So this is the true story of why I left the cosplay community…
You may want to put your seatbelt on, because this story is going to get a little bumpy.
Now, if you're unaware, cosplay is a hobby where people dress up as in costumes, generally of characters from comics or movies or tv shows, and hang out at conventions or events in character.
This is closely tied to the #MeToo movement and "cosplay is not consent", but I would like to take this moment to state that I am one of the lucky ones; things could have been very worse, but that's not to say that it doesn't still hurt and leave you with serious questions about who you can trust. If you spot behavior in the community that makes you uncomfortable and sounds alarm bells in your brain, call it out right then and there. Document it. Protect yourself and others in the community.
I've always been really into costumes as well as comics, sci-fi, TV, and "geek" things. Naturally, the cosplay and convention community was where I found my people. It was not without its faults and problems, but things really started getting wild when "geek culture" because mainstream.
All of a sudden, it wasn't a bunch of kids and comic collectors having hyper-geeky discussions about OTPs and planning meetups on Livejournal anymore; it had become a massive culture of "look at me" with a heavy helping of "whose costume is better" thanks to the internet.
It's this movement that opened up the doors to the sexual component of cosplay. Now to be clear, I support anybody who wants to market or brand themselves specifically as a cosplay sex icon. Good for you! No judgement here – never will be.
No, my issue I have here is with the people (mostly men, in my experience) who think that by wearing any cosplay they see you as sexy in that it's an invitation for them to label you as a sex symbol.
That's where I have beef. Now, I don't have any particularly revealing costumes, and if I am in something like a leotard or a spandex supersuit, I wear tights, support garments, and layers under it for both modesty and the overall look. Generally, I don't like to show off my body. Personally, that's just not me.
So you can imagine my shock when a friend messaged me telling me that my full name and nude photos were found on a sketchy revenge porn forum. In case you're as unfamiliar as I was with this concept (which I hope you are), this is an awful corner of internet forums where [men] get together and solicit nude pictures and videos of women they know in real life. This one was conveniently for the women of one particular local convention.
When I opened the link, what I saw was absolutely heartbreaking: the board was full of (what I'm assuming are men) asking for nude pictures of women they know and posting pictures they had taken of cosplayers at conventions and soliciting nude and compromising photos and videos of them.
There were pictures on there of about two dozen ladies and the names of at least a dozen more posted over the course of months. They pulled Facebook photos from private profiles and shared nudes that the ladies didn't even know existed or were sent in private to husbands and hacked from an email or phone.
In case you're wondering, this is not only sketchy – it is illegal. However, litigating cyber crimes like this is basically impossible, and when everything is posted anonymously, everyone who knows you in that capacity becomes a suspect.
Now if at this point you're wondering, "well, that's what they get for taking those pictures in the first place"…
First? You're a complete and total ass.
Two? Stop prudishly policing other people's bodies and self expression. Nobody deserves to have their private life shoved into the spotlight without their knowledge or consent. It really is that simple.
Furthermore, the photos ascribed to my name were not of me. That's right – somebody tried to pass off pictures of two different women's photos as being me. What's worse is that they tried to use these as a bargaining chip to trade for very real photos of my friends.
These people who knew us, who were people we knew, were using the internet to trade photos around like they were pokemon cards or desserts at the grade school lunch table. It's degrading, humiliating, and not anything human beings should be subjected to.
Once word was out that we all knew about the site, they began taunting us in posts on the forum, saying we'd never catch them and calling us names and threatening to send photos to our workplaces, families, boyfriends, and release them on reddit with out full names attached.
We tried to get to the bottom of it, tried to own it, tried not to let it deter us from the local cosplay community, but ultimately, nothing came of it. We had ideas and theories, but never any proof or evidence of who was behind it or a part of it. This was years ago now, and we still don't know who was a part of it.
Imagine your name and reputation in a community that you grew up in, the first place you felt like you belonged, was poisoned overnight. Everyone sees you as something, someone you're not. I know my friends wouldn't leave me or see me differently because of this, but the community is so much bigger than just the people who know you well, and often reputations precede people.
Maybe I watched too many Disney movies growing up, but I believe that you should be free to live how you like, and not be shoved into a box by somebody else trying to make you into what they think you should be.
Returning to a part of that local facet of the convention and cosplay community now felt like I was in a shark exhibit at an aquarium – except that I was a goldfish being passed off as a shark. We all were; nobody should have feelings or intentions ascribed to them by another, especially not by some man who knows us and hides behind anonymity and Russian revenge porn servers.
That was my first real look at the dark side of the community; not long after, so many reports started to surface from conventions about people drugging drinks and predatory guests and photographers taking advantage of female cosplay models. That's when I took a step back from the hobby and community.
It felt like the community I knew and was a proud member of was imploding, and after all this time, I felt like it had morphed into something I wanted no part of. I was ashamed that people thought of me as the opposite of who I was, and I let it push me out of a hobby that had given me so many friends, skills, and adventures.
Now, it's been years since this, but it still stings, it feels like a betrayal of community I've gained so much from. I will always talk about the good side of cosplay and conventions, because there is so much light and good in the community, and the predators and creepers shouldn't be allowed to ruin that. I wish there were a moral to this story or something that could be done about this to prevent anybody else from going through this, but I don't really have one.
Instead, I simply share my story, my experience, and the reassurance that something like this doesn't mean sure destruction. We all received a lot of support from friends, and many of the ladies are still just as active in the local convention and cosplay scene.
I pulled back from the cosplay aspect of the community to focus on my professional career, but I'm still close with a lot of my convention and cosplay friends, and I have grown so much since I wandered into my first anime convention so many years ago alone and scared. The cosplay community has become a part of my life, and without it, I wouldn't be nearly as successful or well adjusted as I am now.
There is still life to be lived after awful events we'd love to forget, but as painful as it is, we have to keep moving forward, however we can.