In this time of seasonal transition, when the leaves begin to change to fall, the country revs itself up in preparation for Halloween. Companies begin to market their next great idea for future costumes. Some are funny, some are raunchy and some are very clever. In addition to these array of fun and exciting costumes, many companies choose to push the boundaries of what is acceptable. The problem with this is that often they cross the line of what is acceptable to make into a costume.
The current costume industry has a fundamental problem of making a joke out of something that is not funny. One example of this is costume companies turning Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair photo shoot and making it into a joke.
Not only is this costume in poor taste because it is directly making fun of one person, who is coming from a place of oppression, but it actually diminishes and devalues those identities that they portray. Often these companies, who create such bastardizations of identities, try to frame their reasoning through the perspective that they are allowing people to pay homage to their idols in culture.
Spirit Halloween is one popup business that has a “Call Me Caitlyn” costume that they refuse to take down, despite an online petition to have them remove it. Their spokesperson, Lisa Barr, sent out an email saying that they have no intention to take it down.
“At Spirit Halloween we create a wide range of costumes that are often based on celebrities, public figures, heroes and superheroes.” Barr said in an email. “Caitlyn Jenner is all of the above and our Caitlyn-inspired costume reflects just that.”
Yet, on Halloween night, those who see Jenner’s story as one that is inspiring and helps them feel represented will then see these costumes, as well as whatever glimmer of representation they had, turned into a joke.
This highlights the latent ideals of transphobia in the American society today.
How can someone who has not come to terms with themselves find comfort when people are turning the very identity that makes them insecure into a joke? This is one of the many struggles that trans communities face around the country.
The trans demographic is still one of the most marginalized minorities today. People assume that because one person is successful in their transition on a grand scale, the issue is solved. To them, having Caitlyn Jenner on TV means that the country is fully accepting of the trans community, but that is far from the truth. It does not take much digging to find this truth.
To delve further into this issue, there are many surveys looking to document the trans experience in the United States and some of the results are terrible and shocking.
In a survey from 2008 by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National LGBTQ Task Force, one grave fact they found was this:
“Sixty-three percent of our participants experienced serious acts of discrimination—events that would have a major impact on a person’s quality of life and ability to sustain themselves financially or emotionally.”
This still does not fully encompass what trans people in this country face, especially when looking at youth. They can have rough experiences that create permanent damage in their future psychological, and in some cases physical, well-being. They are sometimes forced to do whatever they can to survive.
In presenting this identity as a joke, it makes equality for the Trans community that much more difficult. It does not effectively highlight the democratic ideal that every perspective is valid and should have a voice.
This practice of making caricatures out of minorities does not further the American idea of democracy, but instead destabilizes it. It makes the playing field even more uneven for those who are not the majority to get their voices heard. It perpetuates that some identities are invalid and have little to no value.
Whether it is the “Call Me Caitlyn” corset and wig set, blackface or a sombrero and a poncho, there is no need to make a minority into a costume with the only purpose of amusement. It makes more of a statement that you may realize.