Content Warning(s): Descriptions of abuse within a relationship, especially as it relates to cosplay.
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, devoted to educating people that as many as 1 in 3 individuals will experience dating violence in their teens, while over half of those individuals never report it. It's never too old to cosplay - despite those on the internet who will say 25 is "ancient" - but those in their teens & early twenties comprise a large segment of the population. And while the crafting of outfits, wigs, and props may be a solitary endeavor, cosplay is ultimately a social hobby. After weeks or months of working on your costume, you gather with people who share your interests to have photos done, attend events, and share tips, ideas, and plans. You make friends and you may even fall in love.
But what happens if you meet and build a relationship with the wrong person?
Abusive people often seem charming in the beginning of a relationship, and in the case of cosplay, you may feel like you "know" the person or feel a connection if they're portraying a character you like or relate to. They can draw you in, so when you start to see warning signs and controlling/abusive behavior, you want to make excuses for it.
"He's not really like that, usually."
"She's just stressed out; she's really usually a nice person."
"It's my fault anyway. They're right - I didn't put as much effort into that wig as I could have."
And once you're in the relationship, there are always obstacles that make it difficult to leave - the most common one being fear. When the relationship intersects with the cosplay community, things can get even more complicated. Even if you believe you can detach yourself from the abuser without threat of physical or sexual violence, you may be afraid of losing friends, being unable to book certain photographers, even being banned from conventions that you enjoy attending. If you're a member of the LGBTQ+ community, but you don't feel safe being open about it in your everyday life, you may fear being outed.
There's no one, clear-cut set of warning signs that are seen in every abusive relationship, but they all relate to having power over the other person. We'll be focusing here on ones that are unique to the cosplay community.
Psychological/emotional abuse may look like:
- Pressuring you to cosplay a character (or outfit variant) that you're not comfortable in, or pressuring you to do poses during a shoot that make you uncomfortable.
- Controlling who you cosplay with or which photographers you work with.
- Insulting and demeaning your cosplay, in private or public.
- Blaming you if their cosplay or photos don't turn out the way they wanted, whether you were involved in the making/shooting of them or not.
- Demanding that they be the contact person for photographers and making all the decisions about what happens to the photos.
- Engaging in flirtatious behavior with photographers and/or other cosplayers in an attempt to make you feel insecure about your relationship.
- Expressing jealousy if anyone else compliments you, or if you do poses with another cosplayer that they think are "too provocative" or otherwise "cheating" on them.
- Damaging your cosplay either purposefully or "accidentally."
- Shaming you if you choose to wear revealing or "sexy" cosplay, or criticizing you for *not* wearing it.
- Posting pictures from a photo shoot without your permission, even after you've told them you don't like the way you look in them or you don't want them made public.
- Taking up-skirt/down-blouse photos of you without your permission, whether they share them with others or not.
- Constant calling or texting while you're busy with a panel or a shoot & getting angry or withdrawing from you if you don't respond right away.
- Demanding you post content about them on your social media pages to "promote" them, and getting angry if you don't do it or they feel you're not doing it "right."
- Sabotaging your panel or other presentation by erasing your files, showing up and glaring at you, being loud, etc.
- Submitting your name as a co-panelist when you haven't consented to presenting with them.
- Discouraging you from entering in competitions, or getting angry if you both enter and you earn a higher prize than they do.
- Controlling what activities are done at a convention/meetup, and punishing you if you decide to do something else.
- Inviting people you're not comfortable being around to share your hotel room.
- Refusing to give you a keycard to a shared hotel room, resulting in you not being able to return to it without their permission.
- Lying to photographers/other cosplayers in an attempt to get them to stop working with you.
- Making false reports to convention staff to ensure your attendance at a con is restricted or outright prohibited.
Financial abuse may look like:
- Telling people they shouldn't support you on Patreon or similar platforms, or pressuring you to support them on such sites, whether you can afford it or not.
- Making you pay for a photo shoot that they then take over, so most/all of the pictures are of them.
- Requiring that you give them money for photo processing, rather than directly to the photographer, and then using it to only get pictures of themselves, or at least, not the pictures you wanted, if they use it for photos at all.
- Pressuring you to add them to your panel as a co-presenter so they can receive partial reimbursement for their badge, even if they aren't helping you much or at all with it, or co-presenting with you and demanding the entire reimbursement because they "worked harder" on it.
- Demanding that you pay more than your fair share for a hotel room, saying things such as, "well, I barely spent any time in it, so I don't see why I have to pay for a fourth of the bill."
- Commissioning costumes, wigs, or props from you and then refusing to pay for work or materials, saying that you "owe" them, or the quality is so bad that it's not worth it (even though they use them).
- If you're in a relationship where income goes into a joint bank account, refusing to allow you to use your money for materials/cons/etc, putting you on a tight allowance, or making you "work" for the right to use it. Similarly - spending money that's supposed to be for rent, bills, etc on cosplay.
If you recognize any of these warning signs in your own relationship (romantic or not), there is hope, and a way out.
For those living with their abusers, the National Domestic Abuse Hotline has outlined ways to make a safety plan here. If you need to exit the site quickly, press the red X at the bottom right corner of the screen, and it will take you to Google.
If you're not living with your abuser, or you're in an abusive friendship as opposed to a romantic relationship, it may be easier to leave physically, albeit just as difficult emotionally and psychologically. Much of the safety plan linked to above will still apply.
Document the abuse. If you're worried about a physical journal being found, put it in Google docs or an app on your phone. Save emails and take screenshots.
Talk to your friends in the cosplay community. Ask them to document any abuse they see, as well, and see if they can help keep you (and your coswork) safe while still in the relationship. When you end the relationship, some of them may side with the abuser. You may lose opportunities to cosplay in groups or get pictures done by certain photographers. If you're in an area where there aren't many conventions or you're in a small fandom, this may feel like a major loss. But your well-being is more important than any cosplay. The people who leave you either haven't seen the abuser for what they really are, or understand what the abuser is and think it's okay. You don't need the latter, and hopefully the former will see the truth sooner rather than later.
In the case of mutual friends, you may feel like you HAVE to get them to see your abuser for who they are now, so they don't get hurt. If you tell them why you left and they don't believe you, it may be hard to accept, but - it's not your responsibility to save them. Be truthful and then act in a manner to keep yourself safe, even if that means cutting off contact or blocking them on social media.
If you find out that you've been banned from a convention or cosplayers/photographers don't want to work with you because of something your abuser did, it's okay if you don't feel up to fighting it. You may not feel like you safely can, if you know they're close with your abuser. If you do want to fight, present the appropriate contact(s) with evidence you've documented. Be polite, even if you're being treated unfairly. Again, your well being is more important than any con or cosplay.
Whatever you choose to do to facilitate your recovery, understand that you absolutely have the right to do what's best for you. If you want to keep cosplaying in a fandom you love, that's okay, and if you want to retire the characters and never look back, that's okay, too.
If you have any other suggestions, or wish to share your own story, feel free to leave a comment on our social media accounts, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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