I am kicking off my Beneath the Layers project with someone who inspired me to take action about the issues in the cosplay community and at conventions, Kyatto.
Kyatto, also known as Cat in the real world and Edo in some groups, is a 21-year-old filmmaker from Texas. A supporter of equal rights and the elimination of rape culture, she decided to donate a dollar to the local women’s shelter for every unwarranted comment about her gender while she was wearing her Madame de Pompadour (Doctor Who) costume at an anime convention. In only a few hours, she raised over $30. Her experiences reveal the dark side of conventions and the reason why we are working to make cons a safer place for everyone.
NOTE: As this interview series aims to help banish harassment and bullying of cosplayers, any inappropriate comments made toward the interviewee or cosplayers in general will be deleted.
1. How long have you been cosplaying, and what is your favorite cosplay?
I’ve been cosplaying since 1998, so that would be something like 12 or 13 years? A long time. My favorite cosplay that I’ve done recently is Madame de Pompadour, but my favorite costume ever was Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist. Complete with real metal automail arm and leg pieces and the spear from the first episode of the original anime!
2. What are the best and worst aspects of being a cosplayer?
Best Aspects: Being recognized for a creative endeavor, definitely. Also it makes it easier to break the ice and meet people at conventions and events.
Worst Aspects: The stress of actually working on a cosplay, certain kinds of attention cosplays receive, and those who try to turn it into a popularity contest.
3. What made you decide to donate $1 to a women’s shelter every time you felt harassed?
I was making an effort to squash the myth of “people deserve to get harassed” (i.e. when girls walk around in cropped tops and miniskirts). I was covered head to toe in a French ballgown—several layers, might I add—and I still got bothered by creeps!
4. How do you define “harassment”?
Any unwanted, non-consented attention. “No” means “NO”. Whether it’s a person making comments that might come off as lewd or offensive or unwanted physical contact, when a person says “no” and the other person continues the behavior anyway, that’s harassment.
5. For girls who want to wear more revealing costumes, what should they be aware of before going to a con?
Number one would be that anything that happens to them is not their fault. I’m tired of people blaming those who get harassed just because what they wear is revealing. Especially since there are some male character cosplays that involve men to expose their upper bodies and very rarely have I heard of guys getting harassed for wearing something revealing.
6. When does a costume become inappropriate or in bad taste?
No costume is no costume. If you’re running around in the nude, or a nude body stocking, you’re not really cosplaying. Same thing for people who wear a bra and panties with animal ears and call it cosplay. Lingerie is lingerie. You want to look hot? That’s fine. But please wear some actual clothes. And please wear underwear under said clothes. There are kids going to these things, for pete’s sake. Same rule for guys. I don’t care how cool you are or how drunk you are: keep your penis in your pants.
7. What else should cosplayers be mindful of?
If it crosses your mind, even for a second, that it could trigger or seriously offend someone, then play it safe and don’t do it. It’s very easy to be taken the wrong way when you joke about things like history and war. There are people still alive today who remember World War II and the ones after it, and to them, it’s not as funny as Hetalia makes it out to be.
This is really just a personal beef I have, but cosplayers who are white making themselves look Asian with makeup and whatnot just comes off as offensive to me. It’s no different from blackface. Cultures are not costumes.
8. What is your response to people who view cosplayers as “attention whores”?
While I don’t like the phrase because of certain things it implies, there is truth to the intention behind the statement. If you didn’t want attention, you wouldn’t do something to draw attention to yourself.
9. What are your personal boundaries that will make you step out of character and deny a fan’s request?
I have no problems doing things like posing in character or using the notepad feature on my phone to communicate as Celty from Durarara!! And I don’t mind hugging or cuddling pictures. However, I personally draw the line at anything more romantic than that. The only exceptions are with other cosplayers who I know and trust very well or if I’m cosplaying with someone I’m dating at the time. But again, I keep it classy and PG.
In high school, I used to be more open about doing all kinds of crazy things. I no longer want to do that stuff just for attention.
10. What makes a cosplayer stand out in your eyes?
Effort, effort, effort! Whether it’s an outfit you put together by spending a while shopping thrift stores and online or a piece you sewed completely on your own, if the effort is shown, people will notice.
11. You have very specific reasons for taking a stand against sexual harassment and rape culture, especially as it relates to the cosplay and convention crowd. Can you please share your story?
*Warning: contains graphic details of sexual assault*
When I was 14, I lost my virginity to sexual assault at a convention. It wasn’t a drunk creep. It was an older guy I had met and was hanging out with. I was in jeans, T-shirt, sneakers—nothing out of the ordinary. For a shy nerdy girl, knowing a guy seemed interested was flattering. So I thought nothing of it when he asked if I wanted to go for a walk, just the two of us.
Somehow we went from being in the hall, to being in a small unisex bathroom which he locked. Over and over he kept telling me to chill out and relax, but once he stopped with the kissing and started touching me, I wanted none of that. I kept telling him to stop it and let me go, but he was stronger than me. Even though I was kicking and trying to get away, he still managed to rape me. I think the only thing that saved me was that I bled so much upon penetration, it freaked him out. He threw me onto the floor and took off.
My mom was the only one who believed something bad happened. Everyone else in our group thought I was making it up despite my neck and shoulder being bruised and blood staining my shirt and pants. We went to the heads of the convention and they tracked the guy down. I told them what he did and he kept denying it, saying I wanted it and was just embarrassed. The con refused to call police and told security to keep an eye on him. They didn’t even remove him from the con. The convention was far from where I lived so my mom wasn’t sure if pressing charges would be worth it or not. So in the end, he got away with it.
I wish my story could end there. After they cleared up the “argument”, they assigned a member of security to follow me until I went home that night. That was okay at first until the guy tried to get me to tell him what happened. When I did, he thought that would be a good time to hit on me and try to literally kiss it better. Luckily, my mom caught him. We haven’t gone back to that convention since.
For a while after, people told me it was my fault. That I shouldn’t have gone off alone with a guy. That I was a slut for being okay with him kissing me but not wanting him to do the deed. But I know now that’s not the case at all. I will never put up with any sort of lewd or creepy behavior in the future. If I feel someone is a potential threat, I will call them out on it, as I never, ever want anything like that to happen to me or anyone else again.
12. What can con-goers do to protect themselves?
If you’re being bothered by someone and they are making you feel frightened or uncomfortable, get out of there. There’s no need to be polite if the person makes you feel uneasy. If they continue to make you uncomfortable, report it to a nearby authority figure. And if something awful does happen, I’d also advise you report it. Make a scene. Draw attention to the fact actions like that should not be normal occurrences to be swept under the rug.
13. What should the guys who just want to meet girls do to not be lumped with the sex offenders and perverts?
Really, this could be pointed at any gender being creepy or harassing: you’re not going to find your perfect little anime sweetheart in real life, most likely. Real people lead their own lives in lots of different ways. Be respectful. Take social cues.
No matter what a person is wearing or doing or going, they do not deserve to be bothered. A girl in a miniskirt does not want you peeking at her panties or touching her. A guy in leather trousers doesn’t want you copping a feel. Even if the person is drunk, high, or otherwise inebriated—you help them, you do not harm them by being inappropriate. If it’s illegal or otherwise frowned upon in the outside world, it’s no bueno in the convention itself either.
14. How can the relationship between cosplayers and photographers be made less threatening?
A photographer should always, always, always ask for permission before taking pictures. These stealth photos I see bother me a lot. When requesting a pose, always get consent from all parties involved.
As for cosplayers, please don’t hound photographers. There are hundreds of people with cameras around, so chances are someone will take a photo of you!
15. What should conventions do to increase safety?
To be blunt, actually give a damn. Care more about individual attendees than attendance or reputation. If someone reports harassment, don’t ignore it or brush it off—take it to the right authorities!
Most of the time, the rules in the convention guides in regards to harassment are vague. There’s more about fake weapons and dress code than actual harassment. I don’t see why they can’t put “If any acts of harassment are reported, local authorities will be notified and the guilty party will face an eviction and permanent ban from the convention” in there as an obvious way to let people know they mean business.
16. What would you tell parents to let them know that conventions and the cosplay crowd aren’t full of of perverts?
If you’re a parent and your child wants to cosplay or go to a con, that’s your decision whether to allow it or not. Be a parent when it comes to allowing what they wear for cosplay. And if they’re under 16, it’s probably best that either you or a guardian you trust is with your child throughout the event. After reading the report of the 13-year-old girl who got molested at a con, I can’t lie and tell people everything is safe and fine. It isn’t. Not until all the conventions get their acts together and actually work at stopping this behavior.
17. To end on a positive note, how has your life changed for the better as a result of cosplay?
Because of cosplay, I was able to meet some of my very best friends! Back when I was first going to conventions with my family, and even when I went on my own in high school, I had bad social anxiety and a hard time approaching people. Finding cosplayers who shared my interest was a great way to meet people and introduce myself.
18. Any last words to fellow and aspiring cosplayers?
My philosophy when it comes to cosplay is that it’s a hobby and it’s supposed to be fun. I believe anyone regardless of shape and size or skin color can be a great cosplayer. Figure out your strengths and weaknesses and what looks good on you. You may want to forgo 100% accuracy on something to make sure the costume makes you look good.
Please take the time to learn from other people. I’ve had friends who were so obsessed with it that after a while, they literally had mental breakdowns once they realized they wasted years being concerned with something so trivial. Like any other pleasurable thing, it can become addictive. My advice is to keep it a hobby and to stop and think if you ever get to the point where it becomes the only thing in your life.
Many thanks to Kyatto for sharing her story and views and for supplying all the photos (except for Amy Pond).