Is it any wonder that queer folks love Halloween?
Of course it isn’t everyone. Just like any other group, queer people have all kinds of likes and dislikes, family traditions and personal quirks that make them a unique and complex group of people. But for a lot of queer people, Halloween is the “gay high holy day,” a day to celebrate the spooky, the different, the weird. It’s a day to celebrate being a weirdo, and like Fairuza Balk says in The Craft: “We are the weirdos, mister.”
When I was a kid, I was drawn to spooky stuff early. I loved the classic Universal Monsters, especially Frankenstein’s monster and the bride. I used to watch Dark Shadows with my mom, a show I love (and am still trying to work through all 1225 episodes!) to this day. When I got a little older, I started to enjoy horror movies; at first I would watch them for as long as I could stand it until I got scared, then eventually I made it all the way to the end – and promptly had nightmares! Eventually, I was able to finish them and not have bad dreams. I didn’t need nightmares – there was enough scary stuff in the world around me.
I was a dramatic kid, emotional and prone to grand expressions of every shade on the emotional spectrum. I always felt like I never got the rule book that everyone else seemed to have about how to behave. I was always doing something wrong: saying the wrong thing, wearing something I shouldn’t, playing with the wrong toys. I didn’t get it, and people were fond of reminding me how much I didn’t get it. For some, they could see early on that I wasn’t all that interested in conforming to expectations around gender and labeled me a fag; for everyone else, I was just always sort of…weird.
Like queer, weird is one of those words that has all kinds of meanings behind the obvious. It’s something strange, something not quite right. Unusual. Odd. But it’s usually said with a raised eyebrow or pointed glance to remind you that all of those things are bad. Not just different, but different in a way that isn’t acceptable. In a way that shouldn’t be acknowledged or tolerated, let alone celebrated! It was something to be worried about, a cause for concern.
I fell in love with Halloween early; I fell hard and forever. It was a single day where I was able to get weird in a much bigger way. Not only was I allowed to like makeup and costumes and playing pretend, it was encouraged! And you just walk around and people give you candy – for free, no work involved except unzipping your snowsuit or winter coat to quickly flash the person at the door before bundling up again against the October chill. It was a magical time!
I was never one of the cool kids, but on Halloween I was pretty close.
All of the things that I loved all year round were suddenly the key to a successful Halloween; the things I cared about, the things that made me feel like I was being true to myself, mattered. I got to step out and be a little piece of my authentic self, something that stayed packed away for most of the year, only peeking out occasionally to embarrass me and remind me that I didn’t fit in.
As I got older, I got weirder – but not in the ways you might think. I started to be more of who I really wanted to be. If I wanted to wear something or dye my hair a “funny color,” I did it. It started with little things, pushing boundaries here and there to see what I could get away with. I did a lot of things just to shock people, to try to provoke a reaction. I liked trying all of the “weird” things. It grew and changed, and though I don’t know exactly when it happened I eventually just ran out of fucks to give about what other people thought about what I wore or how I presented myself. Drag was part of that, a little bit of that Halloween spirit covered in glitter and tossed up on a stage at a random bar on a Saturday night, but it spread through the other parts of my life as well. I stopped caring about the expectations of others and just started exploring what I liked. If every day is a performance, not every performance has to be Shakespeare – I found out that sometimes I like just being comfortable and basic af. Sometimes I like to add a little flair; for a while I was “bringing brooches back” (read that to the tune of Sexyback by Justin Timberlake…you’re welcome) and now scarves are my accessories of choice. Sometimes I wear lots of jewelry, and sometimes I wear none. I don’t really have a style, except maybe “budget eccentric.”
But I’m more me. I took those costumes, the one of the person trying so hard to keep up with the cool kids and the one of the person who did strange things just to see what people would say, and I tucked them away in the closet. I used to have a sort of Halloween every single day, but it was only the parts that weren’t fun and I was tired of it.
Some people like to complain that queer people are too loud, too strident, too vocal…too much. What they don’t understand is that I spent a good chunk of my life trying to fit into a world that had decided I was “too much,” and that longing to fit in was slowly killing me. So I wish I could say that I’m sorry you feel somehow inconvenienced by the fact that I’ve allowed myself to be as weird and queer and loud and fabulous as I am, but I just can’t. Queer people have to keep insisting on their existence because the rest of the world keeps denying it. I’m not going to be complicit in that anymore; that’s a costume that doesn’t fit anymore.
And if you’re wondering why me and my kind are not only insisting on our weirdness but unabashedly celebrating it, it’s because we know that what makes us weird is what makes us truly ourselves. And I think so many of us like Halloween because we get to see all of those people who shush us or try to make us disappear dipping their toes into weirdness. They’re letting down a little bit of the costume they wear the rest of the year and giving into their impulse to be an oddball, one of the freaks. Because so many people are trying to play that game of keeping up and fitting in; they’re better at it than I was, but that doesn’t make it any more real. If we get down to it, we’re all a little bit weird. Some of us are just better at celebrating it.
The world still has its nightmares, and queer folks can be extremely vulnerable to them. I saw a meme recently that really resonated with me: to be visibly queer is to choose one’s own happiness over one’s own safety. I feel that. But I also know the delight of becoming more and more authentically me. Being queer in a world that wants conformity is vulnerable, but it’s also powerful. Maybe it’s powerful because of that vulnerability. Whatever it is, I know that life becomes so much more worthwhile when you stop putting on the everyday mask and embrace the weirdness. You put it on for a night or two each year, but me and my kind – we live here. We run this shit. And we love it.
We are the weirdos, mister. Maybe you should think about joining us…