Conventions and Consent: The Male Side of the Spectrum

The "Cosplay is not Consent" movement has gained a ton of traction over the years, and that's fantastic. It's great that there's more awareness of it, and it's great that people (especially convention organizers) are making more of an effort. There's still, however, a long way to go. For all of us. I wanted to chime in with some of my own stories. And I'd like to extend this saying to "Conventions are Not Consent," given some of the recent issues that have come out about incidents at gaming cons that have nothing to do with costuming.

Most of the stories we hear about violations and bad behavior surround female cosplayers. As a male cosplayer, I've also had these encounters. It's just that as men, we don't often talk about it. We are trained to keep quiet and not reveal what's happened to us. Either it's not manly, or it's seen as taking away from what women have to struggle with every day.

I'm here to tell you, it doesn't take anything away from anyone. It's not me trying to 'horn in' on a women's movement. If anything, it brings us closer together. Ladies, I can understand how you feel, because I, too, have been in these situations, while still recognizing that it probably happens a lot more often to you than it does to me. Still, I do know what it feels like to be uncomfortable, threatened, victimized, and awkward all because someone at a convention feels like they have the right to me that they do not.

I'll tell four stories, here, which get progressively worse, ranging from basic disrespect to outright unwanted sexual advances, but which together demonstrate the entitlement and right people feel to behave inappropriately towards others at conventions. Three of them occurred while I was wearing my Tenth Doctor costume (and I just told them on a friend's page on Facebook, which is what gave me the idea for this blog). The fourth, I'm going to be less detailed about because it made me really, really uncomfortable and powerless, and I don't like to THINK about it, let alone talk about it. I've only told a couple people the whole story.



The ATM Ignoramus

Here's the first, and least offensive of my stories. I was at Gen Con a few years ago, wearing my Tenth Doctor costume. I was standing in line at an ATM, waiting to get money, when a guy rolled up on me. He was somewhat disheveled, wearing jeans and a flannel shirt. I didn't really think much about it, except he was inside my personal space.

"Hey, man," he said. "That's a great costume!"

"Thanks!" I said.

"Did you make that yourself?"

"No," I said. "Not this one. I do make my costumes, but this one I actually had made for me, to my measurements, by someone much more skilled than I am."

"Oh, then," he said. "Never mind. If you'd made it yourself it'd be cool, but you just went and bought it, so it's actually pretty lame."

"Thanks, Jagoff," I said. "Where's your costume?"

"Fuck you," he said, and stormed off.

The First Bathroom Stalker

Second story. Also at Gen Con, also in my Tenth Doctor. I was in the bathroom, at the urinal. I'll repeat that: I was in the bathroom, at the urinal. A guy walked up to me, again, got right in my personal space, but while I was actually going to the bathroom. Stalkers love to catch you at your most vulnerable.

"Hey, man," he breathed. "I love your Tenth Doctor. Can I get a picture with you? It's for the scavenger hunt."

"Dude!" I said, looking him right in the eyes. "I have my dick in my hand! Can this wait until we're out of the bathroom?"

"Oh," he said. "Yeah, I guess," and backed off. He left. I finished up, washed my hands, and exited, to find him standing right outside the door, waiting for me. I didn't know what to do, so I let him take the picture.

"Hi, I'm his WIFE."

Third story. I was at a local con, also in my Tenth Doctor (that particular costume seems to draw the highest number of inappropriate people). I was with my wife, who doesn't cosplay. I swear, we hadn't been in the dealer's hall for ten minutes when this happened. We were just walking down the first aisle, when I hear this piercing female voice yell, "DOCTOR!!!" and this young woman came actually charging at me, full speed across the room. She went airborne--I'm not kidding. She went airborne and leaped on me, wrapping her arms and legs around me.

I froze solid. After a minute, she let go and got down. Then she kind of...posed? She was wearing Daisy Dukes...really short Daisy Dukes, red suspenders, and a blue button-up that was unbuttoned to her navel (and held open by the suspenders).

"Don't you recognize me?" she said.

I looked at her for a second, trying to figure it out.

"I'm Captain Jack!" she said. And spun around, sticking her butt out at me. I kind of took a step back.

She turned back around and glanced at my wife. "Who's this?" she said. "Your companion?"

My wife stuck her hand out. "Hi," she said. "I'm HIS WIFE."

I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone turn so red so fast. She backed off pretty quick when she realized I was with my wife. But we passed her several more times that day and every time she waved, posed, and yelled, "Hi, Doctor!" I never stopped being uncomfortable that day, which sucked because it was our first time at that convention, and I really wanted to enjoy it.

The funny postscript to that one: to this day, my wife doesn't remember emphasizing the words, "HIS WIFE," but she totally did. And I get why. And to be honest? I'm really glad she was there to do that. It made this woman back off very quickly, and I don't think it would've been that easy otherwise. I suspect it could've gotten ugly.


Image source: https://www.facebook.com/pg/CosplayIsNotConsent/

The Second Bathroom Stalker

I was at a different local convention in this one, and I was not actually in costume at this one. Again, I was in the bathroom. At this point in time, a well-known figure in the specific brand of geek community this con represented approached me. I won't mention the con or the community, or the name of the individual, because certain people know this story and I'm not sure what's going to come out of it. I will say it was neither a figure in the cosplay community, nor in the gaming community. 

So there I was, again, at the urinal, and this guy approached me. He was right in my personal space, and trying to strike up a conversation. At one point, he put his hand on my shoulder. I pulled away a bit, feeling more and more trapped. I have a vague recollection of him then making remarks about what a lucky girl my wife was, that he'd seen us together. I don't recall the exact dialogue because this was a number of years ago, but I do recall he made some pretty explicit hints about what he was looking for. 

Again, I felt trapped, cornered, and yes, victimized at this point. I also began to feel the "fight" part of the fight or flight reaction arising. 

I want to be clear--this had nothing to do with being hit on by another man. I've spent over 2 decades involved in the local LGBTQIA+ community in Pittsburgh, to varying degrees. I have been hit on by men before and since, and it's not an issue for me. Hell, a few times I've even considered it; I don't identify as 100% straight. I'm not going to sit here and present my "resume of street cred" in detail; people who know me, know this is true. I just want to be clear that my discomfort had nothing to do with him being another man. 

No, this was because of his specific actions, his clear power play over me, his clear attempt to corner me in a personal and vulnerable moment (at the urinal, for Chrissakes) and put me off guard so he could come onto me in a way that I could not escape. I did, however, manage to choke down the urge to physically fight my way out of the situation, and managed to maneuver around him, and get out of the bathroom. 

I did tell a couple people this story, other leaders in the community in question. To date, to my knowledge, nothing has really been done. In fact, someone very close to me expressed the opinion that, "I don't think there's ever been any indication about him being gay," which kind of goes against believing the victims, in my mind, and I said as much in response. 

I guess, in the end, it's my word against his, so there's not really much anyone can do, and calling him out publicly could be seen as slander (or libel, if it's in writing). I have quietly warned people not to let him be alone with others at public events, but it's about all I can do. 

I swear, it's amazing I don't have public piss syndrome after what I've gone through in men's rooms...

Just a Few Stories

The above are just a few of the stories I've got, both in costume and as a figure in the RPG community. I've been cornered by people at conventions angry because I said I didn't like their favorite game on a message board (a friend of mine had to extricate me from that one). I've been bullied and verbally attacked by "fans" who were angry that I didn't have the time they thought I should devote to hearing their entire campaign story (I had to go run a game at a con and very politely told them I literally didn't have the time but would love to hear more if they'd be around later). I've been threatened on message boards by people who said, "If I ever seen you at a con..."

It goes on and on and on. People think that they can treat any public figure, whether it's a semi-known game designer like me, a cosplayer, or a true celebrity, like they own them, and it really makes you feel uncomfortable, awkward, and, yes, scared, when you're on the receiving end of it.  

My own work. Feel free to use it. 

Conventions Are Not Consent...for ANYONE

Look, folks, we love to engage with fans and other geeks. We love to sign autographs and take pictures. We love to talk about the hobby. That's why we do what we do. And in truth, there's a lot of really awesome people out there. I've met some of the best people ever thanks to congoing and cosplay. I've met people who I went on to consider great friends, who I look forward to seeing whenever I can, often at these cons.  

In the end, however, we're human beings, too, and we deserve a modicum of respect and common decency. We're not property, and you don't have the right to invade our space, fondle us, or make demands of us when we're eating, at the bathroom, sitting down, or really, any time. Don't demand; ask, and be polite. Show some common courtesy.  

If you ask a cosplayer for a picture, and they say, "Give me a minute," take a step back and give them a minute. If they're on the phone they might not be ignoring you--they could be getting news of a family emergency. You don't know; just give them the space they need, wait until they're done eating, they get up from their seat, they put the phone away, or they otherwise beckon you over or at least look like they're ready to engage with people again. 

So yes, folks, there is a problem with people at conventions taking liberties they do not have the right to take, feeling that they have rights towards cosplayers or people they recognize that they don't have. When you call them out on it, they get more overbearing, or they get very rude. When you get defensive, they treat you like you're the villain. And it's not just women that experience it. It's across sexes and genders and identities and fandoms. 

That being said, I do not question that women have to deal with it a great deal more often, and probably a lot more brutally than men do. For that, I'm sorry, and it makes me sick. I'm not looking to take anything away from the ladies in our communities, or lessen or belittle the struggles they face on a daily basis. Saying it's awful doesn't come close to expressing the depths to which this behavior sinks. 

It's not, however, wrong for men to speak out about their own experiences with this. It's okay to feel victimized, even if you're a man. And it's okay to speak out about it. Don't let anyone tell you different. And if this behavior is ever going to change, we need to come together, and we need to be universal about it. If you've been made to feel uncomfortable, frightened, concerned for your safety, or victimized, it doesn't matter who you are, what your gender idenity or sex is. TELL YOUR STORY.

Conventions are Not Consent... for ANYONE. 

I guess that's all. I just wanted to get that off my chest. 

Comments

  1. Great article!

    It's about one gender's behavior, but a "people" behavior.

    <3

    ReplyDelete
  2. Very well put and I couldn't agree more. I seem to scare people for some reason,but my husband has experienced some very uncomfortable encounters while in cosplay ,and he usually just tries to shrug it off as well.

    ReplyDelete

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