Inbeon Con this past Saturday was a small, intimate gathering — a one-day affair in its second year. Rather than aspire to be a multi-fandom exposition, it’s content to be a gathering of Long Island’s sequential arts creative community, and at that it is delightfully successful. There were representatives there from the renascent I-Con committee and it was from an Inbeon Con vendor there at the Islandia Marriott that I learned about yet another new con in the Outer Boroughs: Fort Hamilton Comic Con!
There weren’t a lot of panels, but there was at least one of critical importance to the con-going community: “Cosplay and Consent”. Here’s a link to our Facebook Live capture. This hour-long discussion is by far the most-viewed video on BoroughCon’s FB page.
As well it should be. This is an important topic. Unless we want cosplay to stop being the integral part of comic book conventions it now is, we need to behave ourselves. All of us.
This post, based on that panel, is not directed toward the troll who wants to shame cosplayers online for the perceived weaknesses of their costume designs or body types. Nor is it directed toward the wannabe pornographer who wants to take upskirts of Supergirl. They know exactly what kind of scum they are. Rather, this is directed at the awkward, poorly socialized, masturbation-addicted nebbish with low impulse control and lower self-esteem. The kind who fit right in at comic book conventions until pretty girls started showing up in spandex and leather. But these events are no longer a bastion of boys of all ages in various phases of arrested development — and we are all better off for that! So, all you Y-chromosomal nerds who for whatever reason — whether it relates to a diagnosed position along the autism spectrum or just plain being socially maladroit — don’t deal well with this situation, here’s the primer you’ve been waiting for as to what is and isn’t appropriate to say to a cosplayer.
(Note: We’re taking the prevailing case of the straight male who might be objectifying a female of unknown sexual orientation, unknown relationship status and unknown anything else that isn’t revealed by her costume. Not to say that male cosplayers aren’t occasionally subject to unwanted attention, or that this is a non-issue among the LGBTQ community. But let’s start where the problem is endemic and keep the word count down.)
First things first: Look but don’t touch! Women — not just cosplayers — are well aware of the male gaze and each has her own way of dealing with it, some more welcoming than others. You have no idea at first sight how that woman deals. Just know it’s a factor of her upbringing, her self-confidence, her childhood traumas, her past experience with men, her current relationship status, her position on the Kinsey scale and a myriad other effects that make her an (say the word with me) individual (as opposed to object). That’s not really Mystique you’re staring at — she’s a person who is living a non-fiction life. She might intend to run for office someday, and doesn’t want her picture taken in little more than body paint with a guy she’s pretty sure is going to get busted someday with a hard disk full of kiddie porn.
If she does deign to take a picture with you, don’t lay a skin cell on her! There’s a move called the “hover hug” — akin to the air kiss — in which your arm appears to be draped over her shoulders or around her waist, but there’s still some daylight between. That’s the standard protocol. (If she decides to touch you — peck on the cheek, palm on the torso, what have you — that’s still not an invitation to reciprocate.)
Now we move on to any opinion you might have of the cosplayer’s attractiveness. If the cosplayer does not approach your ideal of the female form, shut the hell up about it. If she does, shut the hell up about it. Look, as a het-cis male myself, I will never understand why women who obviously put so much work into being attractive to us get uncomfortable when we express our admiration in public. But guess what? We don’t need to understand it. Just accept it. And think about this: When was the last time you saw a woman walk up to a well-tailored, perfectly coiffed, 6’2″, 180-lb. hunk and tell him, “Dang, you are soooo hot!” No, she just puts the image in the female equivalent of the spank bank and keeps walking. So should you.
And I know I used the word “pretty” above to discuss cosplayers generally. If you call a specific one “pretty” to her face (or “hot,” or “sexy” or even such descriptors as “beautiful” or “stunning” or “breathtaking” or “enchanting” which are best saved for date night), she might chop you down a la Sharon Stone in The Quick and the Dead:
For your edification then, BoroughCon’s Obser’d blog breaks down for you what to say and not say to a cosplayer. To sum it up: Say positive things about the costume or don’t say anything at all.
I need to state this, but I deliberately put it at the bottom of the article to bury it: Most unwanted attention doesn’t rise to the level of felony, although it can get you kicked out of the convention with a lifetime ban, then put on watch lists for all nearby comic book expos. Your actions will be construed as harrassment. You will lose any argument. You are the creeper, the stalker, the deviant. You will be 100% to blame.
But you probably won’t go to jail for being a drooling squid around cosplayers.
Still, just don’t.