Re: Rufflecon (Or, a long post about community and the road to finding it)

Like many others, I'm sad and disappointed that Rufflecon has died. But, also like my peers, I'm not surprised. There had been whispers on the wind for quite some time, rumors that 2017 would be its final year. I didn't want it to be true.

2018 marks my 12th year in the Lolita Community. When I started, I didn't have a local comm; meeting "strangers from the Internet" was still generally frowned upon. I was in high school too, a time when young adults struggle to find acceptance, and peers with similar interests. I was already a goth kid, and an art nerd, regularly covered in acrylic paint stains as I blasted weird, sad music from my headphones. Let's add frills to that, right?

I tried joining my local anime club, but it didn't fill my needs or address my interests. It seemed I could only fit in if I made a lot of costumes, watched a lot of shows, or was good at video games- and while I tried all of those, none of them made me happy. I even tried LARPing, because someone told me my outfits would be great for a character- but I was shy, not good at remembering rules, and ended up standing around the whole time. I felt like a poser, trying to be someone I wasn't. 

Feeling at a loss "IRL", I turned to the Internet: Vivcore forums and Livejournal, to get my much needed sense of camaraderie. I was only beginning to understand what "community" meant, in terms of interests and hobbies. These online bubbles were my first real support system I had; a niche that was all my own. I could share photos of my outfits and sewing projects, and get inspiration from others. I learned about new hobbies, like ball jointed dolls, and found new music genres, like visual kei. I started to feel more confident in myself, even if that confidence began and ended at the threshold of my bedroom door. 

At school, I was made fun of; of course there were the classics, like Little Bo Peep, but people also told me I looked like a prostitute; but one they wouldn't pay for. Thinking back on those words, it sounds like a rape threat. People threw pudding at me when I wore a dress I made, and when I stood up for myself, a boy spat in my hair. I was voted "Most Creative" in my Senior Class, and the male nominee refused to stand next to me in the yearbook photo. People asked me out on dates as jokes. I asked someone to prom, and though they agreed to go, they ended up going off with another girl. 

My point is, my teenage years, when I needed to connect with someone the most, were miserable and alone. I only felt at home in the online Lolita Community. I remember when Baby the Stars Shine Bright opened in San Francisco, and I saw videos on Youtube of all the Lolitas together. There was sweet music in the background, that had something to do with magic, or becoming a princess. I cried, watching the video over and over, wishing that some day, I would be able to go somewhere like that. 

I graduated high school, grew up, and went to college in my home state of Hawaii. I went to my first "real" meet and tea party there, even though I had to bring my mom the first time. (That sounds embarrassing, but I'm really glad I brought her; she loved it, and tea parties are now something we make time for together.) I started wearing Lolita around campus once in a while, and made a few local friends who were close to my age. But just when I was starting to feel connected, I decided to study abroad for a year in Japan.

As a foreigner, living in Japan can be both wonderful and frustrating. You can have a genuine appreciation for the culture, lifestyle and interests, but there is always an invisible wall separating you. You're never considered a resident; always a visitor on a conditional stay. Because of that, people are hesitant to make ties with you. They invite you in, but never too close. In regards to the Lolita Community and how this applies, I tried approaching Japanese Lolitas while dressed up, and saying hello. It was always a quick, polite hello, a mandatory compliment on the outfit, and then a hasty departure. I made friends with some of the shop girls in Sakae and Oosu, but there was always a wall of work between us, so we couldn't hang out.

So, this was almost right; I was finally somewhere I could see Lolitas pretty often, but had no one to connect with. 

I ended up connecting with fellow foreigners, who taught English in the area. We all had varied interests, and some common ground we could discuss at tea, or while out shopping. I took up cosplaying again, so I could hang out with one of the girls more often. Finally, I started to feel like this is what I was looking for, this was that "community" thing. Unfortunately, as quickly as I had found a niche, my study abroad was over and it was time for me to go home. Connections fizzled out, like they do.

I went back to college in Hawaii, graduated, and worked a bunch of weird jobs. I rejoined the local comm and over time, we became close. However, being isolated on a rock in the Pacific Ocean essentially amounts to: No Big Lolita Events. Sure, there was Kawaiikon, the local anime convention, but it wasn't the same as what I was seeing on the mainland. Flagship stores continued to open in California and New York. There was Frill in Georgia, large-scale tea parties at cons with big-name guests, and finally: Rufflecon.

Rufflecon was my concept of heaven. I remember desperately trying to find a way to save money and justify the trip on a minimum wage budget; I couldn't. It remained a faraway fancy, and something I was deeply envious of. Like many other things in my Lolita life, I watched it pass by on my screen in brilliant colours.

In late 2015, I finally moved to the East Coast. It was difficult parting ways with the Hawaii Comm, because I had some close friends I didn't want to part with. However, I was so excited to be a part of the larger comms I had seen grow over the last decade. It even looked possible for me to attend Rufflecon.

I made plans to go in 2016, and have a fashion show for my "side project" (calling it a brand is a little ambitious), Darkly Darling. I could taste it; my dream coming to fruition. 

Then in Spring 2016, I found out I was pregnant. I would be eight months pregnant by the time Rufflecon came. I decided not to go.

My daughter was born on ILD 2016. 

Then, 2017 came... finally, the year I'd be able to make Rufflecon work. I had my husband help me in the "Blood Bath" for a Deluxe Membership. I made room reservations and Amtrak plans with my friends. I applied to show as a designer, and got accepted.

The con came, and it went. After the show, I calmly undressed my models, said goodbye, and ran back to my room to call my mom and cry. 

I had never had the feeling of a dream coming true before. To see my designs walk down a runway in front of a room of Lolitas. To be able to wear a jacket I made, while handing my business card to a designer I highly respect. To be able to walk anywhere, and feel among friends and colleagues.

I now fully understand what community and joy is. I am thankful I had the honor of attending the last one.

Rufflecon made me understand what it meant to "belong" somewhere. This is something we all need to realize at one point in our lives, whether it's on Thursday nights with a board game and pizza, or once a year in a costume at a convention center, or behind a podium in a room of people you look up to. It's not just a convention, or a gathering, it's a psychological need that cries to be filled. 

That is what I mourn today, not the loss of a convention.

In so many less words: I love my community, however long it took me to find it; and I look forward to whatever rises to take Rufflecon's place. 

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