Halloween has a long history of allowing queer folks to explore their identities 🎃
BY ELEANOR NOYCE, IMAGES BY PIXABAY
When I was little, Halloween terrified me. I used to cower behind the door as my mum answered it to trick or treaters, petrified that our house would be egged by teenagers or that an axe murderer was waiting, in true Halloween style, to pounce. In the comfort of my own room, the reality was that I loved dressing up – I frequently adorned fairy wings, wedding dresses and Disney Princess gowns in a frenzy of gender-stereotyped clothing.
I’ve taken my love of dressing up into adulthood, and now, Halloween wields renewed meaning for me. From the crisp turn of the leaves to the prospect of a crackling fire, there’s something about this time of year that, time after time, evokes a warm sense of familiarity within me. When I was first navigating my bisexuality, Halloween allowed me to experiment and identify my style as an LGBTQI person, dressing up as colourful characters from Ziggy Stardust to Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas. A questionably painted lightning bolt on my face gave me a renewed sense of confidence, and I felt like I was stepping into a more colourful version of myself, one that wasn’t afraid to embrace my queerness.
In fact, Halloween has a much queerer history than first meets the eye. In the nineteenth century, Irish immigrants introduced traditions of dressing up or “mumming”, singing songs to the dead and going from door to door seeking cake as payment, and the traditional Celtic holiday of Samhain evolved into All Hallows Eve or Halloween.
Ever since, Halloween has been used by LGBTQI people as an opportunity to explore gender and identity. In 1907, one newspaper in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania reported concerns that girls were using Halloween to “masquerade” as tomboys, and in 1912, multiple people were arrested for “cross-dressing” in accordance with the three-item rule. This dictated that women and men had to wear three articles of “appropriately gendered” clothing and was used as grounds for the arrest of LGBTQI people in bars across the US. As time elapsed, the Pittsburgh Police were forced to abandon this rule to permit “cross-dressing” for the purposes of Halloween, championing gender exploration through costume.
For many LGBTQI people, Halloween is a holiday without drama. There’s no expectation to spend it with family, posing an alternative to the often highly pressurised environment that Christmas creates. Jo identifies as bisexual and has always preferred Halloween to Christmas: “Christmas always felt a bit stifling and restrictive, with its traditions and familial obligations. Halloween, by contrast, is camp and ridiculous. For many young queer kids, Halloween is their first chance to explore different identities. Halloween is a mostly secular holiday these days, so for those who haven’t settled on how to square their faith with their sexuality, Halloween is a holiday free of commitment, trauma or emotional baggage.”
Similarly, Isobel identifies as asexual and queer. She recognises the catharsis that Halloween can offer LGBTQI people, stating: “Halloween is a time to come together with friends. Unlike Christmas, there’s no obligation to return to a household that might not accept you. You can dress up, be utterly yourself or wholly unlike anything you’d ever normally dare to be and no one will bat an eyelid. That can be so freeing.”
Whether it’s through spending time with chosen family, trying drag for the first time, or simply kicking back and watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Halloween allows LGBTQI people to build their own traditions. When I was little, I enjoyed the sense of escapism that dressing up gave me: it allowed me to express myself in a way that was cathartic, and that offered me a great deal of comfort as a kid that didn’t yet know she was queer. As an adult, I still think that’s rather powerful.
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