Sexy Gandalf is a proud gay woman

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Tjitske “TJ” Van Vark has become an internet sensation after she posted photos of herself dressed as “sexy Gandalf” on her Tumblr.  The 18-year-old Australian (by way of the Netherlands) is an out lesbian, and she has received attention from Buzzfeed, the Daily Mail, Seventeen and Esquire, to name just a few. But she responded to The Mary Sue’s dissenting opinion that she’s not accurately taking on the “sexy Halloween costume” fail that she’s being praised for. She writes:

“Honestly I find it hilarious how literally all of these are buzzfeeds article rephrased into new ones. There have been a few nasty comments over on facebook but I could honestly not care less what some fuck boy on the other side of the world thinks of it haha

I had to laugh at the Mary Sues article though. All my views align with intersectional feminism and I am way against the over sexualization of women in everything we do- this costume was a joke though, satire on the ‘insert-noun;sexy halloween costume’  marketing that’s so prevalent today- and Gandalf is really the last person that you’d normally sexualise. I’m too amused to be mad because this website literally wrote an essay on a joke costume worn by a high schooler at school for 2 hours. Don’t people have better things to analyse lmao. hours. Don’t people have better things to analyse lmao Anyway read that article it’s great.”

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The Mary Sue’s arguments include that TJ was ultimately making fun of “a male person in fishnets in heels.”

“Are men in drag, or trans women, or genderqueer folks still the butt of jokes? Do we still have to rely on the same ol’ tropes for yuks? And why don’t we laugh at anyone wearing pants?”

But, like TJ says, they are missing the point. The Sexy Gandalf is not transphobic or dragphobic or homophobic in any way because, firstly, she’s a woman wearing drag. She’s dressed in both genders, essentially, representing both the male symbolism of a well-regarded/asexual wizard and the hyper-sexualization of all women, and she executed it perfectly. For gay women, dressing in this gender-blending fashion is nothing new, and we were the first (along with our male counterparts) to subvert the idea that clothing is or should be gender-specific. We defied the masquerading laws and were often punished for it. 

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What Sexy Gandalf does is actually more nuanced than what the Mary Sue implies. It plays along the lines of the theatricality and androgyny that Susan Sontag described so well in Notes on Camp:

As a taste in persons, Camp responds particularly to the markedly attenuated and to the strongly exaggerated. The androgyne is certainly one of the great images of Camp sensibility.

…Here, Camp taste draws on a mostly unacknowledged truth of taste: the most refined form of sexual attractiveness (as well as the most refined form of sexual pleasure) consists in going against the grain of one’s sex. What is most beautiful in virile men is something feminine; what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine. . . . Allied to the Camp taste for the androgynous is something that seems quite different but isn’t: a relish for the exaggeration of sexual characteristics and personality mannerisms. 

…The whole point of Camp is to dethrone the serious. Camp is playful, anti-serious. More precisely, Camp involves a new, more complex relation to “the serious.” One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious.

halfvia Pinterest

As a cosplaying gay woman who is not interested in dressing “sexy” for any other reason than subversive, playful, campiness, TJ might be misunderstood by some pockets of the internet, but she’s creating a conversation around the kinds of characters and costuming women like her are expected to wear and perform. Don’t be surprised if a cheaper-made, more expensive recreation of this very costume ends up on shelves at Halloween party stores next year.