“Just because you think I’m Elmo doesn’t mean you may tickle me.” –Man Shman
I take pride in doing things by myself. When I showed up at my friend’s mother’s Halloween party dressed up as a Muppet, everyone thought I’d bought the full-body costume somewhere. Actually, I took a two-week vacation from work to sew it by hand. Everyone loved it. But by the end of that night, I was tired, sleep-deprived, with blisters on my feet, high on sugar, and wondering why it ever occurred to me to wear it in the first place.
I think I had been planning to be a Muppet for Halloween since June. I don’t have a clear recollection of what exactly made me choose that theme. Last year I was Amon from Legend of Korra, and nobody recognized it. But nothing could have prepared me for the way people would respond to my costume this time.
I bought a 1.6 x 1.8 m piece of blue cloth that I spread on my bedroom’s floor. I stood there, trying to figure out how I was supposed to turn that into a funny costume. I had never in my lifetime sewn anything more complicated than the hem of my pants (that was last year’s big sewing challenge). I basically lay down on the cloth and cut around my shape. The results were less terrible than you might imagine.
Here’s the thing: the cloth was all blue. A vivid, unmistakable shade of blue. I was supposed to be the Cookie Monster. Yet for some unfathomable reason, people saw me in it and thought I was Elmo. It was ridiculous, of course: Elmo is red and has a huge nose. Yet people continued to make the same mistake. And not just any Elmo. What was in their minds was Tickle-Me Elmo.
Which led to a good number of people attempting, threatening, and for the most part managing, to tickle me. All night long. After the first half-hour of old ladies piercing my ribs with their nails and pretending it was funny, I was sick of my (eventually) award-winning costume.
The party was hosted by the mother of a friend of mine. In my country, the lady in question is a renowned philosopher and historian whose wisdom I worship to bits. She wore a Roaring Twenties dress that made her look all the more impressive when she said, “You shouldn’t be surprised about people tickling you. Your costume is pushing the childish buttons of their brains, and that’s a powerful force. More than you realize.”
It sounded reasonable. I could get that. However, another friend, who was also present, commented, “What else were you expecting, wearing that costume?” I stared at him in disbelief. The guy’s supposed to get his Ph.D. in anthropology this year, and he had just voiced what must be Sesame Street equivalent of rape apology. So it was not a matter of people ignoring my personal boundaries; it was a matter of me inciting them with my tempting appearance. He added, “That’s what you get for being so adorable.”
I had to protest. “So what you’re saying is, if I had come here dressed up as St. Sebastian, people would feel justified in firing arrows at me?”
The lady replied, “Exactly! Choose a way to present yourself, and people will treat you accordingly. So you may as well enjoy the rare privilege that everyone wants to touch you tonight. In fact, you could put that childish look to good use. We girls tend to fall for the harmless-looking guy.”
I couldn’t believe she had said that. Last year she had dressed up as a suffragette, for Kermit’s sake (but people had thought she was Mary Poppins).
My friend, her son had chosen a 19th-century bathing suit as his costume. He remarked joyfully that lots of people had pinched his buttocks, almost all of them men. Here was a highly-educated, gay-friendly straight man who was celebrating that strangers wanted a piece of him. I felt I had no supporters.
An old man, who had been doing a drunk dance since the beginning of the party, grabbed the back of my neck (he thought he was caressing it), lifted the lower part of my mask, and said I had a precious beard. I had had enough. I avoided people for the rest of the party.
I didn’t know what had gotten into them. I was at least thankful that my friend in the bathsuit had not tickled me, and in return I resisted the temptation to pinch his buttocks. I sat at a table for a couple of hours and, when I stood up to stretch my legs, someone commented, “Wow! It moved! I thought that Muppet was decoration.”
Then I got it. People were treating me like less than a person because a Muppet is not a person; it’s a toy. They felt I was theirs to play with. I think that’s the closest I can be to knowing what a woman feels when she wears a sexy dress and everyone wants to grope her. They don’t take her as a human being; they take her as a plaything.
Later, another drunk man tried to remove my mask, and ruined one of its eyes. I had to spend the rest of the party with my mask off. My friend’s sister, whom I’ve met a couple of times before (and who didn’t remember having interviewed me last year when I unsuccessfully applied for a post at her mother’s office), had been laughing at the cuteness of my costume the entire night, and when she finally saw my face, she said, “Oh. Now I know who you are.”
No, my dear, you so don’t.
photo courtesy of author