Is it still funny if you're the only one who gets the subplot?
October 27, 2011 5:25 PM   Subscribe

Halloweenfilter: Is it offensive for two straight men to go to a Halloween party as a lesbian couple?

The backstory is that a coworker of mine (male) went to the work Halloween party in drag last year, and this prompted several people to suggest that I do so this year (I was asking around for ideas, I don't think the suggestion was particular to me). The irony is that I am a transguy - and am completely closeted at work (current, though I'm changing jobs soon, and thankfully that will change as well). To one up my coworker from last year, I was thinking it might be fun to convince my 100% should be a caricature of straight male coworker to go to the party with me as a lesbian couple.

This would be hilarious to me, but since everyone thinks I'm a straight man, I have no idea if actually this would be really offensive, or if it would be funny to both my straight and gay coworkers.

If you think it would be good - any costume suggestions?
posted by lab.beetle to Human Relations (35 answers total)
You know, there might be some way to do this such that it wouldn't be offensive. But I sure as hell can't think of it.
posted by Tomorrowful at 5:28 PM on October 27, 2011 [14 favorites]

I'm gonna go with a no on this one.
posted by Mizu at 5:30 PM on October 27, 2011

It seems weird to make the co-worker part of your joke on everybody else.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:31 PM on October 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

Offensive. Especially for a work party.
posted by shrabster at 5:31 PM on October 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

Not offensive, but presumptively unwise in a work setting. A good rule of thumb is that if you need to ask others if your plans for a work party are too "out there" -- they probably are.
posted by BobbyVan at 5:36 PM on October 27, 2011 [7 favorites]

IAAL, IANYL. If I saw someone dressed up as a lesbian couple at a work party, I'd feel uncomfortable. The degree of comfort would depend on the atmosphere of the company, but I couldn't help but feel a little weirded out by it.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 5:36 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Go as Victor/Victoria and come out as trans at the end of the night. You will blow everyone's minds.
posted by roger ackroyd at 5:36 PM on October 27, 2011 [9 favorites]

If you wish to remain completely closeted at work, I'm not sure that dressing up as half of a lesbian couple is a good idea.
posted by box at 5:36 PM on October 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

I (half of a lesbian couple) would not like it. I get the irony for you personally, but without getting too far into the politics around this, whatever extra insight your history gives you, you are a straight man (in this context at least) and you need to be as sensitive, feminist, and anti-sexist as you would wish any straight man to be (which I think you are by posting this, I'm not attacking you).
posted by crabintheocean at 5:37 PM on October 27, 2011 [21 favorites]

You wouldn't show up in blackface, would you? (Assuming you're not African-American, that is).

Same principle.
posted by tully_monster at 5:40 PM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

What does a lesbian couple look like? How do you dress up as such a couple? I know many lesbians, and I cannot begin to try to homogenize their looks. Are you planning on wearing a sign that says, "One half of lesbian couple. See Bob/Roberta for other half"?

I have always found that if you need to come up with a back story on your costume, you have failed. It should be obvious to anyone who or what your are dressed as.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:42 PM on October 27, 2011 [13 favorites]

Yes, it's offensive - how, exactly, do lesbian women look different from straight women? If you think you can answer that one, then think about whether the distinction you make is really based on sexual identity or if it's more likely a combination of social and cultural influences that may or may not have a complicated relationship to sexual identity. If you think it does, think harder.
posted by paindemie at 5:44 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

This could go over well at certain parties. But at my party you would get your ass kicked. And then when you came out as trans. Well, we would all feel really awful about the whole thing.

There is some great gender-fuck to be had here. I think going as a female version of yourself would be fascinating, all things considered, and it certainly would be much, much less potentially offensive.
posted by munchingzombie at 5:45 PM on October 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

Nope. (Queer woman here.) For one thing, how would you signal your lesbianness? You'd probably have to appeal to a stereotype of one kind or another - stereotypical butch/femme, stereotypical sports-playing lesbians, etc. Also, a good rule of thumb - major pieces of identity are not costumes, with "major" varying by culture. And marginalized identities are not costumes for people who are less marginalized.

If you wanted to go as a famous lesbian couple from history because they were admirable figures and you admired them, that wouldn't bother me. You could be Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, and I would think that was pretty cool, actually.
posted by Frowner at 5:46 PM on October 27, 2011 [13 favorites]

Two ostensibly straight men as a generic "lesbian couple" would fall on the weird-to-offensive spectrum, I think. On the other hand, two men as Romy & Michelle, Enid & Rebecca, or another couple of close girl friends could be awesome.
posted by EvaDestruction at 5:46 PM on October 27, 2011 [6 favorites]

Offensive only for the politically correct.

But it's a stupid thing to do for a work-related function.
posted by dfriedman at 5:48 PM on October 27, 2011

If the joke is that only you get the joke then, where it's offensive or not, it's not funny.
posted by caek at 5:48 PM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

I agree with the general no consensus, but I think it's weird when men dress up in drag generically too. It's sort of like there's something innately funny about dressing like a woman, and hey, I am one of those.

The exception maybe would be if you were dressed up as a specific lesbian couple, like Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas or something. (Preview: Frowner thinks so too.)

I'd think the rule is, generally, you don't dress up as someone you might run into. So you could dress up to represent a historical culture, a fictional culture, or a profession; but you don't dress up as a generic representation of someone of another race, culture, religion, or anything like that.
posted by ernielundquist at 5:49 PM on October 27, 2011 [8 favorites]

I'm a lesbian who dresses up as iconic lesbians and lesbian stereotypes for Halloween (see my Maddow question, c/a 2008). I can get away with this amongst like-minded friends, but I would never do it at work. The risk of some boob making an offensive comment, even inadvertently, is too high. Then I would have to hate someone I worked with, and I hate enough people already.
posted by Lieber Frau at 5:51 PM on October 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

Many points well taken, thanks for putting this idea exactly where it belongs (ie the trash).

I guess the idea really derived from me being fed up with being closeted. I mean, how often do you get suggested to go to a halloween party as some important part of yourself.

Not to be defensive, but I was getting towards specific people - just hadn't come up with appropriate ones yet. In general, I agree that being a stereotype isn't a reasonable halloween costume, so sorry my question was so badly worded on this regard.
posted by lab.beetle at 5:51 PM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you ever anticipate coming out of the closet at work, you may not want your coworkers and superiors associating your gender identity with costumes and jokes.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:57 PM on October 27, 2011 [10 favorites]

When's the party? At lunch or some time where you might be able to get away with being read as just slack if you DIDN'T dress up? If so -- and because you say you're fed up with being closeted -- what about saying you considered being part of a lesbian couple with your co-worker but decided you'd come instead as a Straight Man? When people tell you you're being slack, you can smugly quote gender theorists and claim that all gender is drag. Keep it light and enjoy the chance to educate from the privileged position of Straight Male. The in-joke for you will be the fact that you're able for the length of the party to talk to everybody about how queer your gender is without it putting yourself at risk*. Mwahaha.

* NB: Obvs don't do this if there is any real risk to yourself.
posted by springbound at 6:20 PM on October 27, 2011

Did you ever stop to think you might not "pass" as well as you think you do-- and at least some of the people your the office are humoring you by not stating the obvious? If so, it would be too awkward for words and probably make them resentful of you for trying to score laughs at their expense. Assuming they're ignorant and getting a giggle out of it is offensive in itself.

If I didn't know, I'm sure I'd grit my teeth in silence, say nothing, and think "goddamn fucking stupid homophobes...I'll bet they're only doing this because they secretly want to bone each other ". But come to think of it, are you a homophobe? Or maybe you have something against women? Do you secretly wish you two were a couple? Because if a coworker said "let's pretend to be a couple at this office party," I'd be skeeved right on out, regardless.
posted by aquafortis at 6:54 PM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh, why not? Go as Ellen and Portia. A specific couple is funny and in the spirit of Halloween. A pair of guys pretending to be some non-specific pair of women who may or may not be lovers isn't as readily apparent nor as funny.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:35 PM on October 27, 2011

Would you go to this part as a generic black couple, Latino couple, Asian couple, or white couple? Substitute any race of your choice for the word "Lesbian" and I think you have your answer.

Note, though, that exceptions in good taste might be made for celebrities: There is a huge difference between going to a party as, say, a caricature of Asians, versus showing up as YoYo Ma and his wife.

Also: Aren't most companies including gender/orientation protections in their non-descriminatory and harassment boilerplates these days? I wouldn't do it just on the grounds that if someone DID take offense at work, you could find yourself in a sitdown with HR.
posted by Ys at 7:35 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

There's nothing that won't offend someone. This will offend more than most. I'd not mind if someone came to my personal party like this, because I'd actually assume they were trying to express something of their sexuality they weren't usually comfortable admitting. But at a work function? Never in a million years.
posted by tyllwin at 7:50 PM on October 27, 2011

I pass reasonably well, in that basically everyone who first meets me reads me as a gay male. It doesn't dawn on most people to read me as trans, presumably because they haven't met enough trans people.

I think what I'd really love is a way to have some humor around my gender. It was no fun to live basically in drag just because that is how people expected me to live, and now that I've transitioned, I might be searching for a way to finally have fun with my own gender. That I'm not out in my current workplace, and that I have transitioned to a place of privilege makes the obvious interpretation that I'm trying to make fun of other people (in a position of less privilege). I see how I was totally missing that point. Maybe in a few years my partner and I can go to a party with our queer friends as Thelma and Louise, or Ellen and Portia, etc.

The reason I had envisioned my coworker involved in this scheme is that he and I occupy fairly different places on the gender/sexual orientation spectrum, so portraying the two of us on a totally different place on that spectrum seemed amusing.

Maybe (and not for this party) I should think about going as someone a bit less problematic, but similar to Boy George.
posted by lab.beetle at 7:59 PM on October 27, 2011

Yeah, if you want to have fun with gender and sexual expression in a work-friendly way, maybe go for the glamrock angle? David Bowie, maybe? Halloween is about giving ourselves a chance to express parts of ourselves that we usually have to keep inside, but it's also about having fun with other people, about celebrating, not so much about making a Point. There are definitely characters that you can portray that allow you to play with makeup and fashion and traditionally fem things, without bringing the political side of things into it, on just this one day.
posted by Mizu at 8:04 PM on October 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

I can understand wanting to come out, but doing so in a Halloween setting (even though it seems you'll wisely be ditching the lesbian idea) at work can send people the wrong messages about personal boundaries.

I'm FTM, too, and most people at my office and music gigs know. But there's a huge difference between people respectfully knowing and people getting the mixed signal that it's somehow ok to constantly bring it up, manners be damned.

I went through a phase early in transition where I felt OMG I MUST TELL EVERYONE WHERE I'VE BEEN STEALTH THAT I AM ACTUALLY TRANS, but I'm glad I held back a bit on that. I never want to be the "trans guy*". I'm fine being "the guy who is also trans".

That being said, if you're secure enough with your transition that you just want to have a bit of fun, go glam out. I myself am tempted to be Dead Bowie for Halloween some year.

* "Ask me about my genitals!"
posted by Wossname at 8:18 PM on October 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

general rule of thumb, the more time you have to explain/defend your costume the less effective, less-good, it is unless it is part of a schtick where the ask/response is part of the whole get-up.

My first read of most guys that cross dress for Halloween tend to be "frat-boy" types just a weeee bit insecure in themselves and so make a big joke about being a woman.

I did know a guy who dressed up, split vertically, as half male/half female one year that was an interesting sorta gender bending costume. Beard on side/tasteful make-up the other, suit/blouse+skirt. I think the shoe difference was the biggest PITA part
posted by edgeways at 8:22 PM on October 27, 2011

Let me explain. Some people will be offended. Some will find it funny. I suspect the former will be several times the latter.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:32 PM on October 27, 2011

So, I had a similar idea last year of "oh i'm going to do black face but in a way that is funny because the black face has nothing to do racial stereotypes but is really just minor feature of a very specific costume where the cleverness of the costume is the real feature."

Okay, basically I just wanted to be half of a pair of "two black swans."

I liked the idea because it's so outrageous that it totally transcends the idea of blackface as tool of racial oppression. If it's done perfectly.

Then I realized I'm not Jenna Maroney, so the chances of me doing it "perfectly" and thus "not offensively" where nil.

Then I realized my current crowd (young professionals) were not known for fostering the "outrageous."

So I went as a lumberjack instead. Cool story, right?

Work a little hard on your costume idea, maybe for next year.
posted by midmarch snowman at 9:39 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Offensive only for the politically correct.

And possibly, you know, some actual lesbians. It's not like they're some rare species nobody who worked in an office could ever possibly run into and therefore not worth considering.
posted by Adventurer at 10:58 PM on October 27, 2011 [12 favorites]

I totally sympathize with wanting to have some fun with your gender presentation, especially now that you've transitioned. I just don't think work is the place to do it. I mean, would you feel comfortable working with someone who dressed up in a transguy costume for an office Halloween party?
posted by Space Kitty at 11:32 PM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Surprised no one has suggested Hedwig and the Angry Inch. That might also be fun, given that you and Hedwig are (almost) counterparts.
posted by tully_monster at 10:56 AM on October 29, 2011

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