A mormon church in Utah posted fliers for a Halloween event and requested “no masks or cross-gender dressing.” This sends two messages:
1) the gender binary is fixed, and
2) it is never acceptable to assume a gender you weren’t born with.
The first point here precludes the second. The gender binary depends on the belief in two separate and immutable sexes: male and female. Images that support the gender binary bombard us daily: advertisements, television shows, and public figures portray beautiful, stylized women and stoic, powerful-seeming men. Reinforcement of the gender binary is ubiquitous.
The gender binary is not the only way to consider gender. Many people throughout the world do not identify with their birth-determined-gender. Jessica Who? (a blog) explores personal transgender experiences and transgender issues in society. Native Americans refer to those who occupy mixed gender roles as “two spirit.” (Check out the award-winning documentary Two Spirits which tells the story of Fred Martinez who “was nádleehí, a male-bodied person with a feminine nature, a special gift according to his ancient Navajo culture.”) The binary leaves little room for all people, of various identities, to occupy the liminal space between maleness and femaleness.
In one regard, Halloween cross-dressing may reinforce traditional roles, because that subversive behavior is confined to the holiday. But why shouldn’t a little girl dress as superman? What are her other options? Maybe she fits the binary and identifies as a girl, yet also aspires to superman’s strength and heroism. Should she be discouraged? Consider the controversy last year over a little boy in Ohio who wanted to dress as Daphne from Scooby Doo. His mother supported him, despite criticism from other parents.
Every family and every community value different things. While one neighborhood in Utah prohibited cross-dressing for a holiday that lends itself to subversion, Girl Scouts of Colorado agreed to let a 7-year-old boy — who identifies as a girl — join a local scout troop. The mother of the child, Felisha Archuleta, told a reporter, “He had a princess birthday, and last year when he turned 7, he had a Rapunzel birthday. I have just basically supported him.”