I mentioned to a few people that I was doing a spotlight this week on Cosplay For A Cure – a group of cosplayers who charge for photos with the money going to breast cancer research. Much to my surprise, I got some negative reactions. When money is changing hands, negatives follow… even when charity is involved. Actually, especially when charity is involved.
I’m not going to repeat what was said, for obvious reasons. Instead, it’s a golden opportunity to talk about some of my own disasters from when I was heavily involved in organizing charity cosplay initiatives. It’s okay to laugh at some of the insanity that follows.
Risk 1: They’ll hate you because you’re beautiful.
The first obvious target for cheap shots is the fact that you’re leveraging your assumed-to-be-attractive appearance for money. I ended up coordinating one charity event instead of just being a participant because as a participant I was “too popular”. It was making the other cosplayers feel bad. That was a hard decision to make, because my goal was just to raise as much money as possible. Sometimes it’s just not worth the social cost, however.
More seriously, other so-called professionals have used photos I did for charity to try to minimize my work accomplishments. I had to learn the hard way that taking your clothes off for charity money is still taking your clothes off for money, even if it’s just down to a bikini. Fortunately I have a job where this form of slut shaming is only irritating, not really damaging. If you have a job where it could really cause you trouble, choose your costumes with care: if people think they can hurt you with something, they’ll sure as hell try, and nothing stays private on the internet. Just ask AshleyMadison.com!
The third potential pitfall because of the visual nature of cosplay for a cause is the reality that narcissists will flock to any event with cameras. This is an especially touchy subject in cosplay because all of us have been accused, at some point in time, of being “attention whores”. We know how much that hurts and we don’t want to do that to other people. But a bona fide narcissist is more than just extremely vain. They’re a wrecking ball in your charity fundraising attempts because they lack empathy for other people.
Trying to get rid of a narcissist is also where the real “fun” begins. I still get emails from one guy every year at passover “forgiving me” for throwing him out of a charity group. He ran up hundreds of dollars in vanity expenses, then bullied a volunteer into giving him the money without my okay. You’d think this guy would be ashamed of himself, but I get an email from him every. single. year. He’s that unaware he did anything wrong.
Risk 2: When introverts “Lean In”, we can fall on our faces.
“Lean in” is a reference to Sheryl Sandberg’s rallying cry for women to embrace their ambitions, but I find much of her advice difficult to follow because I don’t lean toward extroversion. Many cosplayers of both genders – myself included – are very much introverts. This may seem odd at first, but dress up is a great way of communicating without having to talk to people. When money is changing hands, however, communication is required. Introvert panic time!
We all make mistakes as we learn how to overcome this challenge, and these mistakes leave us open to misunderstandings and nasty accusations even though we have the best of intentions. People may think you’re a snob, that you’re self-absorbed, or that you’re not ‘motivated’ enough. There’s no way to prevent this. Just lick your wounds and push through it. You can learn to adapt to the extrovert’s world, but you can’t do it by not being yourself.
Furthermore, just dealing with a lot of people in a day is draining for an introvert. When you’re cosplaying for a cause, you can’t just take off whenever you want to and go hide in a washroom stall… okay maybe that’s not what you do when you’re overloaded by being around people but that’s what I do! So if you know you can’t handle people for more than, say, four hours at a time, don’t commit to more than that. (Says the woman who breaks this rule all the time, hence, ends up hiding in washrooms.)
Risk 3: Volunteer work is the most expensive kind of work
The rest of the process should be straightforward, but I’ve had some hilariously strange things go wrong just because people were “doing me a favor” instead of seeing it as a commitment to a cause. Photographers have refused to release pictures people paid for because they decided they weren’t good enough. Key staff has just decided to not show up even though a photo backdrop was in their car. Host organizations have demanded that I get some sort of court order before they’re willing to “exclude” someone I think is going to cause trouble. These crises were often exploding while the cosplayers who weren’t causing issues were standing there essentially in their underwear. This is why I loathe cosplay drama – it’s drama while people are uniquely exposed.
Because certain “special” people will monopolize your attention, you have to be careful to not exploit volunteers that do give a lot of themselves. For instance, don’t expect your photographer to eat the costs of photo paper, printer cartridges, tape and other consumables, because they’ll eventually realize how much money they’re losing and stop volunteering their time. I’ve seen it happen more times than I can count. Don’t expect cosplayers to volunteer for hours without water, food and caffeine either. I’ve seen so many initiatives implode because organizers demanded zero expenses, so people volunteer once, realize how much money they spent, and don’t come back. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a convention runner have a complete meltdown over the cost of a $20 snowglobe used for a photo prop. I have lived. Oh I have lived. I’ve just lived away from that convention runner.
The flip side to this is that some events get “creative” with money raised for charity because they’re “doing a nice thing” — meaning they don’t think it’s a priority. I got burned once doing fundraising for an AIDS hospice as a convention volunteer. When a rumor started spreading that we’d run off with the money, I discovered that the convention had decided to use our fundraising to cover an operational shortfall. This is obviously… how do I put this delicately? Not best practices? But it’s too tempting for some people, since money raised is sometimes handled so cavalierly that it’s just tucked into costume bodices. (Or waistbands. Oh god I hope it was just the guy’s waistband…)
At this point, you’re probably thinking that cosplaying for a cause is surprisingly complicated… or you think my life has just been a unique wreck. I’ve just been doing it for over a decade, and the stories of fail add up over time. But despite the drama, I wholeheartedly recommend using your cosplay powers for good, even though there’s a chance things can go bad. At the end of the day you can say you at least tried to make the world a better, happier place, and that’s always worth a bit of risk.