Are cross-dressing costumes still acceptable?
October 28, 2016 8:36 AM   Subscribe

Is it still considered OK to have cross-dressed costumes for Halloween? I mean like, Sonny and Cher, or Leia and Luke, only with the guy in the female costume and the woman in the guy costume. As a cis white guy who's trying to be more aware of my privilege, I don't want to be a jerk to the LGBTQ community.
posted by notsnot to Society & Culture (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I cannot speak for the entire trans community, but I love seeing people wearing the costume of another gender when it's clear that it's a tribute and not a joke. If you're wearing a Wonder Woman costume because tee-hee don't I look ridiculous then you're being a jerk. If you're wearing a Wonder Woman costume because she's awesome and badass and you aspire to be more like her, then great, rock it!
posted by zebra at 8:44 AM on October 28, 2016 [36 favorites]

For me, a lot depends on the nature of the costume. Is the point of the costume "dude dressed up as Princess Leia" or is it "I wanted to dress up as Princess Leia"?

If the costume basically hinges on how funny it is to see a guy dressed as a woman, then it's offensive. If it involves a lot of body exaggeration, it risks being offensive, again IMO - minimize the body-shape alterations you make, and don't play them for laughs. It's not especially hilarious to see that you have put on enormous fake breasts, for instance, particularly if chestiness is not really an aspect of the character's presentation. You don't need boobs to be a recognizable Leia.

If your costume can be read as "this would be totally a sexy lady costume, but it's hiLARious on a dude because dudes' bodies are neutral/hairy/non-sexy/gross/etc, amirite?" then it's offensive.

Basically, don't play women's bodies, characters or appearances for laughs (unless they're funny characters and the laughs relate to the character, not the gender itself).

Women dressing as men have a different situation going on because of different power differentials and a different history- women don't routinely mock male gender performance and appearance. I would be skeeved by "tee hee I'm wearing a suit but everything is unbuttoned, I'm so sexy", but not because it was insulting to transmasculine people such as myself.

If you look better or feel happier as Leia and your partner looks better or feels happier as Han, go for it, is what I'm saying.
posted by Frowner at 8:47 AM on October 28, 2016 [31 favorites]

Also: caricatures of women's bodies are never funny - if your costume involves exaggerated padding, "lol fat lady" or "lol older lady with wrinkles" (or, god forbid, "Lol woman of color") it is offensive.

And don't dress up as a lesbian couple unless you have a character-driven reason to do so - if you want to be Rosa Bonheur and Nathalie Micas because you're going to a party with a lot of art historians, sure.
posted by Frowner at 8:51 AM on October 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

Also: caricatures of women's bodies are never funny - if your costume involves exaggerated padding, "lol fat lady" or "lol older lady with wrinkles" (or, god forbid, "Lol woman of color") it is offensive.

This. So much this. The ridiculously huge fake boobs? Yeah, not funny. It becomes a lot more of mocking the female form and less about the character you are portraying/you. I find it much funnier/cooler/legit/whatever the right word is when people dress up as a "not their gender" costume but rock it in completely their own body type. Like THIS or THIS. That, to me, is 100000000% okay. It is when you start padding the ass and boobs that the funny comes to a screeching halt.

Look at these dudes: They are dressed up as Daisy and Princess Peach, full dresses etc, and they look AWESOME, but no padded boobs. This is cross-gender costuming done correctly, if you ask me. Actually, all of the costumes HERE are cool with me, except for the Tinkerbell one.

ETA: My finding super padded bra/exaggerated woman's body costumes on men has nothing to do with LGBTQ and everything to do with "Don't make fun of other people's bodies". I totally get why there is a LGBTQ lean, but from where I'm sitting it is really this is just a general respect thing.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:43 AM on October 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

when it's clear that it's a tribute and not a joke

Hm, I disagree. The bartender at the lesbian joint behind my house has been dressing as Trump for the weekly Halloween themed trivia night, and it kills. She swoops up her natural hair into a terrifying wig-mop that is about as antithetical to a tribute as I can imagine.

So, as with all things, use your best judgement. You might offend people with any costume involving gender roles (etc.), so be aware of how willing you are to address that for the sake of your costume. In the bartender's case, I'd roll my eyes if she received criticism for dressing as a male public figure.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:46 AM on October 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

Basically, it has to be clever for some reason other than the gender swap. The funniest costume I've seen in quite some few years was a couple in which the dude (who was easily 6'2") dressed as Louise from Bob's Burgers. (his teeny tiny wife was Bob.)

It is clever because 1) Louise isn't just a girl, she's a *child*, so having a 6'2" child would be funny no matter what, and 2) Louise is definitely a giant in her own mind, and definitely bigger than her sad dad.

Also he did the voice perfectly.

So yeah, it's really fraught. I'd say that unless you know you're going to completely nail it, just on all levels? Err on the side of nope.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:49 AM on October 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

I think gender-swapping works if you don't do it as drag. You aren't trying to be a female Leia. You're being a prince captured by an alien and kept as a scantily clad slave. It's funny because it highlights the ridiculous sexualized trappings of women by imagining them on men. Yes on makeup and heels. Hard No on boobs and lipstick. Wigs must evoke Fabio/man buns.
posted by politikitty at 10:03 AM on October 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

I mean, I could also see a re-imagining of a female character as male or a male character as female that would be really clever.

Like, if it was the 1970s and there were a Cher-like performer who was male, what would he dress like? If he were dating a sort of good-time-Charleena female version of Sonny, what would she dress like? If it had been Prince Leo and Hanna Solo, what would each dress like? That kind of gender-swap could also be really interesting if it didn't just boil down to "lol man in a bikini" or "sexxxxxxy Han". There's some larger issues about "ha, this character would totally have been more interesting if she were a man" type stuff, but honestly Halloween is only one night and it will be pretty obvious if you mean well.
posted by Frowner at 10:03 AM on October 28, 2016

I think it's far more problematic for a man to joke dress as a woman than the reverse. Women, especially trans women, are disproportionately targeted for criticism, verbal attacks/harassment, and violence. So, if you're a man who wants to dress as a woman for Halloween, be sure that you've thought through how to dress as an earnest and respectful female character instead of making yet another punching-down joke at the expense of women who already have enough real garbage to deal with. Halloween is a fun holiday, but for some people (like trans women, people of color, and other marginalized groups) it can become a minefield of bigotry and intolerance because other people haven't been thoughtful about their costumes.
posted by quince at 11:40 AM on October 28, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone!
posted by notsnot at 1:11 PM on October 28, 2016

I agree with what's been said and I also think that doing this as part of a dating couple goes some way towards making it less (potentially) offensive. Context matters. Illustrative anecdote: I was at a company where there was a thing where the CEO would do X embarrassing thing if certain quarterly targets were met. Things like shaving his head, etc. Jolly fun! But it wasn't cute when it was suggested that dressing as a woman for a day would be the chosen humiliation. The context of you and your female partner switching roles for a masquerade together has no gross poison like that about it, and I think if you are conscientious about putting your costume together it will be perfectly nice and fun. (And I'm a fairly prickly feminist.) Enjoy your party.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:38 PM on October 28, 2016

Yeah, I think the safer way to go here is more "genderswapped" than "cross-dressing". Like in PuppetMcSockerson's link, the Elsa is less "guy dressed as Elsa" and more "here's what Elsa would look like as a guy" (at least thats how it read to me). That one is pretty awesome. The Storm and Harley Quinn ones are similar, they don't rely on "look like a woman in a 'hilarious' way" but more "try to look like a recognizable character who is a woman".
posted by thefoxgod at 1:55 PM on October 28, 2016

Best answer: I'm trans and I give you permission to dress how you like, including big crazy boobs, as long as you're not a jerk.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:33 PM on October 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: To clarify, I really have a problem with people talking about what level of padding is offensive. Some women do have great big curves, and dressing to look like them does not automatically make you a "caricature". If you were doing something misogynistic or transphobic, that'd be a problem obviously. But it doesn't sound like you are. You can also dress up like a sexy schoolgirl or whatever, if that feels sexy to you. Other people don't get to police you on that stuff. If you are trying to do joke drag and look bad on purpose, that gets more problematic... but even then there is nothing objectively offensive or acceptable. You have to find your own line, and deal with whatever happens. Saying I gave you permission was a joke, but it's no more ridiculous than anybody here forbidding you to dress how you like.

If you are this worried about offending people, I doubt you'll do anything that any reasonable person would object to.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 7:16 PM on October 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

A third trans person here to note that it hasn't only been cis people that say it's ok.

There's always different levels of sensitivities about stuff. I was just at a party with a sugar skull theme that was called cultural appropriation, yet the organisers and DJs were Mexican.

However you do this, how hard you try not to be an asshole, you may still run into someone who is offended by it. Are you ok with that possibility?

(For the record, there were several men in drag at the party, some of which I found cool and creative, and some that made me want to spit in their faces).
posted by Promethea at 7:37 PM on October 29, 2016

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