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You can learn a lot about other people by trying to be one of them.
At least, that’s the lesson I learned years ago, the last time I dressed up for Halloween.
Unlike most people I know, I don’t have strong memories of Halloween as a major holiday. It was, of course, a night of copious and free candy, as well as a trip to Granny’s for popcorn balls — popcorn stirred in heated caramel then formed into fist-sized globes and wrapped in aluminum foil to be eaten later like an apple from a dentist’s personal hell — but most of that candy came directly from my parents or other nearby relatives.
I only recall one evening of true trick-or-treating from my youth. My sister and I, about 4 and 6 years old, both dressed as ghosts in some tattered old sheets that we could afford to cut eyeholes in. We completed the Wal-Mart linen section ensemble with pillowcases as treat bags. Mom and Dad then drove us the long distances between each house where we knocked on the door and got Snickers.
This being the country, where distances between houses are measured in miles, we managed to hit about 10 houses in a couple hours because of course you had to stop and visit a bit. It was a rather large investment in time, energy and gasoline for a small confectionary return, which explains why it’s the only year I remember my parents taking us.
Oddly enough, despite the fact that even in our larger towns it would be well-nigh impossible to trick-or-treat at the home of a stranger and that candy sources could be easily tracked without the application of forensic science, the fear of razor-bladed apples and other nasty tricks still loomed large. This was probably thanks to fabulous movies like Halloween II, which I wasn’t actually allowed to see but I managed to buy the novel version that came with pictures, so I still managed to traumatize myself and every child around me.
Just doing my part as a young, precocious reader.
It wasn’t until years later — 18 years later, to be precise — that I once again took up the cause of a costume for Halloween. Although, being a 24-year-old gay boy who was already living in a metaphorical candy store, the whole idea of tricks and treats had taken on new meanings.
My friends and I that year had decided to all do Halloween drag for the first time. Another friend, a professional make-up artist, did our make-up at the pre-17th-Street party where we all donned our wigs and dresses. Actually, I didn’t have a wig. I borrowed a previously worn outfit from a friend who had paraded it through New York or some place fabulous the year before — a black bustier and miniskirt with fishnet stockings and two sets of falsies.
If you’re going to do drag for Halloween then you should go big or go home.
I went for a sassy and spiky hairstyle with my own natural and relatively short locks. I also opted for flat-soled boots because verisimilitude had to be sacrificed for the reality that drunkenness and high heels would inevitably add up to a broken ankle. My long, silver sparkled clutch held my ID, cigarettes and any other things that might have popped up during the course of my tricking and treating.
So after an intensive gender-makeover process and a few delays resulting from the need for just one more cocktail, our feminized group hit 17th Street for some gay frolicking.
I was miserable.
I was cold. Despite the flats, my feet still ached. Every time I opened my clutch I popped off another fake fingernail, possibly blinding some random passers-by. My abdomen, despite being more svelte and twinkish in those days, ached from the pressure of the bustier, which at the halfway point of the evening suddenly sprouted a wire that proceeded to dig painfully between my ribs toward my liver, an organ which was already overtaxed enough that evening, thank you very much.
I made it to midnight before finally giving up the ghost to head home and collapse, unfettered, into bed.
And I haven’t donned a Halloween costume since. I’ve toyed with the idea, in particular the possibility doing a costume duo with my husband — because of our height differential, I’ve often thought it would be fun to dress myself as the Jolly Green Giant and him as Sprout. Luckily for my husband, the necessary gym work and body waxing I would need have been enough of a deterrent.
But when it comes to gender roles and costumes, I discovered that I’m a truly frightening girly girl and I gained much increased respect for the trials and tribulations that actual girly girls go through nearly every day.
I’m still, to this day, impressed.