It’s probable that if you’ve hung around fandom, science fiction, or
like-minded communities – like the Steampunk universe – you’ve heard the phrase “Cosplay is not consent”. If you haven’t, I can give you a thumbnail definition: If one dresses as some sort of fandom or fantasy character with what is considered to be sex appeal or sexy look, this is in no way, shape, or form consent to touch that person. Neither is it permission to interfere with them without asking, or generally disrespect them as a human being simply because they’re wearing cosplay. And that holds true regardless of the nature of the character, or how revealing or hypothetically seductive that cosplay might be.
I hear: “If they didn’t want to be treated as sex objects, they wouldn’t do sexy cosplays”. There are plenty of reasons for cosplays, and being what you perceive as sexy doesn’t necessarily happen because they want to be sexual, especially with you. I mean, when you cosplay a villain, is it because you plan to undertake a life of crime? Does that make it okay for cops to arrest you because you look like a famous fictional murderer? Of course not.
There are people who feel that making a public appearance makes you into public property. And it is true that certain kinds of celebrity, and certain public roles, might change some of how society might be allowed to view you. I do not know to what extent we really deserve to know the deep inside secrets of movie stars, or rock musicians, but it has certainly been part of the tradition of both of those industries for many years that those professionals get a lot of publicity and a lot of attention, and they reap both the benefits and the detriments.
The challenge is that cosplayers are not generally professionals, and even those who are remain a very small group of people who all came out of the fandom world with the same goals and motivations as the rest of us: to show our love for things Fannish, nerdy, and interesting, and to pay tribute to our favorite artists and characters.
And they deserve what the rest of us deserve: respect, sometimes admiration, camaraderie, and basic human decency.
Honestly, with or without cosplay, someone being or acting or dressing in a manner that you consider to be sexy does not mean that you own that person’s sexuality or identity. Acting as if you did is disrespectful. It’s flat-out harassment, sometimes in a matter which is literally illegal. And then there’s this:
The more you disrespect sexy cosplay and costuming, the more you discourage it from happening. If you’re someone who likes those things and appreciates them, and wants to see more of them, then you owe people, not unpleasant experiences, but gratitude and appropriate behavior. You need to, for your own damn self interest, treat those people well and politely, or you will do one of two things:
Either you will reduce the number of people who participate in those cosplays you love so much, because the price of dealing with you and people like you is just too high a cost to bear…
Or, increasingly, you will get kicked out, or at least get a warning from event security. Because I will tell you a single simple Awful Truth: the vast majority of fandom, regardless of gender or identity or politics, simply does not want to be around a person who can’t treat others like adult human beings deserving of basic human respect.
Jeff Mach runs Jeff Mach Events, which in turn runs the world’s largest Steampunk event, The Steampunk World’s Fair; the peculiar Faerie festival Glimmerdark, and co-runs Dark Side Of The Con (with VampireFreaks). He’s on Twitter @steamworldsfair.