Trans is not a Costume

Hello friends.  Happy October!

For those of you who don’t know me personally, or semi-well, let me tell you a little factoid about me: I LOVE OCTOBER.

October is a great month. All of the following contribute to why I think it’s the best month of the year:

  1. My birthday is in October. Duh.
  2. Halloween is in October.  I have a deep, long love for Halloween– it’s my favorite holiday pretty much since birth. I was also supposed to be born on Halloween. It is also just a great f*cking holiday because it involves costumes, over indulgence, pumpkin art, and parties.
  3. It is called October because under the original Roman calendar, it was the 8th month of the year (before July and August were added– thanks Ceasar boys!)

IMG_7064I love October because Halloween, and I love Halloween because costumes. I delight in planning and executing my costume each year and anyone who knows me can attest that I tend to have some pretty good ones.  So imagine how bummed I was when I stumbled upon this photo in my Facebook feed today.

UGH. SERIOUSLY? SERIOUSLY.

This is super not okay.  Really, it’s not. Dressing up as pre-transition or post-transition Caitlyn Jenner (not as Bruce, because it’s pretty rude to Dead Name people) is not okay.  Spirit Halloween store (where the photo was taken) cannot try to make this okay by calling it “Celebrating an American Icon.”  Caitlyn Jenner is not one of the founding fathers or Abraham Lincoln, or any other “American Icon” folks dress up as for Halloween.  She is a living breathing person. She is a person who has had the hefty job of coming out as transgender under the scrutiny of the free internet-reality tv-loving world.

Yes, she is brave. Yes, she could be considered a hero. But you know and I know that is not what this Halloween costume is about.  If that were true, we would have Amelia Earhart and Harriet Tubman costumes for sale to the mainstream public, too.  No, this is about us collectively mocking Caitlyn by empowering cisgender men to emulate her.  We, as Americans, are so threatened by Caitlyn’s transition and our collective masculinity is so fragile that we must bring her down a notch in order to put ourselves at ease.  We must remind ourselves that she’s really just a man in a dress, right? We definitely must make her un-sexy– she was getting to hot for comfort.

And maybe, just maybe, on some level, it makes those who choose to don that costume feel a little bit softer, a little bit sexier.  If we pretend we are making fun of her, then it’s okay to be feminine and pretty, and we can have our cake and eat it too. I get it– sometimes doing something different, something forbidden is hot. But you know what?  If that’s it, then just buy any other female-designed costume in Spirit and get your kicks.  Be a sexy nurse.  Be a Bunny.  Be Catwoman (boy you know you want to put on that jumpsuit).

Don’t pretend to be a real, live trans person who has gone to great lengths to become her true self and to not be exactly what you want her to be, which is just some guy in a dress.  She is a human– even if she doesn’t care personally, there are trans kids out there watching you.  They see you laughing at her. They internalize it.  It hurts them.  Bullying is deadly for trans kids.  Suicide is common.  This normalizes mocking and joking about trans people.  It normalizes cruel jokes.  This. Is. Not. Okay.

If you know anyone contemplating this choice, please educate them. We must do better, and if everyone who knows better speaks up, we will. Be excellent to each other.

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Caitlyn Jenner’s Coming Out is a Double-Edged Sword

Unless you live under a rock, you probably know that today1433176861_caitlyn-jenner-lg (1), Caitlyn Jenner made her debut in this month’s issue of Vanity Fair. In a 22-page feature, Jenner appears relaxed and comfortable (not to mention gorgeous– thank you, Annie Liebovitz) in her new skin.

First, I have to say bravo to Ms. Jenner. Coming out as a trans person is hard to do, no matter how supportive your family and friends are. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be such a public figure and have so much scrutiny directed toward you, during what is surely some of the most difficult time in a trans person’s life. Transitioning is a strange, long process that can, at times, be anything but graceful. Yet Jenner has handled the whole thing with ease.

Therein lies the problem. Jenner, as a wealthy, famous, politically conservative white person transitioning, has it relatively easy. Transitioning so publicly runs the risk of furthering the Dominant Trans Narrative, which is that the trans person has the means and the opportunity to medically transition and thus, a “trans person” is someone who has made physical alterations to their body and “passes” as their true gender at all times.

So, Jenner’s coming out is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, increasing visibility for trans people is a good thing. I mean, Jenner was a major household name for many years. We know her as an Olympian, a that person who was on a Wheaties box. An American Hero. Also, Jenner’s transition story shows a very real struggle that spouses, children, and friends can have when a loved one comes out as trans. Plus, having a high-profile, professional athlete transition in the public eye is amazing. This past year has brought transgender people some really awesome exposure via Jenner, Laverne Cox (who wrote an excellent commentary on Jenner’s big reveal here), Janet Mock, Aydian Dowling, and more.

The negative thing about the very public nature of Jenner’s transition is that all of Jenner’s wealth and political capital buys her the best care, the best therapy, and the most insulation from the struggles that most trans people, especially trans women of color, experience every day. I will not speak for trans women of color, but if you’re interested, there is some really good commentary here and here.

Jenner’s transition timeline is not representative of most trans people’s experience– I worry that it creates in the general population an expectation that her transition is what transition is supposed to look like, and people who do not look like Caitlyn Jenner are not real trans people.

I hope that folks following her story recognize these things, but I am fearful that they do not. The reality is that trans women, particularly trans women of color, are murdered at an alarming rate. Trans people, particularly trans women, suffer from high rates of homelessness, unemployment, and harassment on a daily basis.

To her credit, Jenner has acknowledged, both in her interview with Diane Sawyer and in Vanity Fair, that her experience is privileged and that many, many trans women are not as fortunate. The fight is far from won, and I just hope, hope, HOPE that our society and all you dear readers recognize this, too.

We are off to a good start in 2015– but we have many miles left to travel. Thank you for joining the journey.