Nerd Caliber
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October 11, 2017

Consent, Intent, and Problematic Convention Culture

consent

I moderate and speak on panels a lot at professional writing, theater, TV, and fan events about many issues within the queer* community. I bring this up because on these panels outside of convention spaces a lot of folks who have never been to a con will say “Oh I hear that comic cons are a great place to explore queer identities and are very welcoming!”

They can be. Really and truly, having been a con-goer for more than a decade in various fan subcultures I’ve had many uplifting and wonderful experiences meeting other queer people and just getting to share and receive perspective. I’ve seen seeing people engage in uplifting talks about body positivity for ALL bodies. For a brief time while I experienced homelessness, it was friends I had bonded with and made through the greater con community that ensured I’d never have to spend a night without a roof over my head. Conventions can truly be not only uplifting but crucial to the queer community.

When I hear my fellow panelists say this I have always agreed… to an extent. I’ve had to add, however, that there are still some very toxic elements within convention culture. They are elements we are always striving to remove but they exist nevertheless. Some of these elements I have had friends share with me in private, some I’ve read about in public, some I’ve experienced firsthand. Which brings me to the heart of this piece: Thursday October 5th at New York Comic Con a cosplayer I did not know ran up to me and lifted up my skirt.

 

I had to work that morning, followed by a doctor’s appointment prior to arriving at New York Comic Con, so I wasn’t in cosplay. While showing up as Mabel from Gravity Falls or a steampunk version of Rarity may have been alright at work (I clean a bar, so I’d have to change anyways) going to my doctor in these outfits was not a thing I felt comfortable doing, so I went in my professional clothing. Being at NYCC in regular clothes felt weird to me in general (some people prefer not to dress up that’s fine but for me it was strange). More annoying still because at 6’4 with wide shoulders I’m a very noticeable woman. “Are you cosplaying someone?” I’d be asked (knew this was gonna happen). “Nope, I’m a reporter with Nerd Caliber.” I had debated responding with “Yeah I’m your mom!” but I held back because I’ve been in this environment for so long I’m used to it (annoyed, but used to it) so I let it roll off my back. It’s one thing to be dressed ridiculously and have people stare or look at you, it’s another thing to be in your everyday clothes.

After interviewing multiple people, getting some great cosplays on camera, and some insight into the questions we asked at NYCC, my camera guy and I took a moment to breathe. In that moment some shitty little twerp dressed as Rei from Star Wars ran up and pulled my skirt up in front of the convention attendees. I said “What the fuck?!” and they smiled, lifted their hand as if to get a high five (for those outside of con culture this is a move that happens when someone fucks up but doesn’t want to admit they fucked up. It’s a “Hey we’re cool right?” as opposed to “Oh I’m sorry I did that.”) I glared at her and told her to fuck off. Her friend, who looked like a young Hannibal Buress, saw that this situation was not working in their favor so he ushered her along. To which she told me to fuck off (ya know, because clearly I was being the less sensible of us) to which I responded in kind.

I was in shock, my camera man was in shock. I needed a few moments to cool down and figure things out. My camera guy and I found Javitz Center security and reported what happened. They took the descriptions and told me they’d look for them. I put the incident out of my mind as best as I could but I couldn’t help look through the crowd at Artist’s Alley seeing if I could find these garbage humans masquerading as jedi. After a little bit of time putting it out of my brain, I found them. I now knew I had to get a photograph. I took a picture from behind and ahead of them and got their faces.** I stood waiting to talk to the security guard who had taken down all the information and went on the lookout for them.

When he returned he said he talked to the duo, I showed him the pic I had just captured and he agreed that those were the two he found. He told me how the conversation ran down:

“I asked them if they did what you said, they admitted to it but then said [I] knew it was all in good fun and laughed.” Must have been the “Fuck off,” that told them I thought it was all in good fun. The security guard followed it up by misgendering me (because why the hell not right?) as he continued to tell me the discussion he had with them: “I said, [Ashley] did not think it was all in good fun. You’ve read the rules, you’ve seen the signs, cosplay is not consent.”

I’m very happy there are buzzwords and phrases to help people remember these types of rules, I am. But I was not in cosplay, this was not my costume.*** To say my super professional outfit was a costume is calling my existence as a trans individual a costume (something real life nazis and Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists do). It’s something we’ve been working to educate the general public on for some time. I remember some New York Times editorial talking about how “Being a woman is more than putting on a dress, makeup, and getting your nails done,” yeah, we know. We understand. Kindly fuck off.

The final resolution was that he told them he’d be keeping an eye on them and they’ve been warned. Maybe I could’ve fought it harder and you, dear reader, might even be up in arms screaming about how that’s exactly what should’ve happened and I should’ve gone to Reedpop employees, and how I should plaster the internet with the pics of Jedi not Hannibal Buress and his shit-stain of a paduan. The truth is unless you’ve experienced something like that, a constant hammering on your emotional well being in the moment, I don’t care what you have to say on the matter. That may sound cold but I’m comfortable with that.

 

The truth is I didn’t want this one cosplayer kicked out of the con. I wanted to have a conversation with them. Ask them why they thought this was OK. Ask them why they thought it was funny. Why they thought I would not only be OK with it but celebrate it.

Perhaps they have assumed cis male friends who cosplay female characters and do this all the time. If that’s true, fine do whatever you want with your friends but you can’t treat everyone at a con like you do your circle of friends. This is a pervasive issue within all convention communities. Sometimes at the convention it can feel that we all have a closeness because we’re all a part of the same fandom we have a familiarity with one another, and that all the rules and understandings we have with our close-knit circle of convention friends applies to everyone.

Perhaps when you saw me you assumed I was a guy in drag and therefore consent doesn’t apply to me? Perhaps because it’s assumed that it’s not sexual assault if you think you’re doing it to a man (whether you’re correct in your assumption or not). After asking multiple kilt-wearing men, they will tell you the same thing; people try to aggressively lift their kilts at cons and let’s be clear that is not OK.  Maybe because you’ve learned this behaviour as a behaviour that is perpetuated on assumed female bodies and you, Rei, as an assumed female/femme presenting person, are lashing out with behaviour enacted upon you and yours because you think it’s somehow subversive and comedic? It’s not. This behaviour, even upon a body you assume doesn’t receive it, perpetuates it, normalizes it, and erases the experience of those who do experience it.

I started noting all the other aggressions I had experienced as a trans woman in a convention space (I’d always noticed them but I’d push them aside hoping for potential teaching moments). Most notably a Deadpool I was interviewing tried to rub my nipple (without asking) on camera. A friend of friend cosplayer propositioned me about being in (tasteful but) BDSM and boudoir photography which, to be honest, was fine except instead of accepting my “no” she stated that I was perfect for them because I was into “gender bending,” to which I corrected “Well I’m trans, not gender bending.” She responded with “Well you didn’t say you were trans,” to which I finished the convo “I shouldn’t have to introduce myself as everyone as trans.”**** My “I’m trans,” sign was in the shop. These instances are not new, I was just hyper aware of them for this con.

None of it is ever “meant,” to cause harm, that’s not the intent. It’s not people wearing Make America Great Again hats, or white hoods, or swastikas like we assume those who commit terrible acts are. Sometimes it’s us. Sometimes it’s a misplaced intent. You might not have intended to cause me harm, but you did, I didn’t consent to you exposing me in public, but you did it anyways, and this is endemic of an internalized anti-femme, anti-queer, culture which happens at conventions and doesn’t have to. Everyone needs to work harder, do better, and support one another in dismantling these systems which for so long have made convention spaces a home for predatory behaviour. We can do better, we should, and hopefully we will.

Special thank you to the casts of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, The Tick, and Dangerboat, and the outpouring of support from friends, professional colleagues, Nerd Caliber, and con goers (especially Emmanuel, the cosplay repair lady, and my friend Allison) and my wife, for stepping up and making sure I had pleasant memories from my con experience this year in addition to the darker moment.

 

*For many folks the term Queer is an aggressively negative term. It has over the years been taken back by the greater LGBTQIA+ community to encompass a wide range of experiences and identities. It is in this way, as someone who self identifies as both trans and queer that I use this term.

**Some people can claim “You didn’t get their permission!” They didn’t get my permission to expose me. Two wrongs don’t make a right but if you think my reaction of collect intel to find these folks makes me just as bad, I dunno what tell you other then bite me you Nazi.

*** Some critics will say “But Ashley how do we know?” You don’t. So either ask pronouns, use they singular, or if you’re REALLY hung up about that in this instance “the individual,” will do.

**** Question all your assumptions. When you assume you make an Ass out of u… me? I’m there but I’m judging you harshly… you ass.



About the Author

Ashley Rogers
Ashley Lauren Rogers earned a Bachelor’s of English Literature and Theatre at Fitchburg State College, was invited to the two week summer playwriting intensive at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, had shows produced in New York City as part of Stage Left Studio and the New York Nineteenth Century Society, Theatre To Go in Melrose MA, and as part of the Fresh Fruit Festival in NYC. Recently her work has been displayed as part of Stage Left Studio’s sold out Gender: A Performance Project, and her show Bite Curious,was a part of White Rabbit Production’s Scream Queens and Crazed Fiends, short play event. Her one person show PASS/FAIL will receive its premiere at Dixon Place Lounge NYC in February and will be performed for The Midtown International Theatre Festival: Spring Edition in March. Ashley is a recipient of the ACM Award for Comedy Video for writing the pilot of Marisa and Rocco, is the creator of Ashley Rogers Does Something Awesome, Monthly Tea with Madeline Foxtrot, all through Dogtoon Media. She has been featured in the Frenchy and The Punk Music video for “House of Cards,” Sundance Channel’s “Young Broke and Beautiful,” and TLC’s “Bling It On.” Ashley has written articles for Beyond Victoriana and Steampunk Magazine Online, has been a vlogger and a blogger for NerdCaliber.com. Ashley has developed a workshop for writers to learn how write for trans and non-binary narratives.




 
 

 
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6 Comments


  1. Donna J. W. Munro

    I am so sorry they were such ass hats. You are awesome and deserve much more than what they gave you. Go Ashley!


  2. Adrienne Foster

    I don’t believe this type of thing is just about fandom. As the truth about Harvey Weinstein comes out, it’s clear such bad behavior is all over society.


  3. Angee Steir

    I am very sorry you had this unpleseant experience. But I wanted to share something that I hope will renew your faith in con culture. Last weekend I attended a Con here in Great Falls MT known as the great falls gaming rendezvous. When we checked in we were required to acknowledge a code of conduct. It was available to read but also explained to us as “don’t be an asshole and do not touch anyone without permission!” I liked that they have expectations for behavior. I hope more cons adopt this idea, it would help keep things like what happened to you from happening.


  4. Jack Warren

    Wonder of she (the one that assaulted you) would feel the same way if her pants and underwear had been jerked down for all to see. Assault is assault. Security should have treated it that way. Cops and all.


  5. Matt

    Hi there. While I completely agree that their behavior is uncalled for and security should have better handled the situation, it’s very hard to overlook this article’s aggressive language towards the culprits & to any reader who’s not “a con veteran” while trying to voice reasoning and open dialogue about behavior, especially with lines like “Two wrongs don’t make a right but if you think my reaction of collect intel to find these folks makes me just as bad, I dunno what tell you other then bite me you Nazi.”

    Above all things what took place shouldn’t happen at cons anywhere at anytime, but if you want to talk about support and community building, why spend time bashing the culprits in the manner that you did only to follow it with “I didn’t want them kicked out, I wanted to talk to them”? It’s all very counter productive here…


  6. matt johnson

    Well otherMatt I’d say that the difference is “Assault” versus “Taking pictures of the people who assaulted someone so they can be pointed out to security”. These people were neither named nor pictured in this article, and the writer having a bit of anger at them is understandable, I think. IMO policing the person who was assaulted is the thing that is really counter productive.



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