One of the trickier things in the mer world, is getting people to accept you. What we do is a bit of a niche, fringe, and unique thing. This can be hard for people to wrap their heads around. Sometimes it’s the media, sometimes it’s family, and sometimes it’s just people on Facebook. This blog is going to look at some of the more common issues.
In researching for my third book, Fishy Business: A Handbook for Merfolk, I conducted many surveys of different demographics of mers. I focused specifically on the journey of men in the mer-field, along with people who identify as “plus size” or “curvy’, and folks who fall under the trans/non-binary rainbow. These groups tend to be the most marginalized in our community and face extra scrutiny that others may not. For the full report you’ll have to read the book, but the general consensus is that these characteristics made these mers more of a target for both online and media harassment, along with less acceptance in the industry at large.
In addition to being targeted for things like this, in reality society as a whole often has negative connotations with people dressing up outside of Halloween. For a very long time, Cosplay was under a huge amount of scrutiny, until the demand for conventions sky rocketed, and popular media started to promote it in a positive way. Now, there are still many issues cosplayers face in terms of acceptance, many of them overlapping with what mermaids experience.
Society also tends to lump mermaids in with “furries”. Furries are people who enjoy anthropomorphic creatures. They may identify with a certain animal. Some people like to dress up to look like the animal. Sometimes they wear something called a “fur suit”. Furries also face many of the same issues as cosplayers or mermaids, but also have added judgement such as sexual preference (people assume the fur suit is something sexual or a kink, and whether it actually is or not, judge others based on that).
In all of these areas we see a lot of the same issues being raised. People think it’s a waste of money. People question your sexuality and preferences. People believe it’s a waste of time. People do not understand how any of these things can be a profession or contributing to the economy. People are ignorant, and weirded out. They worry about pedophiles. Parents see all this stuff, and worry about you and judge you if you indulge in any of these or as a hobby.
It sucks to have to validate yourself, and prove yourself. We shouldn’t have to do that. However, in advocating for yourself and your interest there is actually a silver lining! You empower others to feel good about their interest, you validate it as a business/interest, and as a whole you are helping the community! I have had huge doors open for me because I have advocated for myself, and I feel like if I didn’t, and other people didn’t, the culture of our community and how we are seen would be very different.
It really helps you understand the barriers we are up against, if you give some consideration to people’s reference point, and how they know about merfolk.
In my experience, many mers are eager to be on Tv or have media coverage. Some mers are excellent at speaking to the media, and really represent our community well. Others are easily ran over and don’t have enough experience to take charge of the content, and are made to look like fools. This is such a double edged sword. People believe that there’s no such thing as bad press. I don’t know where that idea came from… but it’s not true. Bad press for a community this small, is very harmful. It limits opportunities for everyone.
One of the best ways you can combat the issue of media representation, is to learn how to give an interview. There are many resources online, and also an entire section devoted to this with examples in my new book coming out. When you work toward this, you’ll also find it’s easier to talk to the general public, and your family. Even if you don’t want to be a professional mermaid, and never plan on giving a media interview, practicing these skills can help you handle negative situations and judgement over your hobby.
Another way to help validate yourself is to actually keep track of very well done and positive news stories. When you are faced with someone who doesn’t understand and is judgemental, you can show them these news stories that showcase mers as a business, mers for the environment, and well-spoken mers who explain things properly. I still do this!
If you really want to go the extra mile, you can quote studies about how nurturing our imagination provides us all with a healthy ability to cope with stress, can lead to academic and work success, and helps younger people develop. Believe it or not, but there is so much sound science behind what we do!
When dealing with the online world, this can help a lot. You may see a really amazing video being shared but see people bashing mers in the comments. They call people fat, or manatees, or whales. They call the men gay- intended as a slur or insult. They call us crazy, a waste of time, and all these other things. Some people will get really angry, and tell these people off. I don’t! I approach them calmly, and professionally (for the most part, once in a while I will be silly). I stick to facts. I highlight positive things from the community, from mermaiding, from that science I am talking about. And I directly call out any shaming in a professional way. It has been my experience that when you are well spoken like this, you may not turn the troll around, but most people reading will be impressed. They will be open, they will learn, and they will actually end up really liking you. Also, commenting on these news articles has helped me get news coverage too!
Of course, sometimes when dealing with the internet, it’s honestly just better to block and delete. You don’t HAVE to defend the community or your interest. You don’t HAVE to put up with that kind of crap! It can be really empowering to block and delete.
I want you to consider for a moment, some of the most successful people in the world. Beyonce. Richard Branson (Virgin company). Steven Hawkings. The presidents and prime ministers. The Royal Family. Really, anyone who is famous and well loved, liked, and successful. Even these people, who do amazing things, get haters. They get horrible comments. They have to deal with stupid things. But they do not let it stop them. YOU CAN’T LET HATERS DICTATE YOUR LIFE OR YOUR CHOICES OR YOUR HAPPINESS.
My friend and adopted mer-brother Merman Christian deals with the haters in the best way. He was recently featured on CNN. They had a rather unflattering clip of him making a funny reaction face. This clip got picked up and shown on a late night show, where they did a spoof of Plenty of Fish. Christian rolled with it and saw the humour in it. He didn’t take it personally. He had some fun with it
You deserve to do things that make you happy. Regardless of what other people think, regardless of your weight, regardless of your gender (or lack thereof), regardless of your sexuality, regardless of your sex! It’s clichéd to say, but we do only live once.
I get a lot of people asking me about their parents. Again, parents tend to just be ignorant, and fearful of this hobby or business causing you problems. Doing the same things I previously said can help. In addition, I filmed a blog specifically on the topic where I interviewed my father!
Finally, I want you to know I cover these topics in specific detail with examples from other mers and my surveys in my book. If this blog has been helpful to you, my new book may be as well. Keep an eye out as we’ll be announcing it soon. Here are some great videos of mers totally killing it in the news!
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