Exploring New Parts of Ourselves on Halloween
Halloween is an amazing time of the year to play around with our looks and gender expression! It can be so fun to expand our sense of self or dress up as someone (or something) completely different for the holiday. But when it comes to gender-bending (dressing up as a gender that is not our own) we want to be sure we are doing so mindfully and are thinking about how our costume can impact people in the 2SLGBTQ+ community who often face oppression just for being themselves. Let’s talk about why and how we can create a safer space for this around Halloween!
Before touting a gender-bending halloween costume, we should reflect on the areas in life in which we hold privilege where others are oppressed. Typically, men who are cisgender, white, heterosexual, able-bodied, high income earners hold privilege over people of colour who are trans, non-binary, gender-diverse, gay, disabled, with lower incomes.
We bring up privilege because trans, non-binary, and gender-diverse people have historically experienced oppression and harm for being themselves, for daring to be visibly different! We absolutely do not want to make fun of these identities and we need to recognize that often, people with privilege can safely dress up as a different gender on Halloween where gender-diverse people exploring their expression in day-to-day life face harm.
Reflecting on this does not mean that someone with privilege cannot respectfully rock a gender-bending halloween costume, but it does mean that it can have a different impact.
A general rule: ditch the costume if you are someone with privilege dressing up as someone who experiences oppression. If your costume is poking fun at people of colour, trans individuals, queer people, women, fat folks, people with disabilities, or low income earners, I strongly suggest you reconsider. Even if we are not trying to be funny or offensive, our costume can still have that impact.
Impact over intent, always. Yes, this can be hard to navigate, we never know how our actions (and costumes) will affect someone, but we can still do our best to be kind and respectful, especially as people with privilege over other communities. Reflecting on this is a good first step in making Halloween a safer space for gender-diverse people to play around with their expression!
Aretha, one of our amazing staff members recalls a gender-bending costume party they went to one year and says:
“Gender-bending parties [and Halloween in general] can be positive and affirming, but also have the potential to be problematic. People can show up as a different person or show up as themselves but differently than what people are used to seeing.”
Speaking of Halloween and gender, Halloween costumes do not have to be gender-aligned, especially for children! Allowing children to imagine their costume beyond an arbitrary gender binary will help make space for them to explore who they really are and will help us break down restrictive gender expectations for the future. Any child can dress as a princess or werewolf or “cereal killer” (yes this was my halloween costume one year as a child, I taped cereal boxes to my t-shirt and held a fake gun). As an adult who is not a fan of sensationalizing murder through docuseries and podcasts, I would not suggest this costume, but since most serial killers are men, I am happy my parents allowed me to gender-bend that year.
Yes, it is important that we are respectful of everyone’s gender so we can make it safer for everyone to be who they want to be, both at Halloween and throughout the year, but it is also important that we have fun with it! Both gender expression and Halloween offer so much space to create, fantasize, and breakthrough expectations.
A final note on costumes that is often said at this time of the year but bears repeating: a costume is not consent! No matter how someone is dressed, you cannot touch them or their costume without their permission. Even if they have really cool antennae with mesmerizing flashing lights on their head, ask first, and respect their no if that’s how they respond!
So please have fun this Halloween and be respectful of the communities who faced harm paving the way for us to play around with gender. Be respectful of people who may be using this holiday as their first experience dressing as a different gender. Lean into the fantasy, explore yourself, and always always always practice consent!