Dealing with the Toxicity in Cosplay
I am no expert. I never claim to be. With my years in the cosplay community, I have learned so much and I hope I will continue to learn and help create a positive atmosphere for those wanting a safe place in cosplay. Cosplay is also my safe space and I want to clean the pool of all the degenerates swimming in the beautiful waters. This is a bit of a rant post, but it needs to be said, so I'll say it. I will do my best to talk about all of it and still remain respectful.
THIS ARTICLE HAS A TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL ASSAULT, EMOTIONAL/MENTAL ABUSE, RAPE, MILD CURSING
First off, I'll talk about why I got into cosplay. I was always a geeky kid. I have literally watched anime my entire life, was artsy, played Pokemon/collected Pokemon stuff since it came to America (I was 5 when that happened), and was an ugly duckling. I never had much luck making friends, or keeping them, since I also had an abusive, poor household. I grew up from nothing. I remember many times where my parents had either the power or gas or water turned off. It wasn't a good environment to raise one child, let alone three. I was a shotgun wedding baby, and my parents had known each other for maybe two months at the time of my conception. I blamed myself for a long time over the misfortune befalling my parents, before I grew up and realized, "Right, I didn't make them have me." I have dealt with mental illness my entire life and for the longest time couldn't go a single day without wanting to die. But in high school, I met nerdy people like me, that dressed up and were ultra nerds. I got made fun of, but at least I had a couple of friends to help defend me. I wasn't alone.
So I started cosplaying. Back then, EVERYONE had a "Free Glomps" or "Free Hugs" sign. There was even an instance of a really gross, unclean dude that even had a "Free Kisses" sign. I think that only lasted a convention or two before he got shut down on that. Yaoi and Yuri paddles were abundant, and you never told anyone if it was your first convention, because they would spank you, HARD. There were also a lot of people (At one point myself) that would have the collars and leashes that, while donned with cat/fox/dog ears, would be passed around, trying to make friends with others. It wasn't the best environment to grow up in, but from where I was coming from, it was better than my home.
Since then, we have cleaned up a lot of our act as a community. We've started ostracizing those that are predatory, getting them banned from conventions to try to protect those of us unaffected, and help those that are, heal. But, we've also fallen behind, allowing the toxicity of the real world seep into our safe place. And we can't allow that to keep happening. As a victim of sexual assault, we need to speak up. I know how difficult it is, how hurt and helpless and ruined you feel. But we can't let these predators continue in the safe place. We must speak out and be truthful. The first time I was sexually assaulted, I was 15. The only people who know are those closest to me. I don't hide what happened to me, but I know I need to go talk to these conventions to keep him out of here, but I know I have to be tactful about it. It's been years since I've seen him, but I still bolt straight up from a dead sleep because I'll see his face or hear his voice in my dreams. I will never be able to fully rid this monster from my nightmares, but if I can protect anyone else from these atrocities, I will. Message me for the full details on my first assault. Luckily, the second guy isn't into cosplay, but I have no idea where he may be anyway. He had a terrible temper, so maybe he's been arrested already.
If you are being made uncomfortable in a convention by someone, especially if you are a minor and an adult is hitting on you, RUN. Make excuses, leave the area. And if they follow you, go to security. The reason why security at a convention is there, is to protect you. If they aren't protecting you, then you need to stop going to that convention. Always believe in the buddy system. Having a good friend to be with you all weekend is a good thing. I am 25 years old and I still have at least one friend with me at all times. The only time I might be alone is if I'm at my booth and my assistant leaves for any number of reasons. I refuse to be alone because I do not want anything like that happening to me again. I don't want it to happen to others. If you are being put in an uncomfortable situation and I am at that convention, we are now best friends. I will not be silent about you being harassed. I refuse to be silent about these toxic people. As someone well-known in the STL cosplay community, it is my duty to protect you. Everyone deserves to be safe in the cosplay community.
Moving on from that, another toxic trait in the community is gate-keeping. This ties in very closely with racism, so we'll talk about that. The only stipulation I have about what you can and can't cosplay is: You CANNOT race face. "But Seifer, I wanna cosplay as a troll, is that race facing?"Now you are acting like a troll. If the skin does not naturally occur on this planet, it is fine. If Aliens were to show up and demand we stop painting ourselves the color they are, I would start preaching about not painting yourself that color. But until that moment, I'll keep yelling about people painting themselves brown. I cannot tell you how many Russians specifically I have caught painting themselves darker to match a specific character. This was RAMPANT when I was preparing for my Tiana cosplay. I am disgusted by their actions and I have called them out for it. But I always get the same excuse, "I'm from _____ it's not racist." If you are in the cosplay community, you know exactly what it is and that you're being racist. Racists do not belong in our community.
Those of you (and I hope it isn't any of my readers or followers) gate keep black cosplayers specifically and it's disgusting. "(Insert Character Here) isn't black, this is a n****r version of that character." (I try to remain family friendly throughout my site, but) Fuck you. If you EVER tear down someone because of a skin tone they weren't asked to be born in, you are a piece of shit. Get out of this community. I'm done watching amazing cosplayers be told they aren't good enough because of something they can't change. They shouldn't have to change their skin tone in order to be accepted. I know I don't have to change mine to be accepted. You guys always show your love and admiration for me, so do the same for them. They are just as deserving, if not more so. Gate keeping is toxic and needs to be called out.
Along the lines of gate keeping, telling someone that they cannot cosplay character because of their size is also rude and you deserve a kick in the teeth. I have met so many wonderful people through cosplay and their size has never been a deterrent. Cosplay should be celebrated for everyone. It's an amazing thing to take pieces and create an entirely new character. It's not easy to stay up night after night creating patterns and weapons and armor and styling your wigs. And no matter who it is, it should be celebrated. You are doing an amazing job, and I am so proud of you. Whether you thrift your entire costume, or you make everything from scratch, you are a valid cosplayer. But the moment you tear others down, you are trash. I have been told that I'm not the right size to cosplay certain characters. I'm a busty, big booty-having genderfluid person, there is only so much I can do to temporarily change myself to be these characters. So don't tell me my chest is too big, I know. But you bet your ass if you have the balls to tell me to my face that I'm not accurate, or that someone around me isn't "good enough" I will call you out and destroy you verbally. I have gotten to the point in my life where I am very vocal and open about my discomfort with people.
Specifically, there was a jerk Reaper cosplayer last night that went up to my friend, who was cosplaying casual Reaper and told him his cosplay was shit. I posted in the Naka Kon group about it, and I hope this guy is found and kicked out form the convention. No one deserves to feel terrible for their choice in cosplay (as long as it isn't raceface, or something offensive). If you can afford a nice cosplay or to make one, great, but don't tear down others in order to make yourself feel better. My advice: if you have nothing nice to say, then shut up. I always do my best to try to find SOMETHING I like with their cosplay. Just one thing. Because everyone deserves to feel validated.
Finally, slut shaming. At a convention, as long as they are following the guidelines, leave em alone. If it's on their social media and they choose to wear nothing but a wig and a smile and you don't like it? Unfollow them. They could use a follower that appreciates their art and validates them how they need. It's the same with following POC cosplayers. If you don't like it, leave. No one is making you stay on their blog. And if you find yourself commenting, "Oh this is good, but...." change yourself. If you want the community to be more accepting, you need to change yourself to be a more positive person. You can't put out negativity and expect positivity back. We aren't plants. We don't take your CO2. We need love and positivity to give love and positivity. If you need to step back from the cosplay community to rearrange yourself, do it. Take a step back, breathe, grow up, and give what you want to see in the Cosplay world. I noticed that the moment I stopped being so outwardly angry, people started being nice to me. I gained more followers, I received more support. Because I was giving more support.
Be the change that you want to see. Not everyone is perfect, and there will be hiccups, but as long as you keep trying to be better for yourself, you'll be better for others. You'll be better for the community. And together, we can snuff out the toxicity in the cosplay community.