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Men in Dresses: Transmisogyny and Halloween

October 11, 2012

With Halloween approaching we are reminded again of the the importance of calling out racist and otherwise oppressive costumes. I’d like to add another problematic costume to this list: Men in drag.

While I realize for some Halloween is an opportunity to dress in ways which they otherwise wouldn’t be able to, there is a deeper commentary on trans women in the presentation of some of the men who do it (and I specifically mean men who otherwise have no trans inclinations, and for whom this is not an expression of their gender). Trans women are inundated by cultural messaging that “men in dresses” are ridiculous and worthy of scorn (just watch any TV ad with that meme, or read last week’s edition of The Onion). When the point of a costume is “haha, look how ridiculous this dude looks as a woman” it reinforces transmisogynist attitudes and hate.

Transmisogyny in advertising
Isn’t transmisogyny so funny?

Again, while I realize this is complicated and not as clear as someone appropriating a culture for laughs, there is room for analysis here. If the drag costume is a punch line to a transphobic joke (overtly or implied), then it should be called out as such. And, of course, the deeper implication is straight-up misogyny – that femininity itself is worthy of scorn. As is often the case transmisogyny amplifies cultural attitudes towards women, and gives people a pass to make comments about women in general by mocking trans women specifically.

This Halloween, if you or your friend is considering dressing in drag for the laughs ask yourself (or your friend) why? Why is this funny? What is the point of the costume? If you’re not sure then maybe go as a zombie or a ghost, because otherwise you might be taking part in a spectrum of cultural hate which starts with “men in dresses” jokes and ends with dead trans women.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Deja permalink
    October 15, 2012 6:34 am

    thanks so much for this. been trying to get this message across on several forums, but this says it much better than i ever could.
    Costumes of women as parodies of womanhood offend me no end. “Real” women, both natal and trans, often wear costumes that enhance or bring attention to their femaleness, but i have never seen a woman wear a costume that parodies or insults their own womanhood. If, as most of us aver, we respect women, then we are bound to show our respect by not insulting them so.

  2. Alex permalink
    October 15, 2012 7:27 am

    Oh goodness, yes! This kind of stuff is just like blackface, like you’d see in old minstrel shows. Awful! And it’s something most people still don’t think about. Thanks for this, gudbuy t’jane. You’re doing good work.

  3. katyfuss permalink
    October 15, 2012 12:19 pm

    I’d like to chime in as an individual whom identifies as bigendered. In my usual day to day life I present as male, and I’m pretty ok with that. However I am thrilled in late October when I am able to present en femme and be out in the world with significantly less stigma and taboo attached to it. I wish society would be accepting of people presenting any damn way they please without any problems, but unfortunately that’s not the world we live in. I welcome the chance to fly under the radar for a couple days out of the year. Gotta take what you can get!

  4. daphneshaed permalink
    October 15, 2012 12:59 pm

    Reblogged this on Daphne Shaed.

  5. rararara permalink
    October 15, 2012 4:19 pm

    Not the same as blackface… at all. Not to create a hierarchy of oppression, but they are not the same thing.

  6. Jake Pyne permalink
    October 16, 2012 10:09 pm

    So well written. This line is very thought-provoking: “Transmisogyny amplifies cultural attitudes towards women, and gives people a pass to make comments about women in general by mocking trans women specifically.” Thank you.

  7. Patirck permalink
    October 17, 2012 10:16 pm

    I’m a straight guy.

    One year I went as Carrie for Halloween. Got a ten dollar thrift store prom dress, mixed up a bucket of fake blood, dumped it on my head before going to a party. Cheap, easy, effective. People were super into my costume, not because I was a dude in dress, but because I was an instantly recognizable pop culture image. I didn’t put on big riduclous fake tits or smear garish make up on myself or “jokingly” acted all flirty with guys to get some homophobic rise (no pun intended) out of them. It just worked because looked GOOD dammit.

    In my opinion, if you are going to Halloween as a character you enjoy, that just happens to be female, that’s fine. If you are going as a caricature of a woman, maybe you should tone it down a bit. At least take those balloons out of your damn shirt.

  8. October 18, 2012 8:54 am

    Thanks, Patrick, for sharing that example, Its a difficult line to draw, which is what makes this MUCH different from blackface (which is ALWAYS a bad idea). I’m reminded of that blog that stirred a bunch of controversy written by a mom who allowed her son to dress as Daphne from Scooby Doo. Sometimes, wanting to dress as a female character is just that. But anything overtly mocking- IE, balloon boobs, really tasteless subject matter (the “dead hooker” thing is SO OLD) should be as off limits as all of the other bad-cultural-stereotype-as-costume ideas.

  9. spazure permalink
    October 19, 2012 10:23 am

    Reblogged this on Azure Klein.

  10. October 20, 2012 5:24 pm

    I think that Halloween is a time when people feel comfortable experimenting with the lines between gender and drag. I know a lot of gay men who like to dress in drag around this time; its a day when anything goes. While I agree that there is potential for sexism, racist and homo-transphobic posturing, I don’t think its black and white.

  11. October 21, 2012 8:52 am

    ”that femininity itself is worthy of scorn”

    Indeed, femininity deserves scorn.


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