American Gender Story: Halloween




For a drag queen, Halloween is just another day. Drag queens loved Halloween so much when they were younger that they made it their life. For many young queers like I once was, Halloween was everything.

My crippling social anxiety made gender presentation a nightmare. Actually, being perceived in any possible way was a nightmare. 

In elementary school, I could be found in baggy basketball shorts and oversized t-shirts. I did not want my body to be seen, because to be seen is to be judged. I was fine with the garish neon colors if it meant my taller and wider body would not be the object of anyone’s gossip.

Once I moved on to middle school, this was not enough. I needed to fit in, so I observed and copied. Uncomfortable shirts from Aeropostale that clung to my budding breasts offered the concept of fitting in without the practicality. Clothes did not fit me like they did the more petite girls. That, and hand-me-down clothes from my fashionable, cool cousin were my only options.

I could not have been more obviously a lesbian, but that realization would come years later. At the time, clothes were the constant source of my tween anguish, and it never felt like I was doing it right. 

But there was one day out of the year where I was free — Halloween. Finally, I did not have to conform to what I thought was expected of me. I could be someone else, which ironically meant I could be more myself. In fifth grade, I was deep in the throes of my Jonas Brothers obsession. The Jonas Brothers have a song called “Video Girl,” about a girl who used them for fame and money.

That Halloween, I bought a curly blonde wig, wore pink shorts, decorated a merch shirt with puffy fabric paint and wore pink kitten heels. This was the height of womanhood to me. I was doing girl drag. I would never have the bravery to wear any of these things outside of Halloween. I granted myself the freedom to experiment with what I wore under the guise of costume. 


In seventh grade, my gym teacher pointed out that “middle schoolers love to crossdress.” It was true. So many boys dressed up as a girl to be funny to their friends. Sure, their stereotypically high pitched voices and giggles were offensive, but I knew how fun it was to play pretend — if only my public school had offered a theatre program. I dressed up as Paul McCartney’s Sgt. Pepper. My mom went all out on the details of the blue silky suit she sewed herself. When I expressed hesitation on putting on the mustache, she assured me that everyone would love it. 

For once, I was able to stand at my full height without cowering, because I was in character as a man. I did not have to be attractive to boys, which was the steadily growing goal of many of my classmates at Halloween. I was not embarrassed when someone yelled “James!” thinking I was a boy in my class. It was working. For one day a year in that middle school horror show, my appearance did not confine me. I could be free of the American gender nightmare.