Dubbed “gay Christmas,” Halloween is the best holiday for those of us who may be a little more queer than the rest.
Halloween is the one day a year that society at large can unleash their inner monster, be as kitschy as they wish and experiment with gender in a non-serious way. Historically, the holiday has been a safe space for trans and queer people because of our connection to monsters and camp aesthetics.
The “Halloween Haunt” episode in the third season of “The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula,” a drag competition that focuses on the tenants of glam, filth drag and horror, reminded me of the day’s importance to the community. In that episode’s challenge, the remaining competitors had to reinvent a classic monster archetype, and the LGBTQ+ community’s affinity for cryptids is no coincidence.
There is a long history of monsters and villains being queer-coded or hinted at being queer without being explicitly stated. Carolyn Laubendero published an article in the Lehigh University Review in 2009 that touches on this issue in the book “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson.
“Mr. Hyde’s ‘undignified’ pleasures and his erotic, almost Sadeian indulgences coupled with his repeated characterizations as ‘ape-like,’ ‘troglodytic,’ and ‘savage,’ link him to a complex characterization of deviant homosexuality that is still prevalent today,” Laubendero said in the article.
This negative characterization is something that LGBTQ+ people have sought to reclaim during Halloween. In the ’70s, gay men and lesbians took over seasonal parties all over the country, from the Village in New York to Cliff’s Halloween Party in the Castro of San Francisco. The holiday began to be a day of many firsts for LGBTQ+ people, from sex and drugs to drag and self-expression.
During the HIV/AIDS crisis, Halloween became a time for the community to celebrate and experience joy in dark times. The late artist Lou Reed points this out in his song “Halloween Parade,” but also alludes to how the holiday served as a painful reminder of the ones who had died from AIDS.
“This celebration somehow got me down, especially when I see you’re not around,” Reed sings.
Most importantly though, Halloween is when the barriers between cisgender heterosexuals and the LGBTQ+ community are the thinnest, allowing for exploration of sexuality and gender. This is due to the embrace of camp, a style of which homosexuals “constitute the vanguard” and are “the most articulate audience” according to Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay, “Notes on Camp.”
Camp is the embrace of “it’s good because it’s awful,” an ironic appreciation of the ugly and extravagant, but also a way for the unnatural to be accepted. Being gay and trans has long been seen as “unnatural,” so it makes sense that we would be attracted to a sensibility that embraces unnaturalness. Halloween is the host of all things unnatural, scary and extravagant, allowing people to be campier than they normally allow themselves to be.
Because of this, many people discover that they are LGBTQ+ through Halloween and are able to “try it out” without facing the serious consequences of performing queerness or transness that comes with every other day of the year. Sontag comments on how campiness, and therefore Halloween, reduces the seriousness of all aspects of life, including this form of expression.
“Camp sees everything in quotation marks,” Sontag said in her essay. “It’s not a lamp, but a ‘lamp:’ not a woman, but a ‘woman.’” To perceive Camp in objects and persons is to understand Being-as-Playing-a-Role.”
This is why my love for Halloween is so personal; over the years of celebrating, my costumes have always been so important to me and so varied. Costumed as a mummy, vampire and ’80s zombie, I have connected my queerness to monstrosity in an affirming way, even if I was not aware of it at first. Dressing as Carlos, a gay man from the podcast “Welcome to Night Vale,” and a newsboy were ways for me to express my gender in a masculine way without the judgment of family.
Halloween is my haven because it shows how twisted, beautiful and confusing all humans are, whether they are as gay as I am or not.