Halloween and Gender Expression
Today’s post is an educational piece about costuming and gender as we gear up for Halloween. The San Mateo County Pride Center and partner organization Outlet at Adolescent Counseling Services are hosting the 2019 Youth Hallowqueer Party on October 31, 2019, from 5pm until 8pm. Youth aged 10 to 18 are invited to drop in any time for spooky snacks, ghoulish games, and creative costuming contests. Email the Youth Program Coordinator, America Yamaguchi, for more information at email@example.com
Halloween is coming up and many people are planning costumes for an evening of costumed fun. For members of the trans community, Halloween can be terrific, terrifying, or both.
In a 2017 Huffington Post editorial, Addison Rose Vincent writes that Halloween reminds her that “safe spaces are not confined to people or places, that it can be based on time. It’s an annual event that gives people like myself permission to be who we are.” Other transgender individuals have written and spoken about how Halloween can be a time that, perhaps counterintuitively, we can remove our costumes and without necessarily coming out of the closet, dress in a way that feels authentic to our core identities. For many, Halloween is an opportunity to crack open the closet door and peek outside without having to become exposed.
On the flip side, however, Halloween is also a day of cisgender people using our identities as a costume. In 2015, Spirit Halloween stores came under fire for selling a “Call Me Cait” costume. Spirit went on to claim that the costume was intended to celebrate Caitlyn Jenner, however the larger transgender community overwhelmingly found the presentation offensive. It fell into “man-in-a-dress” type jokes and was marketed as a men’s costume, and a change.org petition earned over 19,000 signatures demanding that the costume be removed from shelves and online retail portals.
So what does this mean for you and your costuming endeavors?
Before you go out in gender-creative costuming this Halloween, ask yourself these questions:
- Is my costume a gender, or is my costume something else?
If your costume is just “I’m a girl for Halloween!” then you should consider changing your costume choice. It’s okay to dress up as “a catgirl” (Charles Boyle says it best: “There is nothing gendered about sexy cats!” – Brooklyn 99, 4×13), or as a historical or fictional figure who does not share their gender identity with you.
- If I saw someone wearing my costume, would I think they were using gender as a joke?
If the answer is yes, consider what it is that makes your costume “funny.” Using someone’s gender identity as a joke is an early step to dehumanizing and bullying people who are trans and gender non-conforming.
Gender expression should be joyful, and it should be fun. It also should not be a joke. Ultimately, gaging what your impact on other people is always an important calculus to do. There are no easy answers. Crossdressing, crossplay (a reference to cosplay, such as that seen at anime and comics conventions), and drag are all valid forays into creative gender expression, and being aware of one’s position of privilege is important to being able to engage with gender without inflicting undue harm.
Have a safe, fun Halloween, from all of us here at the San Mateo County Pride Center!
“What Halloween Means to Me as a Transgender Person” by Addison Rose Vincent — https://www.huffpost.com/entry/what-halloween-means-to-me-as-a-transgender-person_b_59efd0ffe4b04809c0501210)