I love Halloween. Its basically the primary gay holiday in the U.S. I love dressing up, going out, having a ton of fun, and finishing the bag of candy the kiddies didn’t get.
However, Halloween also causes me a lot of concern. I have been following the protests about costumes for young girls for several years. Major outlets like Target, Walmart and Party City insist on carrying inappropriate costumes for girls. They will have the “cop” and “fireman” and “doctor” for boys and the “sexy cop” and “sexy fireman” and “sexy nurse” for girls. It wouldn’t be as massively inappropriate if these were the costumes for teens. The fact that they market them to 3-9 year olds is horrifying. No six year old needs to wear fishnet stockings and a garter. Ever.
There has been some excellent writing on the issues of gender disparity and the over-sexualization of toddlers by other authors. I am not going to address that here, but I would suggest you read the links embedded below. What I want to talk about is the fetishization of identity for Halloween.
Donning Someone Else’s Identity as Your “Costume”
This year, of course, the big issue is the marketing of Caitlyn Jenner costumes. However, every year we have issues with some white Greek organization hosting a “Black” or “ghetto” themed party on some college campus, thousands of women dressing as “sexy squaw,” straight people hamming it up to go as “faggots” and “dykes” and I am guessing this year there will be more than a few “Christian Gray’s” with their “submissive” collared and tied to a grey silk tie.
Many people who don these outfits do it because they think it is funny or culturally relevant or sexy. The reality is, its insulting, hurtful, promotes bias and hate, and reductive. People who opt for these identity-based costumes often don’t know much about the group they are choosing to mock. They have not spent a lot of time thinking about identity or its impact of the lives of people. They don’t think about the harm they are promoting by wearing these offensive outfits.
My identity is not a joke. My identity is not something I can put on and take off at will. My identity significantly impacts the way I move through the world. When someone opts to take part of that identity, characiture it for a costume, and make it a punchline, it is insulting and hurtful.
Kink as a Halloween Costume
This year, I am guessing there will be tons of “Christian Grays” at the Exotic Erotic Halloween balls across the country. Most cities have some version of this party. A promoter takes over a convention center or large space, charges really high fees for tickets, and encourages participants to be “sexy” and “erotic” in their choice of costume. Generally, the girls at these events wear as little as possible and grind up on people all night. It is one of the few opportunities straight, vanilla folks have to try and express their sexuality in a public space.
I am fine if you want to paint yourself like a sexy Tony the Tiger or pirate wench. I take issue with trying to pass yourself off as a Dom(me) or sub for the night. People who opt for these costumes know very little of the kink community. They fail to recognize the importance kink takes in many people’s lives. Many people think kink and BDSM is just something people do “in the bedroom” to spice up their sex lives. Mocking this at Halloween continues these perceptions. If you don’t think this bias has power, see my last blog entry “It’s More Than Just Sex.”
Walk A Mile In My Shoes
We tell kids who tease other kids to “try and walk a mile in someone else’s shoes,” to promote understanding. While the idea of putting yourself in someone else’s place isn’t all bad, it also isn’t possible. Plenty of journalists have tried this idea by wearing a fat suit, donning black face, or other stunt to get publicity. They go out in the world as someone else for a few hours and report on the experience. Here is why that fails.
When you live your identity you can’t take off your identity. I don’t have the option of putting “queer” or “kinky” or “woman” or “middle age” on the shelf and go back out in the world as a young hot straight guy. Decades in this identity inform my daily life. Yes, a man can dress as a woman to try and see what that experience is like. He may get cat-called, hit on, and dismissed in a corporate setting. What he cannot experience is the real concerns about safety and legitimacy that women face.
Every time I walk to my car in the evening or after an event, I make sure I have my keys ready, scan the area to see where threats may be, and focus on my surroundings. Men don’t have to worry that the few extra seconds finding their keys will expose them to a potential attack. Men can walk through an area sucked into their phone and not worry that this distraction may end in their harm.
A man may dress as a woman and get cat-called. It is unlikely if he only does this for a day he will have the experience of being followed and having a man try to force conversation on him. He probably won’t have to think about diving into a store to avoid his pursuer. He probably won’t get grabbed and felt up walking through a bar. He has this advantage because he is only walking a mile in her shoes. If you walk 10,000 miles in a woman’s shoes, these aggressive acts get revealed.
There are plenty of great costume ideas out there for Halloween that don’t involve mocking someone’s identity or reducing a group to a cultural stereotype. Know that as you are planning your costume, your choices have impacts on other people in ways you cannot understand. Identity is not something we can put on a shelf the rest of the year. Your choice to mock us has long-standing implications. Don’t do it.