This has been alluded to over the last few days on social media, but the Houston Press sums up charges against Anime Matsuri head John Leigh, who, from multiple accounts, seems to be a serial sexual harasser. Anime Matsuri is held in Houston and is considered one of the top anime events in the US, focusing on the “Lolita” subculture which features cosplay in elaborate—but modest—Victorian costumes. About 20,000 people were expected to attend this year’s event which took place in March. Leigh’s ongoing bad behavior includes all kinds of harassing talk—asking one prominent cosplayer to send a naked picture of herself, asking anther about her history of orgasms—as well as inappropriate touching and more.
Another presumed joke that made a female associate of Leigh’s deeply uncomfortable was that of a local cosplay model who posted about her experiences on the LACE – Lolita’s Against Cyberbullying and Exploitation — Facebook page under the name “N”. According to N she was asked by Leigh to come perform for a photoshoot, but given virtually no details on the nature of what she would be doing. Upon arriving she was informed it was actually a video shoot and Leigh requested that she simulate oral sex on a male subject for it, which N refused.
“I noticed he had a nervous way of telling me,” N when told the Press. “It was odd how he was acting. He’s like, ‘I want you to act like you’re going to perform a sexual oral act on the male subject in the car. I told him I was very uncomfortable with the idea…. I kept telling him ‘No. No I don’t want to’ He tried to guilt trip me into it… He’s a powerful speaker. He’s good at how to word things to manipulate or make you rethink what your statements were.”
These events have been posted over the last few weeks by members of the Lolita community and paint a distressing picture, but the Press spoke with several people associated with Anime Matsuri and found more accusations, including a tacky tea party that has become infamous
“I cannot even describe the feeling and the look he gave me when he saw me in Lolita,” said R. “He did this full body scan of me and started buttering me up. Now he cared to know me. I made sure to stay as far away from as possible after that.”
She also describes a tea party event at the convention where she says Leigh decided to do away with the planned activity of letting each fashion designer in attendance show off a new design, and instead grabbed the microphone for 30-minute Q&A about himself while making jokes about the waist-sizes of the women in attendance. According to R, he only ceded the microphone once he realized that his jokes were falling flat on a largely silent audience.
“It’s sad that someone that has brought so many people from all over the world would destroy it by being harassing,” says R.
On his FB page, Leigh, who is married, posted an apology about a week ago:
Earlier today, I posted a blog entry that detailed my side of the story. I did not know I was hurting these people and I did not mean to do so. I have been getting attacked for the past few days. The attacks spread to my family, friends, and supporters of Anime Matsuri. I was upset and I wanted to defend everyone who I cared about.
It has been a few long hours since I posted that blog. I thought I would feel better, but I feel nothing but sadness. I had an abundance of messages of support over this time. I took a step back and realized: while I was trying to defend those I love, I was hurting others, and this is not ok, regardless if some of them are trying to hurt me. I was angry, and nothing good comes out of anger. Some people are very hurt, on both sides, and I have to assume responsibility for that. I also realize many people look up to me and I have let them down.
I want to apologize specifically to the people in question and to everyone who has been affected by this. I understand I have hurt you and I’m sorry. Regardless of what is happening now, I considered you my friends at some point. I also understand an apology means little without positive action, so I have decided to take a course on Sexual Harassment to be more aware of this serious problem and to make sure it doesn’t happen again. I have deleted the blog post and will work on myself to become better. I’m very sorry.
Leigh also issued a statement to the Press stating much the same as the above, although the Press says that the course he’s taking is actually a two-hour online course. Meanwhile with controversy swirling, some in the community have cut their ties with the show and Leigh—however and my guess is that this will go on for some time.
I’m a total outsider to the anime/Lolita community, so I have no idea what the repercussions of all this are. All of the behavior reported by Leigh falls into what’s known as a “sex pest” — a creepy guy who uses his position and proximity to women to engage in inappropriate behavior which is often “forgiven” as “just joking.” This is just clueless self-justification. In a now deleted blog post (still available on the Internet Archive) Leigh defends his behavior, saying of the woman who he questioned about her orgasms that “At no time did she tell me she was uncomfortable with my jokes, or to stop” when the very IM that’s quoted above it has her saying “you don’t need to know” and “I’m running away from this question!” which under any reasonable standard qualifies as telling him she’s uncomfortable with his jokes.
As the accounts of the women quoted by the post makes clear, to the people on the receiving end, it’s no joking matter.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.