon are like. I regret not having explained that there's etiquette that comes with talking about cosplayers in general, such as sharing the names they designate for themselves and not asking that they give a "real" name, crediting the character and series it's from, and showing interest in why they chose that particular character.
In retrospect, I'm extremely upset for anyone the interviewer might have talked to who was trans or using a name other than their birth name, as many people in our community have needs like that; or even for people who don't want their professional names associated with their cosplay, which is another common preference.
I did, however, speak at length about Velvet (from the video game, not the "anime film" as referenced in the article) when it came time to be photographed for the story. It was one of the coldest nights of the year when I stepped out, bundled in blankets and grateful for my friend's help in handling. Like Hellawes, I thought, the snowy setting Velvet encounters after she escapes from prison after being imprisoned there for three years. I explained that Velvet was a survivor of physical trauma if not metaphorical "other" trauma (for myself, it mirrors a lot of the ways I feel about my own sexual assault), and that it was barely a choice for me to make her--I made her before the game even came out, because based on her design, she was different. I talked about how proud I was of my costume, which I made entirely myself and with the help of my friends, who workshop with me on weekends. I talked about how I styled the wig, how cosplayers often do this themselves or commission friends; I talked about how glad I was Velvet was allowed to keep her hair as symbolism of self. I mentioned that I give a panel specifically about this character, her trauma, and how the game treats survivorship, a panel that I gave at Ohayocon. I talked about how I had wanted another panel as well.
When Ohayocon opened submissions for panels last year, I submitted another one that was entitled "'Cosplay Is Not Consent' Is NOT Enough." When I then heard that had they had not only not accepted mine, but had scheduled my panel and workshop at times directly conflicting with the "Cosplay Is Not Consent" one that they DID choose, I was disappointed. I wanted to know why they thought it was going to be a more informative panel than mine, or more enjoyable. I wanted to at least support some of the people who would share their stories there, perhaps for the first time. Maybe I'd find other survivors and connect with them; but unfortunately, that schedule wasn't up to me.
I know that my stance that "Cosplay Is Not Consent" isn't doing enough is somewhat lost against the people who don't believe there should be policies at all, but here's the thing: I've experienced a LOT more than just at-con harassment in a low-cut top, in my life. And if I'm honest, I'm still very much in recovery for multiple traumas, some of which seem to trigger my symptoms with every indiscreet, breaking news story on #MeToo. There's only so much that anyone can speak about if they haven't experienced that full spectrum. A wolf whistle, while still unconscionable, is different from a rape. We need people at every single convention who are qualified to understand, respond, and report about every aspect of this. We need staff specially trained in the needs of survivors.
I'm a survivor. When I interviewed, I spoke for myself and other survivors who couldn't speak at all. We need to do better for survivors and for those who we can prevent from becoming survivors. Groups like Uplift are very important. My team at the Cosplayer Survivor Support Network (CSSN) (not, as incorrectly printed, "Cosplayer Survivor and Support Network"; there is no "and," we support survivors) works very hard to ensure that cosplayers' unique needs are being met but also incorporates research on convention harassment policies for ANY attendee, not just cosplayers.
When we only say, "Cosplay Is Not Consent," put up a pretty logo, and don't provide real and practical resources for people to use when they encounter a nonconsensual situation, we are only covering the highest legal implications. I've been a teacher in my lifetime, and during every training session I can remember, I recall being told not to tell children (or anyone), "Don't do that." It won't stop them from doing "that." It doesn't offer a suggestion as to what they could be doing instead. It isn't modeling good behavior for them. It helps no one to say "that's not consent for this one specific group of people here," then not give explicit guidelines.
Perhaps if the code of conduct had said, "If you take someone's photograph without asking them, you have not obtained their consent. This includes taking photographs of any attendee, not just cosplayers. This also includes taking photos behind another photographer so that the subject doesn't see or agree to your photo, as well as taking photos while you're walking. Ask everyone you photograph if they would like to take a photo, then step aside out of the line of traffic and allow the subject to prepare themselves and pose for the photo," maybe I wouldn't have experienced that harassment.
Perhaps if the interviewer had understood what I wanted to convey, my quotation wouldn't have been the asinine, "I can get harassed sometimes," which describes nothing about my experiences, but more along the lines of, "I have yet to attend a single convention where someone doesn't come up to me and casually confide in me about a situation of harassment, whether I know the person or we've just met for the first time. I formed the Cosplayer Survivor Support Network to bring us together so that nobody feels like they're alone, and so that we can share our voices with conventions to build a safer, more inclusive community for everyone."
A final note: I'm extremely displeased with the fact that the author included my statement about not wanting to use my real name specifically because I've been stalked online. By including that, he empowered my stalkers (who to this day keep tabs through others and attempt to contact me) and reduced me to a watered-down version of my advocating self. Simply saying, "a cosplayer who goes by the name of Trickssi" would have been enough.
I'll give praise to Ohayocon's twitter team, however. Within five minutes of my posting what happened, someone responded in an appropriate fashion and offered to talk with me a little more at length about codes of conduct. They haven't followed up with me, but I invite anyone who works with any convention to put in a direct word with your con chair if your code of conduct still says, "Report the issue to staff as soon as possible." Because sometime it's a member or friend of the staff, and sometimes it's not possible to report. I should know.
In short, let survivors speak for themselves, and only explicit, enthusiastic consent is consent. I refuse to be silenced in a community that bleeds for help.