by Tommi Avicolli Mecca
Halloween has always been a gay holiday.
The reason is simple: it was the one day of the year when queers could be ourselves without risking our necks.
Once upon a time in a universe not that far away and certainly not that long ago, life was a hell of a lot tougher for queer and trans folks than a lot of young people today can ever imagine. Not only weren’t there laws protecting sexual and gender identity (or gay marriage), but “female impersonation” was actually a crime. As unbelievable as it may sound nowadays, one could be arrested for not wearing two pieces of clothing considered appropriate to one’s own gender.
Walking down the street dressed like Marilyn Monroe instead of John Wayne was also a serious threat to a drag queen’s health and safety. If someone “clocked” you, that is figured out you weren’t what you appeared to be, you could be beaten and/or killed. Believe me, I know from personal experience.
That time I went with friends to a movie theater in South Jersey to see The Exorcist, we barely escaped with our lives. I was in drag and defying the law by not wearing two items of male clothing. A group of young guys followed us out of the theater to our car after the movie, vowing to “kill the faggots.” I have no doubt that they would have beaten me to a pulp. Nothing that happened to Linda Blair compared to the terror of being pursued by heterosexually insecure boys with sticks and who knows what else.
Did those boys let down their inhibitions on Halloween, donning dresses, wigs and heels, to take a walk on the wild side, all for fun of course. Halloween is the great equalizer, giving us all carte blanche to be ourselves for 24 hours. Queers have sometimes taken advantage of that opportunity in a big way.
In the 50s and early 60s in Philadelphia, drag queens used to gather on Halloween night in Center City in their finest outfits and parade defiantly down the streets. People came from all over the tristate area to watch. Those marches were really the first gay pride marches, though not many in the LGBT community acknowledge them as such. No one was arrested for what they were wearing that night, no matter how outrageous the outfit. It was the safest time to be out and flamboyant, though that doesn’t mean anti-gay and anti-trans violence didn’t happen on Halloween.
Back in the 90s, wild Halloween celebrations took place every year in the streets of the Castro. The first time I went, I marched in my birthday suit with a group of naked Radical Faeries who stopped at the intersection of 18th & Castro to smear paint on each other’s bodies, much to the delight of onlookers. The cops watched helplessly. What could they do? The crowd would have rioted if they had tried to arrest us. I never felt freer.
Times have changed. Those celebrations in the Castro are no more. They were prohibited after a shooting one year, victims of the sick, hyper violent society that this country has become. Thank you, NRA.
The Philly drag queen marches of the 50s and early 60s are gone, too, stopped by a former police chief who once claimed he’d make “Attila the Hun look like a faggot.”
Still, for many of us, Halloween will always be a national queer holiday.