Dressing up like Caitlyn Jenner is not transphobic
A fancy-dress retailer, Spirit Halloween, sparked outrage this week when it was revealed that the company stocked a Caitlyn Jenner costume. In the style of the famous ‘Call me Caitlyn’ Vanity Fair cover, the outfit includes a wig, a corset and a sash, and – going by the hairy legs of the person modelling it on Spirit Halloween’s website – it’s aimed primarily at men. Never mind that cross-dressing and drag have always been fancy-dress favourites, tweeters and commentators slammed the costume as ‘transphobic’ and a petition has been launched to have it removed from sale.
However, this was no usual case of offence-taking. Especially since Jenner’s transition, it has become compulsory to regard transgender people as ‘brave’ and deserving of lavish respect and praise. While I don’t doubt that transgender people experience prejudice, the way in which any less-than-serious statement about transgenderism is instantly labelled ‘transphobic’ is hysterical and censorious. Dressing up like Jenner is not ‘transphobic’ in any meaningful sense, even if some people think it’s not very funny.
What’s more, taking offence at fancy-dress costumes has become bizarrely common. At Glastonbury last year, organisers banned the sale of Native American headdresses, after a petition claimed that they were racist. For similar reasons, the University of Birmingham Guild of Students banned sombreros in 2013.
Nowadays, it seems, even the fun and frivolous act of throwing on a frock or a silly hat must be examined for the potential to offend a particular minority. But this shouldn’t be dismissed as just another example of ‘PC gone mad’. This, after all, is only the logical conclusion of a culture that encourages minorities to embrace a victim status, and to take offence at any perceived slight on their identity. This kind of learned vulnerability is far more damaging than a bloke in a bad wig.
Stefan Rhys-Williams is a writer based in London.