Awful Con Stories: AnimeNEXT 2013

AnimeNext2011-033 Last Friday, I decided to drive through some pretty nasty weather to visit some friends and attend an anime convention in Somerset, NJ, called AnimeNEXT. I had been to this convention before - it's relatively small compared to my other usual conventions (namely, Otakon, which is the biggest convention of its kind on the East Coast) - and had never had any issues with the other attendees before. Generally speaking I stick with my friends and I don't run into that many creepers or socially awkward mom's basement-dwellers. But the law of averages decided to play itself out.

For reference, here's the costume I wore to the event: Utena Tenjou from Revolutionary Girl Utena. I wouldn't exactly say this is a "revealing" or "sexy" costume, but I understand that booty shorts and a lot of leg exposure can do it for some people.

As a cosplayer of about 10 years, I've dealt with my fair share of awkward situations and I know how to handle them, usually because I have someone with me. But as I was walking through the rain, desperately trying to keep my new wig dry as I neared the convention center, I heard a couple of loud clicks and giggles from behind me. I turned around to see an older, well-dressed gentleman, hand out the window of his car, taking photos of my backside with his phone. (Is it possible he wanted a photo of the back of my Utena jacket? I'm going to go with probably not; safe to say he was likely taking photos of my ass.) Needless to say, I was pissed.

I approached his car - he was stuck in a line to drop off/pick up attendees at the convention center entrance - and he quickly rolled up the window. I told him to erase the photos he obviously just took of me. He told me that I was in public space and that he was allowed to take photos because of that. I told him again to erase them and he said that he "did nothing illegal" by taking the photos. He eventually got out of the line and drove off, my ass apparently forever stored in his camera.

Now, let me address his point - he's right; it's not illegal to take a photo of someone in a public space, particularly if they're attending a convention where the terms of your badge include a statute that basically says "if you're in the convention space, your photo can be taken and we can use it for future promotional purposes." So yes, because I was on convention center grounds, what he did was technically not illegal. But that doesn't make it okay.

Just because cosplayers like myself put ourselves out there doesn't mean that is an invitation for you to come and harass us. I don't wear Utena or any of my other costumes because I'm interested in pleasing some sleazy old man I've never met before - I made the costume because I love the character. The most gratifying thing about wearing Utena that day was when these two girls came up to me in the Artist Alley and just spilled feelings for the character and the show at me, and I threw them right back. They were excited to see someone who loved the show as much as they did, and I was glad that I could share in that feeling with them. I've never made an outfit for the sake of getting some guy's rocks off - and I've never met a single person in his hobby who has in my decade of experience  - but sometimes that guy thinks we do. And that guy needs to pull his head out of his ass.

I wish that the "Cosplay is Not Consent" movement wasn't as big as it was these days. But it has to be. From small incidents like mine to bigger ones - PAX East comes to mind, where a media member asked harassing and uncomfortable questions to some ladies dressed as Lara Croft at the Square-Enix booth - this is unfortunately a problem across the entire convention scene. The biggest defense that the harassers and their white-knights tend to come up with is "Oh, well you're dressed like this, you should expect this behavior!"

Uh, no. Sorry. Is it fair to say "expect some awkward stares?" Yeah, that's fair - I wore a bunnysuit to a convention once, and I got a LOT of stares. If I didn't expect that, I wouldn't have done it in the first place. No one's saying "don't look at me," because the sake of wearing a costume at a convention is to get looked at. No one's denying that. But it's not fair to tell the women - and men, who definitely get it too - to endure sexually harassing behavior.

If it's not okay outside of a convention, it's not okay inside of a convention. Can you walk up to someone you've never met at the mall and play grab-ass? No, you can't. So you can't do it at your favorite comic book or video game or anime convention, either. It doesn't matter what that person is wearing - if they don't know you, don't touch them. It's not a difficult concept.

And really, if you want a picture of my ass that badly, can you at least take it under better lighting?