Supporters of Bruce Jenner, styled Caitlyn Jenner after his controversial Vanity Fair piece, have voiced outrage with Halloween retailer Spirit Halloween after it started marketing a trans Caitlyn Jenner costume:
Addison Rose Vincent, a Transfeminine Genderqueer activist, launched a petition on Change.org asking for Spirit Halloween to cancel the launch of the offending product.
She wrote: “To Spirit Halloween: We demand that you revoke your ideas and production of a Caitlyn Jenner costume for Halloween.
“With a reputation of sexist, racist, and culturally appropriative costumes, we are concerned that this costume will continue your oppressive tradition with a transphobic costume of Caitlyn Jenner.
“To make a costume out of a marginalized identity reduces that person and community to a stereotype for privileged people to abuse. In this case, if you follow through with production of a Caitlyn Jenner costume, cisgender people will purchase it to make fun of her and our community. . . . ”
This story made me laugh rather heartily for a few reasons. For one, cross-dressing has been and will probably continue to be a quite often tongue-in-cheek activity with a long history of campiness and comedy. Just look at the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Is that traditionally tacky style of gender-bending exhibitionism meant to be taken seriously? Not really. But is it by necessity poking fun of the cross-dressing/transgender community? Not really. Is it a cisgender appropriation of transgender identity designed to make fun of transgender people and the transgender community? Certainly not.
And the outrage over Spirit Halloween’s Caitlyn Jenner costume raises an important question: If a cisgender person wanted to dress up as Caitlyn Jenner on Halloween in order to emulate her as a role model, how would they go about doing that? Is it always the case that we dress up as someone in order to make fun of them?
Adults dress up as Disney princesses. Are they making fun of Disney princesses? Kids dress up as Iron Man. Are they making fun of Iron Man? Perhaps I will be accused of comparing apples to oranges since none of those costumes “stereotype” a “marginalized” community. What about Cowboys and Indians? Is a kid necessarily making fun of Indians when he puts on a stereotypical feathered headdress? No. Obviously not. A Trump supporter might dress up as Donald Trump. He would probably look no different than the guy dressed up as Trump to make fun of him.
It’s really all about the spirit of the costume wearer. And the fine line between the ridiculous parody and the sincere tribute is all part of the good-natured carnivalia of Halloween. If supporters of Caitlyn Jenner think dressing up like him/her is insulting to him/her, it’s because deep down, they are quite aware that Caitlyn Jenner’s transformation is itself quite ridiculous. The fact is that the only real difference between wearing a transgender costume for Halloween and being transgender is how completely you commit to the transformation and how long you wear the costume.
Unwittingly, these protesters have outlined the very heart of the transgender problem. You can call yourself something all you want. We all play along about that on October 31st. But transgender people want us to play along all year long. They want to show up to life all year long, and they don’t even want us to have to ask, “So, what are you supposed to be?” They want us to pretend they’re not wearing a costume. That this is the real them. No. The real you can play dress-up, just like the rest of us. But the real you will always be bigger than a costume—even one made with the aid of cosmetics and plastic surgery.