Shortly after Pride, I was roaming the aisles at Dollarama with a friend. He disappeared around a corner, screamed bloody murder and came running back with a basket full of little plastic pumpkins and witches. My pulse shot through the roof, and we hopped up and down with ghoulish, girlie glee on the way to the checkout line. If you are at all like the nosy lady behind us in line and think July is too early for Halloween prep, I don’t want to hear it. As far as I am concerned, there are three nights that should be marked on your calendar before all others: New Year’s Eve, Pride and Halloween. I live for the day in the same way Christians live for Christmas and show queens live for Tony night. It is never, ever too early to talk about Halloween, so now that September is behind us, let the party planning, costume construction and candy crunching begin!
What is it about All Hallow’s Eve that sends some of us into a tizzy? Every year, the best Halloween costumes I see are from my fellow queers. I’ll never forget the drag queen Cinderella being pulled in a crystal carriage by four (real) white horses with attendant foot-dykes or Fluffy Soufflé’s disgusting “Mama Zombie eating her baby zombie’s brains” appearance. One year, I thought my drowned sailor look was pretty great until I saw a whole crew of drowned sailors pulling along a giant, rusty barnacled boat. Every year, Church Street sets the bar high, and as soon as night falls, the show begins, but beware: it’s widely considered cheating if you pull out the same costume year after year. Think of this as your official notice that you have two weeks to get your act together.
Historically, Halloween is the time of year where the souls of the departed wander the Earth until morning, giving the dead one last chance to bring vengeance and bad fortune on their enemies before their sleep of ages. In order to avoid being recognized by ghosts on the prowl and to ward off the bad luck they bring, people would fashion costumes, masks and disguises while carving jack-o’-lanterns from turnips. When the Irish and Scottish brought the holiday to North America, it really took off and morphed into the nighttime revel we now love. Any excuse to throw on a costume and show off some culinary/artistic skills, and we queers are there in a heartbeat, but I’m fond of thinking about Halloween in an LGBT context. The ghost of activist Emma Goldman is said to have haunted Gold Diamond restaurant at 346 Spadina Ave for decades; maybe she’ll put in an appearance after sundown to remind us of the importance of being politically active! Then there’s the Alexander Wood statue . . . I’m sure Mr Wood is still angry at being remembered for a possibly phony sex scandal more than he is for his business acumen. Don’t be too afraid if you see his eyes move as you head to Buddies. If we’re lucky, Peter Bochove might just be seen again in the halls of Spa Excess, Dusty Springfield might pop up to see who Carole Pope’s dating now, and 12-year-old Emanuel Jaques might once again walk Yonge Street, raging against his cruel murder in 1977. A night of unrest lies ahead for these and many others — and the least we can do is make it worth their time.
The one thing that bugs me is how many queer people look at Halloween as one last time to get our collective sexy on before winter comes. Major eye roll, Toronto. Do we have to sexy up every damn thing? We have tons of other days to look cute! My twisted sisters, Halloween is supposed to be a scary holiday tinged with darkness, fear, dread and death. A cute pair of bunny ears and booty shorts might get you laid, but it won’t scare off your dead Uncle Remus who remembers when you stole $5 from his wallet as a kid and wants it back. If you absolutely must be a sexy nurse or hot baseball player, at the very least zombie yourself up. Better yet, indulge in a dark fantasy you wouldn’t get to do at any other time of year and take a cue from the late Will Munro. One Halloween he went home with a stranger in a scary mask. The stranger kept it on all night and left without ever revealing his identity. This is truly the spirit of Halloween in action, and I hope the spirit moves you this year. Trick or treat? Maybe the ghosts of Halloween will grant you both.