A Costume Controversy

Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve seen Halloween change dramatically. Sure, the shift was slow, but like water carving the Grand Canyon, it was seemingly inevitable.

In my youth, it was a holiday where kids ruled the night. The streets were ours. We’d trot out into the darkness wearing anything from store bought plastic masks and smocks to hastily assembled “hobo” costumes of tattered old clothing and ratted hair. It was a magical time, when we would be allowed more leeway than any other night, and explore our wild characters under the moon and stars.

As you can guess, I have a lot of fondness for that time.

Yet things changed. Fears – largely unfounded – of razor blades and other contaminants in the holiday candy haul led to more chaperoned Halloween events at local schools and community centers, sucking the life out of the night. Today, the ritual of trick or treating seems to be turning into a memory of my generation.

Something else changed since then, too. While costume parties for adults certainly existed, they were less common than one might imagine.  The holiday was relegated to the kids, and the adults were more likely to be lurking behind their home’s door with a bucket of Smarties, Starbursts, and those awful circus peanuts.

Much like Cinco De Mayo has become “the day we mock Hispanic culture and get drunk” and St. Patrick’s Day has become “the day we mock Irish culture and get drunk,” Halloween has extended similarly. It’s become a time when the adults don the costumes and hit the clubs.

I sound cranky, but I do have a point.

1433177777_caitlyn-jenner-zoomThere is a big business in costumes, and the real money is not in kids’ costumes, but ones for adults. We’ll pay a premium for a cool costume that you will only wear once. You’ll find them for sale at your local big box stores as well as a chain store that crops up each Halloween in otherwise derelict storefronts across the country.

They sell all sorts of Halloween gear that I would have given my eyeteeth for back in the day. Not only super detailed costumes and accessories, but all the making of an ersatz cemetery, dungeon, or haunted house. It’s amazing to see just how many different spooky things they pack into these hastily assembled storefronts.

Amongst these are celebrity costumes. They’ll sell you rubber masks of the president and his would-be replacements. You can find the cast of “Duck Dynasty” shoehorned in.

Yet there’s another topical costume of note: that of Caitlyn Jenner.

Now it makes sense, in a way, that they would opt to make a Caitlyn Jenner costume. They are in the business to make money, and what better way than a costume that features a member of the Kardashian clan, particularly at a time when she is probably the most marketable.

Caitlyn_Jenner_1The news initially broke via the New York Daily News, who called the idea “creepy.” Spirit Halloween PR disagreed, saying that Jenner “has proven to be the most important real-life superhero of the year,” and claimed the costume would be one that “celebrates her.”

Spirit Halloween (left) has both a Caitlyn Jenner wig and Corset, similar to the now-famed Vanity Fair cover. It’s nicely done, all things considered.

Others have been less forgiving: another retailer – selling through a number of websites* such as wholesalehalloweencostumes.com – released their own. It too features the “Vanity Fair” look, but adds a parade sash emblazoned with “Call Me Caitlyn.” Here’s the big difference between the two: a stocky male with an arm tattoo and 5 o’ clock shadow is modeling the latter.

While Spirit’s costume is presented in a much more attractive fashion – and with a feminine-appearing model – both are problematic. The latter (below) even much more so.

CallMeCait_2I mentioned earlier about how Halloween has increasingly become an adult holiday. With that in mind, the costumes have become far more over the top, reveling in far more adult themes than one might have seen in the past. Zombies are far more rotten and bloody, most gear for women are presented in a “sexy” version, and some costumes are meant to be mean-spirited and controversial.

The Caitlyn Jenner costume is not likely to be worn to ‘celebrate” Jenner, any more than a rubber Donald Trump mask is likely going to be used to support The Donald. While Spirit has attempted to show the costume worn in an “appropriate” fashion, it seems obvious to me that their audience is going to be the same sort of schlub shown by that other retailer.

We live in a year when transgender people are gaining a visibly like we haven’t seen before. We’re also living in a time when our deaths are being reported in very high numbers, likely as a backlash to this visibility. Do we need to see this sort of mockery on Halloween?

We’re not talking about a light-hearted jest here – but with people’s real lives.

One might say that Jenner is a public figure, and this is simply what happens. There’s some truth to that. This isn’t about Jenner though; so much as it is about Jenner being transgender. More than that, it’s about Jenner having presented as male in the past, and now being female – and trying to point out what the costume wearer feels about Jenner’s gender.

Halloween when I was a kid was transformative, allowing us to share our desires and interests. With that in mind, I suggest this: A person who opts to mock Caitlyn Jenner with a ill-gendered costume says far more about themselves than they ever say about her.

Gwen Smith never had a Reneé Richards costume. You can find her on Twitter at @gwenners

*Editor’s Note: as of initial press time wholesalehalloweencostumes.com was not currently carrying the costume in question.

By Gwen Smith

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