I recently attended an anime convention, one of the major conventions in the United States, and I did “cosplay” a character from a Japan-related film. I was Pyramid Head from Silent Hill, the movie version released several years ago.
Now, while I did it for my own reasons, which include challenging myself technically and taking on my own body image issues, there were incidents I had while in costume which got me thinking.
As a full disclosure, I picked Pyramid Head because it was a technically difficult costume. It’s not one you can buy in stores and requires a large amount of labor to be able to do well. I wanted to do it well, and right, so I put a tremendous amount of effort into my costume. It did pay off well, as I got a lot of attention for my costume including being called “the good Pyramid Head”.
There are aspects to his character that are less-than savory.
Pyramid Head is one of the only characters in video games to my recollection who is depicted in the act of raping any other character. In the game Silent Hill II, where he makes his debut, he is depicted raping one of the other monsters within the game. The sequence does not last more than 5 to 10 seconds and it has symbolic significance to the main character who sees this act – Pyramid Head is a symbol of the main character’s feelings of lack of power and sexual frustration. This facilitates the creation of Pyramid Head as a representation of the power he does not feel.
As a result of this very brief scene, it’s not uncommon for Pyramid Head to be called a Rapist. He is a rapist. I knew this going into making the costume for the convention.
What I was not prepared for was the amount of young girls, many of whom were in early high school, who asked me or told me that they wanted me to rape them.
The convention attendee would ask me if they could have my picture. I would kindly oblige and strike my “menacing” pose. Then, the girl would make a comment about having me rape them at their wishes. I was told the following two things more than once:
“I secretly want you to rape me.”
“Will you rape me, Pyramid Head?”
Something to take into very serious consideration before deconstructing the meaning of this onto the greater culture is that cosplay is *not* LARPing. I’m not being Pyramid Head. I’m dressing up as Pyramid Head and am still myself. I can respond as myself and I can be myself. It’s exactly like Halloween, but only out of season and with other people nerdy enough to understand your costume (for the most part, there’s been a lot of mainstreaming).
These girls know I’m not Pyramid Head. There’s no expectations of me being or acting as if I’m Pyramid Head and, most especially, they know in asking me to rape them that they’re not asking Pyramid Head but a random, obviously male, obviously physically strong and physically able person to violently sexually assault them.
I had serious problems with this*. I was disturbed and horrified at this experience from these girls. I feared for their safety. This convention has well over 20,000 people of all ages. Asking a complete stranger to rape them is not only unsafe but completely foolhardy and wrong.
It made me start to wonder what would precipitate such a reaction as if it is *ever* socially appropriate to make such a comment.
The first thought which was brought to me, as I discussed this experience with my friends, was that of burgeoning sexuality. These girls have probably gotten the worst sex education that keeps getting hacked away at. They have been taught in an abstinence only environment and may not even know what rape really is. They may not even know what sex really is.
They also may be using my costume to confront their own sexual fantasies concerning rough sex, kink sex or otherwise non-vanilla sexual encounters. Admitting, even in a half joke to a stranger, that they’d like to be raped may not be an admission to wanting that exact sexual behavior. With a lack of real sexual education, these girls may not know the difference between kinky sex, rough sex and rape.
The other thought, which had occurred to me the next day (where I was never propositioned to sexually assault anyone, thank God), was that these girls did not understand the consequences of Rape Culture.
We live in a society, which is microcosmed in some forms of Japanese media brought to the US, where some characters are “fucked until they love you.” Whether it’s in YAOI (male-male) where the seme (top) often rapes the uke (bottom) until the uke falls in love with him; hentai where the sex is very similar but the uke is a woman; or even Yuri (female-female) where the masculine woman assaults the feminine one in a similar manner. This example is set forth and so, in perhaps a twisted pursuit of real sexual love, they think that they can be “fucked until loved”.
It made me wonder what it was I could do about this when the situation arose again, which again it thankfully never did. The best and most direct answer I could come up with was just the direct answer of “no”. “I secretly want you to rape me.” “No.” and walk away.
I realized I could not change these girls’ behaviors, but what I could do was demonstrate that that behavior was unacceptable through my own actions. If they said it before a picture, no picture would be taken. If it was after, I would simply walk away. The denial of what they want as a consequence of completely inappropriate sexual comments, in public, surrounded by 20,000 plus strangers would be enough. They may not understand it now, but they may eventually understand it later.
I really don’t know what else I could do in the situation. A lecture would have gotten me nowhere and they wouldn’t have taken it seriously.
What would you have done?
*There were other ideas I had, like not dressing up at all. I had, however, put in scores of hours into my costume, took tremendous pride in how it came out and was feeling very self-assured in my body image while wearing this costume – being called “hot” and “cute” among other things. I was not going to let a handful (literally less than 10) girls who were foolish ruin a costume I’d grown to love while making it.
I also thought that I may want to say, “rape isn’t funny.” But, that would be taken out of context given the clear mental state of the girls saying this to me. They would then follow me and ask me why. They would beg and plead and make a spectacle of something which I was trying to avoid.
Saying “no” was my best option, and while I never had to use it, I had it in my back pocket for use. I was just so grossly taken off guard and disturbed by this that my friends and I literally spent 3 hours talking it through and forging a plan. Myself as well as one of the people I went with are sexual assault survivors. It was also empowering to play a character who could have been the person who almost raped me.