Even more than Pride, Halloween has always been the most exciting time of year for me as a gay man.
I grew up in a series of small towns, pretty much convinced that I was the only gay kid for hundreds of miles, so fantasy was a vital component of my life.
I could escape loneliness and alienation in the world of comic books and sci-fi adventures, where I could cast myself as a spandex-clad hero and fight bad guys and monsters and occasionally catch the eye of the hot heroes in capes who wore their underwear on the outside of their pants.
I may not have been exactly sure what we would do afterwards, but I spent endless hours flirting with Batman and Superman while we were off on adventures together, and an inordinate amount of time comparing the virtues of the brooding bad boy vs the all-American goody two-shoes.
As an adult I rather miss the richness of those goofy romantic fantasies, but can now recognize their importance to my own growing internal acceptance of my sexuality.
That’s why Halloween has always been such an exciting time for me; it’s the only time of the year when I can externally express my loopy fantasies without reservation-and have a blast doing it.
As a kid I could reinvent myself as someone new, step outside my own mundane reality as a closeted small-town gay boy and be whomever I wanted to be-superhero, space cadet, movie monster, even an old witch for a day.
It wasn’t just about becoming somebody else; it was about practicing my eventual coming out as a gay man. It was a trial run at redefining myself according to my own desires and becoming whomever I chose to be.
That reinvention of self is why Halloween is such a huge event in the gay community.
Gay identity is usually assumed to be quite fluid, but really it is often just as rigid as the rest of society. While is has been said that gay men in particular live lives of extended adolescence, after a decade or so of sexual exploration our daily lives eventually tend to settle down into the same boring old routine that occupies everybody else.
Unlike Pride, which is all about celebrating and reinforcing our own chosen-and often quite rigid-social roles in our community, Halloween gives us all the chance to step outside our daily selves and become somebody new for an evening.
Pride events tend to reinforce our daily social roles, with separate parties for the lesbians, the leather boys, the circuit boys. Halloween parties, in contrast, tend to be mixed affairs, with everybody dressing up in costume and partying side by side. We get to experience the thrill of coming out all over again and blur some of the social distinctions that separate us from one another. The art fag gets to play at being a leather boy for an evening, the lipstick lesbian can butch it up and the gym rat can put down the weights and pick up a smart clutch to match his pumps for a night.
As a celebration of our rebirth as gay adults, Halloween is the gay community’s Christmas and we celebrate it like nobody’s business. Halloween also provides an amazing creative outlet, with some people spending months and hundreds of dollars on their costumes.
A friend and I lived out our mutual superhero fantasies a couple of years ago when we spent almost a year planning and designing our costumes. We had another friend who was attending art school at the time and she did a brilliant job of sewing up the full-body spandex outfits.
I spent a couple of frantic months dieting and working out as if I was training for a triathlon, knowing that I’d soon be walking around in public in nothing more than a little mask and a thin layer of lycra. I was determined not to embarrass myself too thoroughly.
On some level it wasn’t just vanity that drove me, but the realization that I was going to be living out a long-held fantasy to be out in public dressed as a superhero, and I wanted to do it justice. I wanted to look as much like my fantasy hero as possible.
I even went so far as to dye my hair superhero black and use spirit gum to keep the mask firmly in place, and my friend and I debated what kind of underwear a superhero would wear to avoid those embarrassing panty-lines (A backless thong as it turns out. Not very practical if we ever actually had to go into battle.)
All the planning was more than worth it. It was one of the most enjoyable social evenings I’ve ever had as an adult gay man.
At heart I’m actually very shy, and it was a big leap for me to go out in public in full-body spandex, but the freedom of Halloween made it possible and it was an absolute revelation-it was almost as profound and emotional as the first time I attended a Pride event.
To be out dancing and celebrating with my friends, surrounded by my gay brothers and sisters, garbed in the costume of one of my childhood heroes-it was such a joyous and giddy moment.
Plus, the attention I received didn’t exactly hurt. There’s something about full-body spandex that tends to get one a lot of looks.
Living out such a long-held and cherished fantasy and receiving a positive response from other guys was pretty mind-blowing.
Besides the superhero geekery, another very important pop culture influence on my development as a young gay boy was the over-the-top yet not officially gay supergroup The Village People.
Just as with superheroes, they were blatant examples of overt uber-masculinity that it was socially acceptable to be a fan of without worrying about my friends or family wondering about which way I leaned.
I would have been a Village People groupie if such a thing ever existed. In small-town Manitoba they were the first guys I ever saw who were so obviously and enthusiastically gay, and they were having a great time doing it.
Those ridiculous masculine stereotypes that were originally developed as characters in a packaged pop band were to me a precious lifeline as an isolated queer kid. They were examples of strong, proud manly gay men, and they provided an antidote to the tragic pansies that inevitably seemed doomed to die in every other media representation I was exposed to growing up.
I was absolutely convinced that my future as an adult gay man was going to be full of hard hats, cowboys and musical numbers in the locker room of the YMCA.
Strangely, things haven’t exactly turned out that way, but for one night out of the year I’ve been able to come close.
By being able to annually adopt the identities of my gay heroes I’ve been able to gradually transform my own internal shame into strength and pride.
I’ve been every member of the Village People at this point, except the Indian Guy-and that’s only because I don’t think I’ll ever be brave enough to wear a loincloth in public.
At its core, Halloween is about sexual fantasy and transformation.
For those of us a bit too inhibited to attend regular fetish parties, this is the one night of the year when all bets are off and we can explore aspects of our personality that don’t usually get much expression.
This can lead to further self-discovery and exploration of our fetishes year-round.
For those who have already embraced their wicked pervert selves, Halloween parties give them the opportunity to celebrate with their more inhibited pals or try on a new role that they have yet to explore.
On Halloween we can be anything we want to be.
Didn’t get picked for the football team in high school? Felt out of place in the straight locker room of the basketball team? Wanted to be homecoming queen at your high school dance?
For one night of the year, you can fulfill all those long-denied ambitions: be the star athlete, get that winning touchdown (or tackle that tight end), wear your tiara and prom dress with dignity and grace.
By providing us the occasion to explore our fantasies and step outside ourselves, to relive the thrill of our coming out experience, Halloween is without a doubt the queerest time of the year.