Is dressing as Caitlyn Jenner on Halloween offensive?

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Every year, the hottest Halloween costumes take inspiration from pop culture’s biggest stories. So it was no surprise when the Caitlyn Jenner costume, in honor of 2015’s most talked about celebrity, hit the market. What was surprising was the public’s reaction to it. Who knew the now-iconic bustier and wig could cause so much controversy?

Don’t blame Spirit Halloween

The image of a wooly, unappealing man sporting a bustier, wig, and “Call me Caitlyn” sash (see above) went viral and led to public outrage against Spirit Halloween, a leading costume retailer. As it turns out, however, the rage was misdirected: this was not Spirit Halloween’s version of the costume at all.

The cheesy version of the costume actually came from smaller online outlets and Spirit Halloween, on the other hand, is selling a very different Caitlyn costume—one that was created with more tact than its viral counterpart:


Spirit Halloween’s “Caitlyn Corset & Wig Set,” $49.99

Critics attack both versions of the Caitlyn costume

As soon as the Jenner-inspired costume was advertised, a petition calling for the offensive item to be taken off the market hit the website. As of this writing, 18,354 people have signed the petition, which was written by Addison Rose Vincent, transfeminine genderqueer activist. It reads, in part: To make a costume out of a marginalized identity reduces that person and community to a stereotype for privileged people to abuse.

Psychotherapist Kristen Martinez, who specializes in LGBT and affirmative counseling, agrees. “The idea that this is a good idea for a costume is ludicrous and devoid of empathy and understanding for what the real struggle of being transgender in today’s society actually entails,” she says.

Martinez compares the impact of the Caitlyn costume on the transgender community to that of once-popular blackface costumes on the black community. “We understand the cultural implications of white supremacy underlying the fact that we once thought these [racist costumes] were appropriate,” says Martinez. “Dressing up as Caitlyn Jenner, or any transgender person, by the cisgender majority group should stir up the same feelings that tell us that it’s not okay to trivialize other people’s already marginalized identities by wearing their identity for one night as a joke and not realizing what our privilege means in the larger conversation of that seemingly miniscule act.”

Martinez goes on to say that the fact that it is seen as a “costume” and not a true and real identity makes it an inappropriate and ignorant choice. “It’s hurtful, mean, and propagates negative stereotypes about what it is to be transgender,” she explains, “Just a man in a dress does not cut it for a definition of being transgender.”

Not everyone finds the costume offensive

Certainly, in a cultural moment where transgender Americans are, in some places, not able to legally use the bathroom, an extra layer of sensitivity is required. But whether this particular costume truly crossed over into a petition-level insult is up for debate.

Nicola Jane Chase is a trans person and the author of Tea & Transition, “a story of love, the human spirit, and how one man became a woman.” Chase’s immediate reaction to the costume was that it was “totally inappropriate.” But her initial reaction soon softened.

“The more I considered it, the more it seemed fair,” she said. “The costume is not mocking being transgender in itself, nor are countless other costumes seen at Halloween mocking the lives, orientation, or sexuality of those they portray.”

Chase says the Caitlyn costume is no more representative of the transgender community than sexy nuns or stripper nurses are representative of the nuns and nurses we encounter the other 364 days of the year. “Are those outfits seriously irreverent to those lives or professions?” she asks. “I say not. Halloween is known to be a day of silliness and should be accepted as just that.”

Are celebrities fair game?

The life of a celebrity is anything but private, and anyone who’s famous can find himself or herself on the receiving end of praise, criticism, and even mockery. “Once Jenner was featured on the cover of Vanity Fair, it was unavoidable that parody would follow,” says Chase. “That is the price of fame, and it comes with no refund.”

Halloween costumes reflect who’s hot in the moment, just like People’s “World’s Most Beautiful” and Esquire’s “Sexiest Woman Alive” lists do. When a costume channels Lindsay Lohan in an orange prison jumpsuit or Kate Gosselin’s much-maligned hairstyle or even decathlete Bruce Jenner in all his Olympic glory, the intent is not malice toward the celebrity. It’s just good-natured fun (and regardless, defamation is much harder to prove as a public figure).

Keeping it all in perspective

“It’s ironic that Caitlyn Jenner has dressed up for years to look like the woman she wanted to be, but when people wear the costume of who she’s become it’s considered gauche,” says relationship expert and author April Masini, who notes that Caitlyn chose to pose for Vanity Fair not in a dowdy flowered dress but in slinky lingerie. “Imitation is the highest form of flattery, and Ms. Jenner should consider herself flattered by the Halloween costumes!”

Masini says we should laugh off the Caitlyn Jenner mock-ups. “It would be more productive to encourage the makers and sellers of the costumes to donate a hefty chunk of the proceeds to the transgender community, promoting sales while helping those who need it.”

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