Two years ago, Walmart, Amazon, and Target removed a Halloween costume called the “Tranny Granny” from their websites for obvious reasons: The costume not only has an anti-transgender slur in its name, it is essentially a visual joke about the mere existence of older transgender women.
The photo for the costume depicted a square-jawed man wearing a flower-print dress and a babushka, his chest and butt filled out with exaggerated padding, his legs noticeably hairy, a cigarette dangling from his lips.
“Slap on some makeup and get ready for your granny walk and you will have the room roaring with laughter,” the 2016 description promised, according to HuffPost.
But as it turns out, the “Tranny Granny” didn’t die in 2016. Manufacturer Rasta Imposta now refers to the costume as the “Manny Granny” instead. The name has changed but the image for the Halloween costume presents the same figure: what writer Charles Pullman-Moore called a “stereotypical caricature of an elderly trans woman.”
Party City, one of the largest Halloween retailers in the United States, is offering the costume online under the name “Manny Nanny”—which could be read as a reference to the Robin Williams cross-dressing classic Mrs. Doubtfire, except for the fact the costume doesn’t look like the eponymous drag persona from that movie.
Party City told The Daily Beast in a statement that the costume was “new to our online-only assortment this year and not meant to be offensive in any way,” emphasizing that they offer “a broad assortment of costumes.” (Party City, incidentally, also sells a Transgender Pride Flag.)
By contrast, Amazon removed the costume on Wednesday, less than one hour after The Daily Beast pointed out that the “Manny Granny”—as it was called—was exactly the same as the “Tranny Granny” costume that the online retailer removed in 2016. A representative for the company later confirmed that it was “no longer available for sale.”
A spokesperson for Rasta Imposta told The Daily Beast that when the “Tranny Granny” was first “introduced,” the name was selected “because it simply rhymed.”
“We became educated on the word when the costume was pulled from the market,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “We immediately worked with our customers to remove the inappropriate named costumes. We proactively educated ourselves on the term and changed the name to Manny Granny, which still rhymed.”
The Amazon removal, however, is a strong sign that Halloween costumes that are seen as transphobic are becoming unpalatable to major retailers, no matter what name they are sold under. If so, this moment has been a long time coming. Such costumes have become something of an annual tradition over the last few years.
Halloween, of course, has long been celebrated by the LGBT community precisely for its campiness and for the freedom it allows for all creatures of the night to try a different identity on for size.
Drag on Halloween is a time-honored tradition. But a costume that specifically mocks the very idea of being transgender—that derives its childish humor from the discordance between the gender of the person wearing it and the gender of the costume—is a far cry from an earnest attempt to embody someone of the opposite sex.
In 2015, an offensive Caitlyn Jenner costume—specifically mocking the transgender woman’s corseted appearance on the cover of Vanity Fair—was sold by several retailers despite the surrounding controversy. The images used to promote that costume were similar to the “Tranny Granny” image.
As Steven Petrow noted for The Washington Post, “many ads for the costume showed a scruffy-faced, hairy-chested man wearing it, which sends the incorrect and offensive message that transgender women are men in dresses.”
One retailer, Spirit Halloween, claimed that the costume “celebrates” Jenner—but as Nick Adams, GLAAD’s Director of Transgender Media and Representation, told the Post, it was obviously a “mean-spirited and unacceptable” costume for a cisgender man to wear, especially in what was a breakthrough year for transgender visibility.
The “Tranny Granny”—or “Manny Granny”—came under fire the following year not because it attacked a specific transgender person but because it seemed to mock the general notion of a transgender person, especially an aging one.
As transgender activist Ashleee Marie Preston told Mic in 2016, the image for the costume “underscores the sophomoric, slapstick, campy humor associated with being transgender or a ‘tranny.’”
Despite the costume originally having an anti-transgender slur in its name, Rasta Imposta disputes the idea that the “Manny Granny” is offensive.
“We feel this is more appropriate as it is a costume for a man to dress up as a gran—thus Manny Granny,” the spokesperson’s statement read. “Halloween is a time for people to dress up and be who they are or not, or who they secretly want to be. Men have been dressing up as women for centuries.”
The statement then concluded with a reference to Mrs. Doubtfire: “Our version may not be the prim and proper Mrs. Doubtfire granny, but then again, Grannies come in all shapes, sizes, and from many different backgrounds. We chose to represent the granny who still likes to smoke and sweep.”
Where Rasta Imposta sees a celebration of diverse grandmas, many in the transgender community see a caricature straight out of a ’90s comedy that is somehow still being sold in 2018. It may be especially painful because real-life transgender elders struggle to be treated with dignity and respect.
As the National Center for Transgender Equality notes, transgender seniors have to deal with “profound challenges” and “striking disparities” at work, in health care settings, and in housing.
Especially tragic is the fact that 70 percent of the 65-and-older transgender respondents to a 2011 NCTE survey had put off their gender transitions in order to remain employable. Sixteen percent said they had attempted suicide. Viewed in that light, the “Manny Granny” may not be an especially funny joke.
The “Tranny Granny” may now be known by a different name, but it has all the same problems.